restricted access The Art of Power: Poison and Obeah Accusations and the Struggle for Dominance and Survival in Jamaica’s Slave Society

Jamaica’s criminalization of Obeah after Tacky’s 1760 Revolt resulted in many accusations and prosecutions of alleged clients and practitioners by planters who intended to prevent similar future slave rebellions and eliminate rivals who competed for enslaved people’s loyalty. Such efforts produced many slave laws and policing efforts, which legitimized and expanded slaveholders’ dominance and power, but ironically, increased enslaved people’s bargaining powers. Exploring how legal definitions of poison and Obeah changed over time and the political and social purposes poison and Obeah accusations served, reveals the complex ways in which the enslaver and enslaved struggled for dominance and survival within Jamaica’s slave society. While poison and Obeah laws, accusations and prosecutions give us good insights into the complicated conflicts, tensions and negotiations between enslaver and enslaved and among members of slave communities, they yield an unfortunate legacy that defame Obeah as witchcraft and fraud and erroneously attribute poison as a key element.