Publication Date

2014-07-31

Availability

Embargoed

Embargo Period

2016-07-29

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

History (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2014-06-02

First Committee Member

Kate Ramsey

Second Committee Member

Edmund Abaka

Third Committee Member

Donald Spivey

Fourth Committee Member

Akin Ogundiran

Abstract

Starting in the mid-eighteenth century in the Caribbean and the mid-nineteenth century in Africa, the British passed laws which criminalized certain African spiritual and medico-religious rituals in their colonies. In the Caribbean colonies, these practices were proscribed as “obeah” and in the African colonies they were banned as “pretended witchcraft.” Although obeah and witchcraft statutes shared many similar characteristics, the purpose and enforcement of these provisions varied greatly. In the Caribbean, obeah laws evolved over time to address shifting colonial complaints about African spiritual practices. In Britain’s African colonies, witchcraft laws were primarily designed to address one concern —indigenous methods of accusing and punishing suspected witches. Based on my comparative examination of the proscription and prosecution of obeah and witchcraft, I argue that British colonial laws and policies prohibiting African spiritual practices were region-specific and that there was never a coherent policy throughout the British Empire regarding the suppression of the “pretended” practice of witchcraft or other supernatural rituals. In this dissertation, I examine how the colonial response to African medico-religious practices differed on each side of the Atlantic and explore the reasons for these disparate policies.

Keywords

Witchcraft; Obeah; African religion; Atlantic World; Legal History; Colonialism

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