Eggs pt 2: In Myal

Previously I looked at the use of bird’s eggs in Jamaican Obeah . This month’s post focuses on how they were used in the Myal faith to counteract one of Obeah’s more sinister practices.

There was a belief that an Obeah practitioner could cause illness or death by stealing a person’s shadow – an entity akin to a spirit but belonging to the living. The shadow would then be nailed it to a cotton tree where it would remain trapped.

In the 19th century, Thomas Banbury, African-Jamaican clergyman and folklore collector, commented that:

It is believed that after the shadow of anyone is taken he is never healthy; and if it be not caught, he must pine away until he dies. (Banbury, p. 23).

To counteract this, Myalists would parade to a cotton tree and walk around it, singing and dancing in order to heal a sick person whose condition did not respond to other remedies. The tree would be pelted with eggs and dead fowl in an attempt to persuade the duppies which inhabited the tree to release the patient’s trapped shadow the eggs and poultry being an offering to the spirits. A white bowl filled with water would be held up to the tree to catch the shadow. Once caught, a lid would quickly be put on the bowl. The shadow would be restored to its ‘owner’ by dipping a cloth in the water and wrapping it about the patient’s head (Beckwith, pp. 144-45).

Cotton_Tree_on_Spanish_Town_Road,_Jamaica,_ca.1875-ca.1940_(imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS11-017)

Banbury also gives an alternate account whereby the patient accompanied the Myalists to the tree to witness the ritual (Banbury, p. 23). He also noted that the singing and dancing would become more vigorous as the duppies’ grip on the shadow loosened and that the Myalists would be paid six dollars for such a cure (Ibid., p. 23).

Next time… I move away from Jamaica to look at some Hawaiian tress which connect to the spirit world

Sources

Rev. Thomas Banbury, Jamaica Superstitions; or the Obeah Book: A Complete Treatise of the Absurdities Believed in by the People of the Island (Kingston: Mortimer Co. De Souza, 1894).

Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929).

Image credits:Cotton Tree on Spanish Town Road, Jamaica” by unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cotton_Tree_on_Spanish_Town_Road,_Jamaica,_ca.1875-ca.1940_(imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS11-017).jpg> (13 May 2022).

Advertisement

One thought on “Eggs pt 2: In Myal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s