Williams went to obeah woman

By Sean Douglas
November 07, 2009 – newsday.co.tt

Dr Eric WilliamsHistorian Prof Selwyn Ryan said that on balance former prime minister, the late Dr Eric Williams, was a positive force for Trinidad and Tobago but had done negative acts which affect the country to this very day.

Ryan gave a talk on Williams as part of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) research fellow series of lectures on Thursday at the National Library, Port-of-Spain.

Ryan began by pointing out the complex personality of the “black French creole”, Williams, whose white mother suffered by not only being illegitimate but also by later being disowned by her family for eloping with the family’s black employee, who was to be Williams’ father. Suggesting that the bossy ways of Williams’ mother were later adopted by Williams in politics, Ryan said, “When she spoke, no dog must bark.”

Ryan suggested that the legacy of “genteel poverty” suffered by his mother gave Williams a chip on his shoulder which might have been expressed in venom in his famous “Massa day done” speech. He said Williams and his brothers used to be by their father to see a Vincentian obeah woman in Laventille, until their mother stepped in and instead had a Catholic priest visit them.

Ryan also painted a picture of an embarrassed Williams having to help deliver cakes around Belmont for his parents who were working desperately in many efforts to maintain themselves.

Ryan dwelt on the theme of whether historical events occur due to the character of great men, or due to the cumulative effect of the surrounding environment.

He said despite current speculation, there was evidence that Williams had in fact always wanted to get into politics, as he quoted a letter to Jamaican leader Norman Manley saying Williams’ autobiography would be a political manifesto.

Ryan said one of Williams greatest tasks was the decolonisation and reconstitution of the civil service. He said Williams liked “ad hocracy” involving his hand-picked mandarins, rather than people who had come up through the Public Service. These technocrats, said Ryan, enjoyed enormous power, even ahead of government ministers, such as sleeping at Williams’ house on Christmas Day.

“What puzzles me is how he turned on these people in the end, and the viciousness with which he treated them,” said Ryan. He speculated this might have been due either to demands upon Williams for morality in public affairs, or due the health of Williams. He recalled a speech by Williams accusing his technocracy of virtually wanting to have a coup.

“A number of civil servants were sent off to the ‘gulag’. They got too close to him…Some never recovered,” Ryan said.

Saying some were humiliated and lost their salaries, Ryan couldn’t understand how Williams could have so treated these people who had even virtually sacrificed their families for him.

“I looked for other explanations to Williams’ behaviour — something switched on or off (in Williams).”

Ryan said when top technocrats such as Frank Rampersad were “sent off”, it was assumed they had found out something explosive about Tesoro. He said the 1970s was the start of the “bypass system” of using technocrats ahead of the civil service.

Ryan said Williams was thought to know about corruption and may even have helped in cover-ups. He recalled being told Williams liked the jovial company of John O’Halloran through whom he may have enjoyed many things vicariously.


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15 thoughts on “Williams went to obeah woman”

  1. Am I supposed to cringe because the term Obeah is being used?
    Maybe Trinicenter need to write a disclaimer since they posted this continuing psychological warfare being waged against anything African in the T&T media.
    Trinicenter, write about the role ‘Obeah’ played in defeating the Mighty British by the Maroons of Jamaica.. Write about it’s use in the Haitian Revolution..
    Ah wonder when Dr. Ryan go write bout Rama and Sambuka boy Stevie…

    “Centuries before comic-book superheroes began catching bullets in their bare hands, obeah is said to have enabled rebellious slave heroes and heroines t perform that feat in Jamaica. In the 1730s Queen Nanny, an obeah woman, taught warriors to catch bullets in their left hand and fire them back. She showed her own disdain for the magic of European firearms with a greater magic, catching bullets safel between her buttocks.”

  2. Roger, I was hoping you, and other informed Trinis would treat that Ryan headline with the contempt it deserves.Critics have a role of trying to tear apart every iconic figure, and putting ashes in their places. Then they wonder why young people are so bitter and violent. Perhaps Dr. Ryan can get off of his high horse and go consult an “Obeah woman”, dignitaries usually go at night, so she could prescribe a bush bath, a period of fasting, and some annointings, as well as lighting of candles, for this hell hole my beloved country is fast becoming.
    Then go to Mt. St. Benedict and see the prescription repeated.
    Nobody hates Africanness like an “educated” Trini.

  3. This article was carried in the Newsday with that headline “Williams went to obeah woman” and I doubt that Prof. Selwyn Ryan had anything to do with choosing that headline (not that there is anything wrong with it). The article was written by Sean Douglas who works for the Newsday and it is about Ryan’s lecture at the UTT. Therefore, how the article was written and the choice of the headline cannot be attributed to Ryan. Prof. Selwyn Ryan is a columnist at the Trinidad Express.

    Among other things, the article mentioned that “Williams and his brothers used to be by their father to see a Vincentian obeah woman”. There is nothing demeaning about what was stated in spite of the fact that many people consider Obeah to be negative. The article did not cast Obeah in a negative light, although Newsday’s editors highlighted that aspect of the article in the headline for maximum attention.

    If people have a problem with this article or its headline then the problem is in their heads. They could be having a problem with the idea that Dr. Eric Williams visited an Obeah woman or that this information has been exposed.

  4. “Among other things, the article mentioned that“Williams and his brothers used to be by their father to see a Vincentian obeah woman”. There is nothing demeaning about what was stated in spite of the fact that many people consider Obeah to be negative. The article did not cast Obeah in a negative light although Newsday’s editors highlighted that aspect of the article in the headline for maximum attention. the article in the headline for maximum attention.”

    I know you are bigger than that Heru.. After all these years, I can still hear you articulating your views over the airwaves…
    Much Respect.

  5. So young people are bitter and violent due to the fact that critics have decided to tear new holes into the images of iconic figures huh? How interesting I am not a historian like the Doc and his admirers , but I a well aware that we do our country and it’s youth no good by giving them a distorted picture of history.
    I am on record as saying that the Doc for all his good , was a vindictive , self opinionated leader that cuddled the corrupted and was in most of his years asleep at the wheel while others with sinister purposes run roughshod over the country’s resources , and the people that initially got him to power , remained abused and neglected even up to present time, as one of his former protégé ‘rule’s the roost.’
    Thanks Prof. Ryan , but we do not care if the Father of the nation slept in bed nightly with an obeah woman, or the Grandmaster of his Freemason Lodge was the godfather of his only black baby Erica.
    We are however aware that part of his unfortunate legacy is that today many of the PNM safe seats in the East /East corridor lack running water , or basic other infrastructure , and neglected Tobago remained a social dungheap due to his personal vendettas with young Robbie, the Castaria Kid. 1956 to present is a long time for this malady to continue , and the bigger tragedy is that no one that matters, really cares.
    I know we in baby America love to emulate the actions of our great northern benefactor USA , but think where that country would be if so much energy was not spent trying to glorify the early leaders that help rape , plunder ,and destroy the lives of others that did not come on the Mayflower , looked like them , or choose to disagree with any policy.
    Let’s begin with the immoral Thomas Jefferson of ‘all men are created equal’ fame that daily raped and impregnated his female slaves, and lacked the guts to even free them upon leaving office.
    Rest assured Ms. L, once Africans on the Virgin continent give more than lip service and show true happiness for their Africaness ,then others across the diaspora will follow , including educated Trinis. That is unless you think that Charles Taylor, Mugabe,Rwandan folks that murdered 800,000 Tutsi ,and Africans that daily massacre each other in Nigeria ,Sudan, and Congo are epitome of self love.
    Ah the challenge of nation building!

  6. I am not saying that Afric is perfect. I just want people to realize that the fact that that headline was phrased as it was, shows that attitudes in TnT have not changed. I lost a job at a state enterprise some years back, because I criticized certain things that one party did, and was not an official member of the other party. I tkae politics wit a rain of salt.
    Now, in my back yard in my North American enclave, where the water riuns when you open the tap, where the electricity is relaible and there are nosshortages in the grocery store, i grow vervaine, shado beni, African bitter leaf bush and other tropical herbal medicines. when I open a bottle of wine, I pour a libation to the ancestors, at my front door. light prayer candles daily for the people for whom I pray, including one for President Obama, that the wicked and the vengeful racists would be cleared from his path of peace. I do not let unclean people into my house. We, the Williamses of Williamsville, the Eccles of Eccles Village near Princes Town, and other families that trace our origins in TnT back to 1815 when Mingo and Minerva Edwards arrived there, set from after being taken off a slave ship bound for the US; have kept many of our African ways.
    That that should have been a headline in a paper at all shows how backward our people in TnT as a whole, really are. If we had the courage, the sheer balls, to teach an Afrocentric curriculum to our children in TnT, it could change the behaviour of youth who still suffer the anomie of displaced people. Selwyn Ryan should try focussing on that. Oh we “barren of ideas” knuckleheads.

    Some say the place is so charged, it coudld blow at any moment, then, again, we’d wring our hands and blame everyone but ourselves.

  7. And Sean Douglas need to go to any OBEAH WOMAN house in South around 5am to see who is lining up for service… Yes Stevie, it’s mostly INDIANS (98%).
    That could be very interesting viewing on TRINIVIEW.. but I guess we are yet to understand the power of media..

  8. Linda Edwards said:

    “I am not saying that Afric[a] is perfect. I just want people to realize that the fact that that headline was phrased as it was, shows that attitudes in TnT have not changed.”

    It is a fact that most negative attitudes in Trinidad and Tobago have not changed, but I do not believe that there is a problem with the headline or the phrasing of it. Since there are aspects of the article that do not portray Dr. Eric Williams in a positive light, I suspect some are latching on to the headline as a red-herring in an attempt to trash the article.

    Two points in that article are not common knowledge: Dr. Eric Williams’ mother was white and, he visited an Obeah man or woman.

    If someone wrote a headline “Heru Went to an Obeah Woman”, how is that degrading to me? If I am upset, it is because I am ashamed of people knowing that or I believe they would interpret it badly. Either way, simply stating the fact is not degrading. If I visited an Obeah woman and I was a Christian and was not known to associate with or to encourage these African practices, then that would be an alarming revelation worthy of highlighting.

    There is nothing wrong with Eric Williams visiting an Obeah woman. But most PNM supporters are Christianized Africans who consider these African practices to be backward. Notwithstanding, many people privately visit Obeah people.

    PNM never encouraged the public, including their supporters, to learn and recapture their history as a way to start addressing negative stereotypes and racism. Instead, most PNM supporters latched on to the “There can be no Mother Africa and India” speech that Williams made on the eve of our “Independence”:

    “There can be no Mother India for those whose ancestors came from India. There can be no Mother Africa for those of African origin, and the Trinidad and Tobago society is living a lie and heading for trouble if it seeks to create the impression or to allow others to act under the delusion that Trinidad and Tobago is an African society. There can be no Mother England and no dual loyalties; no person can be allowed to get the best of both worlds, and to enjoy the privileges of citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago whilst expecting to retain United Kingdom citizenship. There can be no Mother China even if one could agree as to which China is the Mother; and there can be no Mother Syria and no Mother Lebanon. A nation, like an individual, can have only one mother. The only Mother we recognize is Trinidad and Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children.”

    The net effect of this statement was that most Africans dismissed suggestions to revisit their African history to assist in mental liberation and esteeming themselves. Those who advocated support of African history studies were ridiculed. All of this was taking place under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams who himself studied African history, but perpetuated the colonial miseducation in schools. All other races reveled in their legacy.

    This showed a major disconnect with Dr. Eric Williams; he studied African history as an academic exercise but did not realize that it was relevant for the masses.

    PNM’s spokespeople spread the lie that if the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) was voted into power they would force citizens to change their names to African names and wear dashikis (African names and clothes were portrayed negatively). African history books were considered subversive literature.

    So while many are protective of the legacy of Williams to the extent of not even wanting to admit his flaws, any honest appraisal of his legacy would have to examine his shortcomings. In my view, his biggest shortcoming was that he did not introduce African history into the schools. Instead, he allowed such studies to be ridiculed under his leadership. If people have a negative attitude towards Obeah, Eric Williams is partly to blame.

  9. A headline cannot detract from the fact that Dr. Eric Williams was a great statesman. politican, historian, author and leader. If he chose to visit an obeah woman, so be it.This was his preference,assuming that it is true, to visiting other religious venues where idols are worshipped and rituals are revered.

  10. These are excellent and thoughtful contributions overall by the last few writers. I should however hasten to add that leaders in the past must not be judged too harshly , as they are merely creatures of their time.
    Let us therefore continue wish our present ones well, and be optimistic that others with the necessary vision can soon emerge that are equipped with necessary skills, temperament ,and foresight to grapple with social problems that are sure to be in existence long into the future.
    Perhaps we should commend the government of Barbados for a bold step on critical Health affairs. This is mere food for thought, but one cannot help but wonder how some countries are capable of achieving so much , with so little.
    Some would say that the people are following the lead of the powers that be, in terms of prioritization.
    Well , we have kaiso. Sing Brigo.
    “She ghe me me breakfast , last week Saturday.
    Ah get so delirious, ah throw it away.
    Ah dog , was passing the same time, smell the food, and start to wind.
    The Voodoo man tell me, dey ghe me dead people bones in tea.
    They have me tie from my head to my toe.”
    Lemme go!

  11. Fair enough Heru…
    But if we want to get technical.
    “He said Williams and his brothers used to be by their father to see a Vincentian obeah woman in Laventille, unti their mother stepped in and instead had a Catholic priest visit them.”
    To me, seem like The Doc was a minor and was ‘taken’ to the Obeah Woman by his father.
    So the headline is misleading.
    Maybe you should go to google and type in ‘News from Trinidad’ and see what comes up.. It might be sobering to Trinicenter..
    The internet is the great equalizer… The rules of the game have changed.
    Now let me go and read Dr. Ryan article bout ‘Voodoo Economics’.

  12. Exactly, Neal. In the drug store section of many grocery stores in Hispanic neighborhoods in the USA, there are all kinds of “love potions” sold in the form of oils, candles and so on.In La Paz, Bolivia, I went to a traditional market with a Bolivian guide, a young law student. There were aborted foetuses of llamas for sale. They are supposed to be powerful magic. A few months ago, US customs intercepted the luggage of an old woman from Cambodia. In it was a collection of animal parts, monkey heads, elephants’ penises and so on, all apparently to be used for making magic. Many of the animals were on the endangered species list, but they were killed, dried and taken out of Cambodia nonetheless.
    People, especially in down times, believe all sorts of things. Cubans have kept many of their African beliefs, so have Brazilians. They have ikengas in their homes, something sacred to a specific family member.

    The problem with th term obeah is that it has a negative connotation in Trinidad and Tobago because people believe such a person could kill someone for you, or make you rich. If they focussed on the spiritual beliefs of such a person, that would not be an issue. If you want to kill someone in TnT, do not invest in fetishes, ask the :laventille and Charliville people, they both know who to hire. If you want to get rich, invent something the people need.
    Let us uphold the experiences of African ancestors who kept themselves safe by herbal prctices that have stood the test of time. The western press has maligned these beliefs, and so, saying that Dr. Williams “went to an obeah woman” without saying whether he was seeking a herbal health help or whatever, is pbad, it puts him ain a poor light.

  13. There are lots of stories of people reinventing themselves in TnT, rising from poverty to wealth and influence. Dr. William’s story is one of the greatest.If he had to sell bred to help his family, so be it. that should inspire you people to try to rise above poverty. One of my closest friends had a mother who took in washing for a living, and he had to help deliver clothes. You know what he bought for his wife as wedding present? A washing machine, that was in 1962 on a teacher’s salary!He has gone to the ancestors now, but when I heard that story, my respect for him grew by leaps and bounds. We could see the Williams story in many ways. All gods have feet of clay. We used to be so proud of buying our vegetables and fruit. Today people with PhD’s take pride in growing their own. Williams came up at the time when people wanted to put many miles between them and poverty. I do remember distinctly that when he visited his sister living in the Laventille projects on Lady Young Road, she presented him with a loaf of homemade bread.He looked a bit taken aback in the pictures in the papers, but she was saluting him in a special way, saying ‘We are family”.
    The pendulum has swung away from commercially prepared food, and people are cooking once more, and growing their own herbs.Today, he would have been managing his diabetes not with insulin, but by drinking cinnamon tea, aloe vera juice, unsweetened mauby bark tea, and eating less carbs. He probably would still visit our ancient counsellors, the spiritual advisors whom the Brits could not defeat, called Obeah men and women.

  14. After reading the article and the comments of other readers. I havee come to the conclusions that we are still in denial, we are still living in state of ignorance. Becuase many peole in this country live by obeah on a daily basis, we believe in charms,black fridays, halloween, blights and jumby just to name a few. These people are doctors,lawyers,politicians,office workers,business people. Just remember when Benny Hinn came here and what he said and evrey body became annoyed Why? is it because of the that it is true.

  15. Coming to think of it brother Gary Clark do have a valid point here about people living in denial. Now if Doc Williams one time pals in the African Shango Baptist beat drums , and drink goat blood to ward off evil spirits ,and do harm to unsuspecting neighbors that’s there business, however it should be equally fine for other groups to fly their multi colored flags , and through culturally driven greed ,occasionally sacrifice their innocent children to some fictitious gods on a daily basis, so as to obtain more of the almighty dollar, and or acquire elusive power.
    Back in the days ,I would quake in my boots from fear of even thinking of stealing an item , when I was told as a kid about the likelihood that a Mt. St. Benedict Priest might put a light on me,as a result for my troubles.
    It sure work in my case to keep on the straight and narrow part all the way to adulthood, and for the repeated offender probably who falls prey to recidivism- or is this a stretch some think ,meaning that there is ‘more than the mortar and the pestle,’ at play here?
    I wonder if some of those useless Social Science Social Science party freaks and their numerous mentally constipated Professors have any time to research any of these and similar social maladies that are afflicting us , or should we remain underachievers as a nation , as our people and most of the leaders remain fixated on stupid ,divisive ,Trini tribal politics until the year 2099?

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