OBEAH OR ASTROLOGY?

Concern raised over rise in number of Indian astrologers advertising their talent in Jamaican media

BY JEDIAEL CARTER
Staff reporter
carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 17, 2017



YOU see the advertisements promising remedies to all your problems — sickness, wealth, legal matters — they fix it all. But are Indian astrologers operating in Jamaica in contravention of the nation's laws?

“The way they advertise themselves and the services they offer is an assertion of superior capabilities. In other words, they are saying that they are capable of doing things that a doctor cannot do, a lawyer cannot do and other persons cannot do, but somehow, were you to visit them, they can do it,” said veteran attorney-at-law Linton Gordon.

The astrologers proclaim their ability to provide solutions to sexual problems, enemies, children, special problems, protection, financial issues, bad luck, education, promotion, career troubles, addiction, depression, childlessness, prediction of one's future, healing illnesses, better love life or marriage, getting a visa and much more — abilities some would argue are similar to that of an obeah worker, whose practices are outlawed in Jamaica.

Obeah, as described by Kenneth Bilby and Jerome Handler in a research paper titled Obeah: Healing and Protection in West Indian Slave Life, is “a wide variety of beliefs and practices involving the control or channelling of supernatural or spiritual forces, usually for socially beneficial ends such as treating illness, bringing good fortune, protecting against harm, and avenging wrongs”.

They point out that many conceptions of obeah “stress its antisocial and evil nature as witchcraft or sorcery”.

Similarly, lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Dr Ajamu Nangwaya, told the Jamaica Observer that the practice, which was brought to the island during slavery from Africa, is associated with evil doing.

“It's coming out of an African tradition where everything that happens to people is related to some other external agency; that is, people manipulating nature to make something bad happen to you or if you'd like something good to happen to you, you have to appeal to the gods or engage in magic or obeah practices to get the type of outcome you want,” Nangwaya, who lectures in Rastafarian studies at the Institute of Caribbean Studies, stated.

The Obeah Act (1898) defines the practice as having the same meaning as myalism, which, according to Nathaniel Murrell's book Afro-Caribbean Religions is an Afro-Jamaican religious “institution with a belief system, a dance ritual, an initiatory rite tradition, and a pharmacopoeia for herbal and spiritual healing”.

A self-proclaimed obeah man contacted by the Sunday Observer said his rituals offer a solution to people's troubles.

The man, who professed his services include love bonding, protecting partners from cheating in relationships, quick money and removal of sickness, said he has been practising since childhood as he “grew up with people who do spiritual work”.

The 50-year-old explained love bonding to be something that compels an individual to another, which he explained is synonymous to “tying someone” as referenced in the Jamaican culture; while quick money has to do with causing a person to earn more money in their line of work.

He asserted his abilities and expressed scepticism toward the Indian astrologers.

“Spiritual work have to do with something that is inside of you...I think they (Indian astrologers) have to study to know how to read palm from a book or something that teach you how to study the palm, but I don't think they have the natural gift all that much.”

The Indian astrologers who were contacted declined to speak with the Sunday Observer.

The Oxford Dictionary defines astrology as the study of the positions of stars and the movement of planets in the belief that they influence human affairs. It is therefore a science based on astronomy which deals with the effects of planetary movements on lives.

The television advertisements from persons purporting to be Indian astrologers have flooded local television in recent times.

Interestingly, though advertising services, these astrologers never provide an exact address for their business places.

One advertises his address based on his proximity to Half-Way-Tree, stating it's located “two minutes' walk” outside of the parish capital; while another announces his business' location based on its closeness to PriceSmart, a membership shopping establishment on Red Hills Road.

“So what we're having now is that these persons have come on the scene in Jamaica and they are now carrying out activities...and they have become so bold, open, and established that the waves of advertisements are on our televisions, with these persons declaring all these things that they are able to do and perform which amount to possible breaches of the Medical Act, possible breaches of the Pharmacy Act, and highly likely to be breaching the Obeah Act,” Gordon said.

He explained that the astrologers could be in breach of the Obeah Act because it states that persons who go about fraudulently putting themselves forward as capable of carrying out supernatural acts can be charged. He said their advertisements suggest they have supernatural powers, meaning more than the ordinary person.

“There is the Medical Act, which provides that for you to practise medicine you must be a fit and proper person who has been granted a qualifying certificate and registered as a medical practitioner and given a number. In the absence of those qualifications you should not be out there offering to solve [a] person's medical problems — but they are doing that by saying if you have any type of ailment, come to me and I can cure you,” he reasoned.

“The third Act is perhaps only breached when there is an actual visit, and it is the Pharmacy Act, because under the Pharmacy Act you are not supposed to be distributing medication to persons unless you are a duly registered pharmacist,” the attorney added, noting it is punishable by law.

The Pharmacy Act defines a drug as any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder, abnormal physical state or the symptoms thereof in man or animal; (b) restoring, correcting or modifying organic functions in man or animal; (c) disinfection in premises in which food is manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged or stored for sale or sold, or for the control of vermin or insects in such premises.

The Obeah Act states that a person practising obeah can be imprisoned up to a year with hard labour.

Under the Pharmacy Act, an individual who is not a pharmacist but compounds, dispenses or sells any drug at a place not registered as a pharmacy can be fined on summary conviction before a parish judge up to $500,000, or be imprisoned with or without hard labour for up to six months.

Section 14 (2c) of the Medical Act states that “any person who, not being registered as a medical practitioner under this Act, advertises or holds himself out as a person authorised or qualified to practise medicine” is liable on summary conviction before a parish judge to pay up to a $1-million fine and/or imprisonment for a term not more than a year.

“Why would we criminalise something that's African in nature, but something that has an association with different racial religious experiences? We look on it and essentially we just ignore it, we look the other way,” Nangwaya asked.

“That's something that is very troubling in our country, where the tendency in our culture [is that] anything too black not too good, and obeah is one of the blackest religions,” the UWI lecturer stated.

Gordon also raised concern that it does not appear anything is being done to clamp down on the proliferation of 'astrologers' islandwide.

“Some members of our security forces should visit them incognito and get a clear understanding of what they are doing, because they might be making millions of dollars conducting illegal activities and practices in breach of the Medical Act, the Pharmacy Act and the Obeah Act,” he proposed.

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