Below is the transcript to the videos by Prof. Dianne M. Stewart on the history and origin of Obeah and Vodou which is no longer available on YouTube.
Obeah Part 1(Dianne Stewart formerly Diakite)
Obeah is a Caribbean traditions and South American tradition that emerged during the slave period ...and we begin to see records detailing Obeah in the 18th century. Certainly we can assume that enslaved Africans were practicing their spiritual traditions which were often understood to be Obeah before the 18th century. But this is when we begin to see a plethora of descriptions of Obeah traditions. Obeah is a very difficult phenomenon to unravel. Why? Because the colonial order saw Obeah as a menace. Obeah was criminalized, policed and censored throughout the slave and colonial period.
When we look at Jamaica,(which is a very important island to examine, because Jamaica was Britain's most treasured and profitable island colony during the 18th century) we see, for example, the colonial establishment did not take Obeah seriously until about 1760 when Tacky's revolt was toppled. It was discovered that Obeah was like a foundation for the conspirators in the revolt. Obeah was given new attention by the colonial establishment, So Obeah came to signify for the colonial officials, evil magic, black magic, anti-social behaviour, criminal behaviour and unfortunately it has developed that kind of reputations even for Caribbean people of African descent today. But that's not the full story. If we really look at the wide range of descriptions about Obeah, we often see that Obeah was also used for healing. Obeah signified knowledge of botanical herbs and their properties. So I like to think of Obeah as a repository of skills, talents, knowledges, spiritual powers, spiritual grammars that orient people toward deploying power, either for healing and health or for example, for weaponry and warfare.
Scholars have linked the term itself to two plausible origins in Africa. That doesn't mean that only people from those regions in Africa were a part of Obeah, but the Bight of Biafra region which contributed a lot of captive Africans to the Caribbean has the term Dibia which means doctor or healer; and Abiya which means esoteric knowledge. And then in Akan traditions we find the words Obeye(Obay-yay) which means neutral mystical power. And so I like to see Obeah more as neutral power that can oriented toward any intention. And one of the intentions for the enslaved communities was to utilize Obeah as an aggressive force for weaponry and warfare against the colonial establishment. And we see Obeah at the root of every slave revolt in Jamaica in the 18th century all the way through the Sam Sharpe revolt of 1831 which involved 60,000 enslaved African on the island.
Obeah Part 2(Dianne Stewart)
Vodou means god or spirit. Voodoo is a Fongbe term that originates among West African populations. It's shared by the Fon and other Aja speakers in regions of former Dahomey which is now modern day Benin Republic; (Republic of Benin the country), Ghana. (there is a small group of communities that practice Vodou in Ghana) and Togo; and some people actually argue that Togo is the home – really the homeland of Vodou. So Togo is a very important region that is not often examined as well. Vodou made its way to Haiti during slavery and one of the misconceptions I think people have of Vodou in terms of its origins is that people think “Oh it's only from 'those peoples'”. When we look at the research of scholars who have studied Vodou across the 20th century, we find that Vodou was almost like an initiatory structure that held – had the capacity to organize enslaved Africans under 'nations'. So you have the Senega(?) nation, you find the Congo nation, you find the Ibo nation, all within the structure of Vodou. It;s a very complex tradition that also synthesized other African traditions within the framework of Vodou. Vodou... People will be surprised to know that when we go to the etymology of Vodou the term can mean, literally “rest a while by the cool waters, because if you rush you will die”. Vodou really is about a certain type of contemplation, a connection with the spirits. I remember the former president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide writing that a true Voduisant is a server of the spirits. People often ask in Haiti, “do you serve the spirits?”. People often think of Vodou in Haiti as a musical genre or a dance genre, because that's how you get into connection with the ancestors and the spirits. And it's about maintaining kinship bonds, relational ties, so that the visible community and the invisible community is nurtured and can live in fulfilling ways. Vodou is a way of life with ritual encoding dance , including a theology, a philosophy, initiation practices. It is not some sort of evil magical tradition of sticking pins in dolls. In fact, I wonder if people don't realize where that stereotype comes from. There are some African foundations for why that stereotype might have emerged, in the tradition of Bolchio or in the Kongo tradition of Nkisi or Minkisi. There are also those foundations in Europe. It was Europe which had the tradition of sticking pins in dolls actually and a lot of people don't know that. But those traditions are related in many cases to health and healing cultures; therapeutic cultures. That “if I'm struggling or suffering from something and I stick a nail in a particular image that I've made, that's the area from which I want healing. So a lot of those traditions were misunderstood, Also it's just inappropriate to reduce Vodou to mystical technologies. Mystical technologies are a part of Vodou tradition but Vodou tradition is so much more when you begin to think of the actual deities or loa, as they are called, and how they engage the visible community. The elaborate ritual life that is required to be in relationship with them. We really see a religious culture at work.