I remember him well; the first time we met I was “pelting” home, up Hermitage Road in Belmont. It must have been near Christmas, because it was not that late, but it was already dark. It may have been Thursday; the street was empty because the shops, Chinee John and Papits Cecils, were shut half-day. I had gone to missing ... for comics and had run right into him. Tall, black, dressed in a black suit, he smelled like mothballs. I really remember his eyes, bulging red. By the time I got home, grandma was waiting in the gallery, “You meet him?” She had seen him, “Serve you right.” That night I could feel his eyes. He had seen me. He knew me. Tantie Rose said he was on his was his way to Lapeyrouse to dig up some grave dirt with a big black ...
He was the science man who could read the ‘teetal-bey’ on the black ants. And deals with the devil. He could turn into any beast and roam the streets at night. Sometimes people saw him by Reform Lane, a coffin on his head and dragging chains. In everyday life he is a practicing obeah man and a genius at maiming or killing anybody. People say sometimes he is so tall that his head disappears into the clouds. “Take care you get to-tool-bay,” she said. “Say your prayers.” I did, twice.
Obeah is the general term used for the system of magic and sorcery in Trinidad. The word is African in origin, according to anthropologist Herskovits. In Trinidad, most overt African religious practices were suppressed during the period of slavery, and it is generally believed that obeah is made up, basically, of fragmentations of rituals and remembered religious practices of African cults that were brought to Trinidad at the end of18th century. This was further reinforced by fresh information brought straight from Africa in the 1850s by the Freed Africans, that is, people taken off Portuguese slavers on the high seas by the British Navy and ‘freed’ in Trinidad.
The power of the obeah man was and still is significant. In the ‘old days’, this had to do with life and death. It was said that the one on our street had sold his son’s soul to the devil for wealth and power and later renegged on the deal and that is why he had died badly. Every culture possesses a tradition of black magic. In Europe, for example, the vampire, the werewolf and the undead are now big business with books, movies and games.
Long ago, obeah was very common, so much so that the British authorities would sentence you to a jail term for it. But that did not stop the practice. As boys we ventured into ‘his’ yard to retrieve the only corkball we had. Bush surrounded the old wooden house. There was an air of abandonment. His lights had been cut. While the others searched, I peeped in through the jealousies. I saw a dusty old room, old books and papers scattered on the floor, broken furniture, a single bed in the middle of the drawing room, a big white posy on a bench, bottles and a pitch oil lamp. I could smell it. A pile of dirt lay on a newspaper in the middle of the floor.
“You want to see? Come.” A hand rested on my shoulder. I felt my ... quake as I looked up into his red eyes blazing in the mid afternoon.
“No,” I quivered.
“Then go home.” I fled. Over the years, the pure African system of obeah has been altered to include the western magical tradition, the use of medical books, such as those by Albertus Magnus, and also the mail order catalogue of deLaurence ‘Books of Magick’ of Chicago.
Indians too have a tradition of black magic sorcery. They call it ‘ojah’ or ‘indra jal’. There are books on witchcraft such as ‘Kautak Ratan Bhandar’.
Obeah can be used either for harm or for good. The most common purposes for which people resort to this magic are to cure sicknesses or to make enemies sick, to make money, to get a better job, to win a case in court, to cure someone of spirit possession and as love magic.
In the old days, there were lots of rules with regard to the dead. Firstly, you were told that when a corpse was leaving the house, the water in which it had been bathed must be thrown out after it, or else the ghost will haunt the house. For the same reason it must be carried out feet first, otherwise he or she may well return.
Want to see a Loup Gahou? Get some dog yampee, put it in your eye and look through a key hole at 12:00 midight. After dark, never stand in a doorway in such a way as would prevent another person from passing through; for there may be a ghost who wants to pass, and it may touch you. Then you feel a sudden sickness in the region of your stomach, get goose bumps and feel a chill. Oh, and never call your childrens names out loud at dusk, the Duenns would hear you and steal the name and call your children away ...