advertisement

Many different factors contributed to the formation of a potent and vital body of myths within The Bahamas. Among the strongest factors were the nation's unusual geography, its noteworthy history, and the often turbulent mingling of cultures. Some tales are a mélange of about a half dozen different oral traditions, including those of England, Africa, France, and neighboring islands of the Caribbean. Storytelling is a fine art, with a tradition that remains the strongest on the Out Islands, where television (and electricity) was long in coming.

Obeah, which has been defined as a mixture of European superstitions, African (especially Yoruban) religion, and Judeo-Christian beliefs, retains similarities to the voodoo of Haiti, the Santeria of Cuba and Brazil, and the Shango of Trinidad. Steeped in the mythic traditions of West Africa, it is an important part of Bahamian national heritage.

An obeah practitioner may chant, sing, or go into a trance to communicate with another dimension of reality. The most common method of obeah practice in The Bahamas today involves "fixing" a person with a spell, which can be "cleared" either by another obeah practitioner or by a formal medical doctor. Much more serious is to be "cursed" by an obeah master, the effect of which can be lifted only by that same person. Magic is divided into black and white spheres, with white magic being the more potent and the less evil.

Ghosts or spirits are known as "sperrids," and necromancy -- the habit of soliciting communications from the dead -- is a ritualistic form of obeah used to get information that can be put either to good or evil use. According to tradition, the sperrids dwell in the fluffy tops of the silk cotton trees that are widespread throughout The Bahamas. This belief probably has its origins in African traditions, where many tribes worship the cotton tree as the abode of the spirits of the dead. Although sperrids wander at will throughout the earth, causing mischief and unhappiness wherever they go, only the obeah man or woman can channel their power.

On some islands (including remote Cat Island), residents believed that a "working witch" could be hired to perform tasks. The most common form of a witch was that of a cat, rabbit, snake, or rat. Folk tales abound about the mythical powers of these witch-animals. Especially fearsome was any short, fat snake with a ribbon tied around it, a sure sign that the reptile was actually a witch in disguise.

Highly secret, as clandestine as you might imagine witchcraft to be within unpublicized covens of New England, obeah is a superstitious undercurrent running through the context of life on some islands. No outsider would be invited to the few ritualized events that might take place.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.