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Should the Obeah Act be Repealed? Minister Says ‘Yes’; Church ‘No’

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Suddenly, the debate on the Obeah Act has moved centre stage in Jamaican politics. The one to set the cat among the pigeons was Delroy Chuck, the Justice Minister himself. The venue was the Parliament and the debate was on the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act. The purpose of this Bill is to enhance the fines and penalties currently imposed under different laws. If the drafted law was to be followed to the word, the practice of Obeah would have invited a fine of $1 million in place of the meagre $100 which is being collected now. The Justice Minister informed the House of Representatives that the Obeah Act of 1898 was not being included in the Law Reform Act and that the government is contemplating repealing the Obeah Act itself.

Church Quickly Reacts and Cries Foul

It did not take long for the faithful to raise the pitch against any attempt by the government to make the practice of Obeah legal. The original legislation passed in 1898 clearly banned the practice in Jamaica and someone caught practicing Obeah could be fined $100, which was quite a steep amount at that time. The objection of repealing the Act from the Church and the other believers arises from the fear that the poor and the uneducated may be lured away from God and their faith in Christianity may be affected. Some church leaders, particularly one Prophetess Almarie Campbell of Tarrant Baptist Church was extremely vociferous in her protest exhorting the crowd in a street meeting to raise their voices in protest in the name of Jesus.

Those Practicing Obeah Claim They are ‘Helping’ the Poor

For the uninitiated, Obeah is a form of sorcery or ‘magic’ performed in the Caribbean. The belief is that people become ill or face other issues due to a spell and the natives perform certain rituals to ward off that evil spirit causing the spell. Interestingly, there are still people in Jamaica who practice Obeah in some form or the other. The practitioners of Obeah say they do this to help people. One such practitioner gave the example of a person who went to a doctor for treating an illness but was not cured. He was then directed to the Obeah practitioner who cured the man. He feels it is not fair to punish someone for ‘helping’ another. So, he and persons of his ilk will form the other side of this debate on the repealing of the 121- year old Obeah Act.


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