Jesus Christ the Good Obeah Man

Here is the newspaper photo of young Rannie McAlmon who drowned at Gorgona Beach on July 4 1946.

Back in the days of my youth when I knew nothing at all about religion and I was introduced to churchgoing by my paternal grandmother and aunts, I came up with the idea that Jesus Christ was the good Obeah Man.

Since the adults in my life never discussed anything with us kids, the evolution of this notion on my part was not really far fetched. I must confess that the dichotomy of ideals and ideas on this subject originated in part in my grandmother’s reservation to fully trust organized religion.  Also, my Aunt Bernice’s love of her Anglican religion seemed tailor made for me, a child suffering from abandonment, to come to those conclusions about something like religiosity.  It was inevitable for me to evolve the way I did.

The fact that I had been a participant observer from the time I had any consciousness about my surroundings made the matter of finding answers about my folks and myself a matter of patient undertaking. The fact was, however, that I admired my grandmother Fanny Elizabeth for being an olden day “Bohemian” because she so enjoyed having all those different, or may I say, revolutionary thoughts hanging out in her home. It was not at all uncommon at any given time for some “Spiritist” or intellectual, or numerologist to come by the house and hold their own discussion or events they called “readings” right in our living room in our apartment in Magnolia building.

They all seemed to feel at home at my Mamí’s place to come and visit at any time; even well educated people from Jamaica she welcomed in the home. While they did their thing I was sure to be present but “absent” where they could not see me, taking in everything. It was a knack I developed over the years from infancy and I could remain invisible enough while people visited while I took everything in.

I remembered a tragedy that happened to a neighborhood kid named Randolph McAlmon whom we all knew as Rannie.  It had happened back on the July 4th celebrations in the year 1946 and it all hit us quite abruptly.  According to the newspaper’s front page headline, the friends and family along with the authorities launched a “Search for Body of Drowned ‘Rannie’ McAlmon.

Randolph S. McAlmon was some six years older than I was at the time.  Old Rannie, as his neighborhood friends in the Barrio of Chorrillo knew him, used to come over often asking to visit with my young Aunt Gwendolyn.

The fact that they never did find Rannie’s remains when they combed Farfan, San Carlos and Gorgona Beaches on the Pacific side, from then on made me a very cautious and fatalistic person.  I also thought at the time a lot- too many, in fact- of very young Westindian youth were suddenly just dying without any apparent cause or explanation. It was about this time of Rannie’s tragedy that my grandmother and I developed a special spiritual alliance that I thought could ward off all such evil omens. You can read about this incident and the tribute we have left for Rannie here.

Although I had as yet not really gotten to know the story of Jesus Christ, when I finally did I could read the miracles for myself and I immediately thought that my grandmother had been absolutely right in her assertions that not all Obeah men were evil; particularly if they attended and adhered to the Holy Bible.

Sometimes all I had to do was to mention my deceased Uncle Eric and my Mamí would go off into some areas of his life, when all I wanted to know was “What were his last words?” However the story would wind up, my grandmother and I were sure that Eric J. Reid had gone to heaven because his last words were, “Oh Jesus Christ!”

This story continues.

2 responses to “Jesus Christ the Good Obeah Man

  1. It is strange with Rannie’s case, because the sea did not give up the dead to his family for them to bury him.

    In Rainbow City alone I remember us having about six drownings of Rainbow young men who were in their early twenties. The sad thing is that many of them were good swimmers. I was a little girl but I remember vividly how the families and the entire community had a collective mourning that lasted for days, then we would hear of another drowning.

    I can recall the daily/evenings/night mourning up to the Nine Nights. Do they still mourn like that in Panama?

    There was a belief back then bordering on myth or even superstition that the dead who had passed away before their time in an accident (drowning, etc.) were always calling the living and any Zonian would tell you that there were many sightings of dead people all across the Canal Zone (both White and Black Zone).

    Back in Rainbow parents used to tell their children not to go near rivers, lakes,beaches and even the majestic Atlantic without their permission.

    I would lie to you if I tell you I do not believe in the awesome power of God. I have seen some strange and miraculous things in my life.

    We have always had holy people in this world; at the same time, there is also wickedness in high places.


  2. Ana,

    Sad to say neither the Westindian community or any community mourns for the dead in a traditional style any more. I haven’t seen mourners dedicating a Nine Nights in a very long time; it just isn’t done any more. Very sad but, in part, that is why we insist upon bringing up the issue of the Silver cemeteries and our ancestors so that their memory is respected and preserved with dignity.

    Thank you for asking some relevant questions.