Akan "Bayi" and Jamaican "Obeah"
"Bayi" is the word for
"witchraft" in the Akan language. "Obayifo"/"Abayifo" used in the
current Akan language means "person who practices witchcraft". I say
this because both words have roots that are associated with witchcraft,
one among the Akan in west Africa and the other among Jamaicans in the
Caribbean, some of whom are descendants of Akans sent there.
"Obeah" also can be seen
as meaning "woman" or a short for "witch woman", and in fact some Akan
groups such as the Akuapem and perhaps even the Akwamu do not say
"obaa" but rather "obeah" when they refer to "woman".
So the long and short of
this is that "obeah" derives from Akans who were sent from west Africa
to Jamaica. The structure of Obeah is the same as that of
witchcraft practiced in Ghana today.
ARE THE WORDS "BAYI" AND "OBEAH" RELATED?
Could it be that "Obeah" and "Bayi" are actually linked? This seems to
be the case. How many people actually know that "Obeah" and "Obeahfo"
are the same
thing? They both refer to "woman" (see dictionary definitions
Christaller's Dictionary (1933: pg. 2):
o-baa, pi. m-, Ak. F. woman, female == obea, o(baa)basia; cf. abaawa. pr.
o-babaa, pi. m-, Ak. F. [oba, child, obaa, woman] daughter = obabea.
ababaa, ababawa, Aky. abayewa, pi. m-, maiden, young woman, married or not, who has not yet given birth to a child; syn. abeafo.
Christaller's Dictionary (1933: pg. 12)
abeafo, pi. m-, a lovely young woman, neatly, nicely dressed.
JOSEPH WILLIAMS ON OBEAH
In his book Voodoos and Obeas, Joseph Williams has this to say,
"The Jamaica term Obeah is unquestionably derived from the Ashanti word
Obayifo, which according to Captain Rattray signifies "a wizard, or
more generally a witch."..."Dropping the suffix, then, from Obayifo,
the resulting Obayi, as heard from the lips of the Koromantin slaves
(shown to be Ashanti, at least as regards their leading spirits), was
variously rendered by the Jamaican whites as obeah, obia, etc. For even
now there is no agreement as to the correct spelling of the word. . . .
Both with the Ashanti themselves and their descendants in Jamaica the
word is commonly shortened into Obi. Thus we find the Obi country
referred to in the history of the Ashanti Fetish Priest,
Okomfo-Anotchi, that is Anotchi the priest."
So "Obi" is a corruption
of "Obayi"...which is witchcraft in Akan, the practitioner of which is
called "Obayi-fo" (meaning "Obayi" (witchcraft) "fo" (person)
In chapter 4 of the text
"Voodoos and Obeahs: Phases of West African Witchcraft" (Joseph J.
Williams, 1932), we have the following excerpt:
"And there is another important difference between Voudou and Obeah,
and that is that Voudou requires for the celebration of its rites a
priestess and a priest. Obeah can be worked by either alone, and is
[not] tied to the presence of the snake. Both these cults have sprung
from slaves imported from Ellis's district, Obeah from slaves bought at
Koromantin mainly, and Voudou from those bought at Dahomey.
Nevertheless it seems to me these good people have differentiated their
religion in the West Indies considerably; for example, in Obeah the
spider (anansi) has a position given it equal to that of the snake in
This book in part
ridicules natives of that period for totally believing in and
practicing their spirituality, a common trait among Europeans of the
time who were in fact exposing their cluelessness about the
spirituality of others, a topic I address in section 5.16 of The Akan
Book. Rattray was one of the notable exceptions to this rule.
OBEAH TRACES TO AKAN WHILE VOODOO TRACES TO EWE/FON
"Koromantin" of course is a 'code word' that refers to Akan people as has previously been shown in The Akan Book
(sections 3.2 and 3.3) so Obeah originates from the Akan while Voodoo
originates from the Ewe and the Fon. Obeah or witchcraft is very much
like a form of 'shamanism'. The witches can astral travel, they have
spirit helpers and other abilities such as clairvoyance. They also work
with some nature spirits such as the mmoetia/kontomble (i.e.
dwarves/gnomes) and other spiritual beings. This is an individual path
which can also be practiced in a community. Powers can be used to help
or to harm.
Voodoo is more
ceremonial and ritualistic, where the powers are solicited from
external nature spirit entities through ritual. This is more along the
lines of ceremonial magic or sorcery and is different from 'abeyisem'
(witchcraft) where the obayifo (witch) uses his or her own
etheric-astral body to cause non-ordinary effects. I think this
distinction is an important one to be made. The practitioner of voodoo
could also have 'witchcraft powers' but not necessarily.
AKAN ABEYISƐM PRACTICES ARE IDENTICAL TO JAMAICAN OBEAH PRACTICES
In chapter 4 of
Williams' book, he gives an andecdote of an alleged practitioner of
Obeah (i.e. a witch) who use 'witchcraft pots' just like Abayifo of the
Akan do. Here is the story:
"The other Negroes of the plantation no sooner heard of this
impeachment, than they ran in a body to their master, and confirmed the
truth of it, adding that she had carried on this business sit-ice her
arrival from Africa and was the terror of the whole neighborhood. Upon
this he repaired directly with six white servants to the old woman's
house, and forcing open the door, observed the whole inside of the roof
(which was of thatch), and every crevice of the walls stuck with the
implements of her trade, consisting of rags, feathers, bones of cats,
and a thousand other articles. Examining further, a large earthen pot
or jar, close covered, was found concealed under her bed.--It contained
a prodigious quantity of round balls of earth or clay of various
dimensions, large and small, whitened on the outside, and variously
compounded, some with hair and rags and feathers of all sorts, and
strongly bound with twine; others blended with the upper section of the
skulls of cats, or stuck round with cats teeth and claws, or with human
or dogs teeth, and some glass beads of different colours; there were
also a great many eggshells filled with a viscous or gummy substance,
the qualities of which he neglected to examine, and many little bags
stuffed with a variety of articles the particulars of which cannot at
this distance of time be recollected. The house was instantly pulled
down, and with the whole of its contents committed to the flames,
amidst the general acclamation of all the other Negroes. In regard to
the old woman, he declined bringing her to trial under the Law of the
island, which would have punished her with death; but from a principle
of humanity, delivered her into the hands of a party of Spaniards, who
(as she was thought not incapable of doing some trifling kind of work)
were very glad to accept and carry her with them to Cuba."
Here I particularly want
to bring the reader's attention to the contents of the 'witch pot'.
What was done with Obeah in the Caribbean is still done with Bayi among
Akan people. Here is another description of Abayifo/witchcraft, this
time from Debrunner:
[A witch pot] a
may contain a knife, a millipede, a man's heart, some fingers and a
talisman and is sprinkled with a man's blood. Some witches keep them
(the pot) in the fork of a tree. Others hide them either inside the
trunk of a tree or inside their stomachs
So in essence a 'witch
pot' is similar to a 'medicine bag' used by some African and Native
Indian groups for instance. The contents of the medicine bag are
'objects of power', same as one can find in a 'witch pot'.
More from Williams:
"Obeah men are the oldest and most artful Negroes; a peculiarity marks
them, and every Negro pays the greatest respect to them, they are
perfectly well acquainted with medicinal herbs, and know the poisonous
ones, which they often use. To prepossess the stranger in favor of
their skill, he is told that they can restore the dead to life; for
this purpose he is shown a Negro apparently dead, who, by dint of their
art, soon recovers; this is produced by administering the narcotic
juice of vegetables. On searching one of the Obeah men's houses, was
found many bags filled with parts of animals, vegetables, and earth,
which the Negroes who attended at the sight of, were struck with
terror, and begged that they might be christened, which was done, and
the impression was done away. In consequence of the rebellion of the
Negroes in the year 1760, a Law was enacted that year to render the
practice of Obiah, death."
So in fear the
controllers of Jamaica at the time decided to outlaw Obeah. To end this
article I will repost information on witchcraft obtained from
The witch deceives people before leaving her home
Her personality-soul leaves the body
She turns herself upside down
And flies through the air, emitting light
Witches walk on spiders' webs (presumably etheric webs)
Or even sometimes ride on animals or men
Finally to settle on the tree of the meeting place
The witches meet on a tree
Where their power is concentrated in a witchcraft pot
Just as each witch has her individual witch pot
They are organized as a secret society
The witches dance and play football
They drink human blood
And eat palm oil, pork, corn and coconut
They inflict material loss
They cause sterility, impotence and other diseases
They act on the intelligence of school children and rivals
A witch is a person possessed by a witch-spirit
A witch-spirit can be inherited, picked up, bought or swallowed by chance
--- The pictures below are from the movie Conan the Barbarian, where a witch which shapeshifts from human into a ball of energy is shown in flight ---
* This kind of witch flight (etheric-astral body projection) is reported among the Akan as well as among various
other human groups