Three Worships, an Old Warlock and Many Lawless Forces: The Court Trial of an African Doctor who Practised ‘Obeah to Cure’, in Early Nineteenth Century Jamaica
Tukontology’ is an approach to studying the process of creolisation (termed ‘hybridity’ or ‘partnerships’ by other scholars) that is grounded in the findings of Science Studies generally and Actor-Network-Theory in particular. A musical metaphor, based on the Barbadian triune TukBand orchestra, is used to help elaborate how encounters between groups can be studied symmetrically without resorting to the knowledge of any hegemonic group as a privileged resource for explaining other groups. In the tukontological orchestra, the Penny Whistle represents creativity; the Kettle Drum serves as ways of knowing, and the Boom Drum composes ontologies. In this article, the approach is used to describe the report of an obeah trial that occurred in the slave courts of Jamaica in 1824. The testimony of the trial provides an excellent text for understanding an encounter between the force of African obeah and English forces. It is argued that the English court as an auditorium – with its forces of science, medicine, and laws arrayed against a single accused African and his force – was able to isolate and weaken obeah, a force that was ordinarily held in awe by Africans in their own communities and by some English outside of the court. The article also explains why it was inevitable, though not inherently truthful, that the court would view the work involving obeah as irrational, and in the end deem the African sage, referred to as an ‘old warlock’ by The Times, to be fraudulent.