When I saw what this month’s blog all about it challenge topic was spirit, I though this is a good topic to highlight few of the things that add to my island home diverse culture. I decided to talk about the beliefs and customs of my island home, which would cover this month’s topic.
The title of my post indicates a common saying we have here in Jamaica. What this means is our belief system has the power to harm or protect, which depends on what or whom an individual believes in.
Jamaicans have several beliefs and customs, which stemmed from our African ancestors. These are indigenous to the island. Most these beliefs and customs are tied to birth and death. Both Jamaicans who live overseas and those who reside on the island practice these customs. However, it should be noted that the practice of these customs and beliefs is not practiced by all Jamaicans and is only done in some parts of the island.
Beliefs and Customs
Birth: It is believed if the umbilical cord of a newborn is buried and a tree is planted at the spot of the burial the baby will stay connected to his or her place of birth. Not true, but when someone strongly believes in such a practice, it is hard to convince them otherwise.
Death and Afterlife: Prior to the commencement of a funeral for a loved one a festival is held. They call this a Nine Night or Wake. For the first eight nights after the death of a loved one, friends and relatives gather and drink, dance and sing all night. On the nine night, which is the important night, they sing only farewell songs. During this time, they rearrange the deceased room, as they believe in doing so the spirit of the deceased will not recognize the room and return from whence it came. In addition, a final meal is served to the spirit of the deceased and is placed under a cotton tree, which is considered a hiding ground for spirits. They do all of this to pacify the deceased so that its spirit will become harmless. Again, this all depends on what you believe. I for one did none of these things when I lost a loved one and I am yet to be harmed by a spirit.
Religious Beliefs: Jamaica’s value system is steeped in religion. It has a diverse range of cults, sects, denominations and movements. The most common belief practiced today is Christianity. However, a few persons still follow the religion of the slaves, which is based on African beliefs and practices. These beliefs include ceremonial spirit possession, spiritual healing, sorcery and drumming and dancing. One practice stemming from these activities is called Obeah. They link this belief to sorcery and black magic. Using Obeah can be twofold, depending on the user’s intentions. It can be used for good or evil. Now the practice of Obeah is illegal, but there are persons who still perform these activities. This occurs in the deep rural areas. Obeah is based on the belief that the practitioner captures spirits and uses them for malicious purposes. Sounds scary, right. Then again it all boils down to what you believe.
In addition to the use of spirits to control or harm someone, the practitioner may prepare a potion, which can also be used for this purpose. The things that persons will do to keep someone in their lives indefinitely or to destroy someone they think is their enemy, never ceases to amaze me.
In regards to healing, there are persons who believe their illness is caused by an evil spirit, placed on them by their enemy, and so to get rid of this demonic force they would visit an Obeah practitioner. Frankly I would rather spend my money with a qualified medical practitioner.
There is a lot more I could talk about, but I will leave that for another time.
I grew up in a Christian home and as such was not exposed to these practices. My beliefs are firmly rooted in Christianity. Thank goodness. I know that spirit possession and witchcraft exists, but that is not where my beliefs rest. As a woman of faith, my belief rests firmly in my Christian upbringing.