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They Must Be Talked to One to One: Speaking with the Spirits

They Must Be Talked to One to One: Speaking with the Spirits

Chapter:
(p.143) Four They Must Be Talked to One to One: Speaking with the Spirits
Source:
The Freedom of Speech
Author(s):
Miles Ogborn
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226657714.003.0005

This chapter examines forms of speech involved in talking to spirits of all sorts within Caribbean slavery. It argues that communication with other-worldly interlocutors was of crucial importance, since all islanders understood speech as giving access to the beliefs of others and as a powerful agent of personal and social transformation. Three sorts of spiritual speech practice are discussed: the sermons and catechetical teaching of the Church of England, including attempts to convert the enslaved; the speech practices of obeah, including ways of speaking with the dead, and how those were understood as powerful words by the slaveholders who sought to outlaw them; and the forms of preaching, praying, and oral instruction of the nonconformist missionaries, especially Methodists, who came to the islands to effect conversions to their religion. It demonstrates that islanders of all sorts made power-laden and racialized distinctions between who could and who could not speak to the spirits, which became increasingly important as questions of spiritual practice became central to governing these slave societies after the abolition of the slave trade. However, it also shows that the practice and experience of speaking with spirits meant that these distinctions were always both undermined and overwhelmed.

Keywords:   spirits, religion, sermons, Church of England, obeah, praying, preaching, nonconformist missionaries, Methodists, conversions

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