Enchanting Panics and Obeah Anxieties: Concealing and Disclosing Eastern Caribbean Witchcraft



SUMMARY Between 1999 and 2001 on the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, there were several panics revolving around the suspected use of Obeah, a form of Caribbean witchcraft/sorcery. My interest in Caribbean witchcraft was in fact catalyzed by one such event: a witchcraft scare in Dominica's secondary schools in mid-1999. Some terrified parents had pulled their teenage children out of school, influenced by rumors that certain students intended to “sacrifice virgins” at a mass ritual. The timing of these panics was not incidental. Rather, the accusations coincided with the devastation of the eastern Caribbean economies by a series of foreign interventions: a WTO ruling that destroyed the market for their principal export crop, an Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development “blacklist” that decimated financial industries, and the failing of the tourism industries before and after 9/11. Accusations of witchcraft were a culturally logical response to socioeconomic anxieties. However, until this article, I never documented the school panics. Several of my closest interlocutors had been among the principal persons accused in these scares, and I had been concerned about maintaining their anonymity (even of those who had not been accused). Moreover, my interlocutors pleaded with me not to publish these events, arguing it would confer a sense of backwardness and exoticism that would damage the nation's image at a time when it was struggling to adapt to the global economy. In this article, I examine the reasons for previously concealing this information and the cultural logic behind disclosing it now.