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Return to Book Page. Hamel, the Obeah Man by Cynric R. Williams ,. Candace Ward Editor. Hamel, the Obeah Man is arguably the most important nineteenth-century English novel of the Caribbean. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published October 5th by Broadview Press Inc first published More Details Other Editions 1. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

To ask other readers questions about Hamel, the Obeah Man , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 2. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Hamel, the Obeah Man. Feb 03, Rita Lamb rated it liked it. This is such an unusual book. On one level it's an early 19th c. On another, it's a meditation on colonial Jamaican society, black, brown and white, from the viewpoint of a slave-owning planter, on the cusp of Emancipation.

I would have expected something I would certainly have expected the author to defend slavery, the status quo, and he does. So you'd think he would show the white planters This is such an unusual book. So you'd think he would show the white planters as naturally superior - commanding, handsome, civilised and aloof? A bit like Tolkien's elves?

No, mostly they're idiots. And about as ugly as trolls. Black people sometimes despise them and often find them ridiculous, clearly with good reason. Black people even beat them up from time to time and on one occasion very nearly lynch one, all seemingly without legal repercussions. The chief villain, a would-be instigator of a slave revolt, is depicted as a simple monster.

He has not a redeeming feature. He is a treacherous, cowardly, sneaking, manipulative, hypocritical, lying, conscienceless, child-murdering arsonist and rapist. And a Methodist minister. And white. And favours abolition. Yes, my jaw dropped too. Both the villain's black co-conspirators are shown as his moral and intellectual superiors and one - Hamel, the slender, enigmatic Obeah man himself - is emerging as a steely, if melancholy, mastermind.

He has all the manly virtues but is less sneaky than the villain and less intellectual than Hamel. The plot is frankly unbelievable, not least in being based on a paternalist fantasy that most poor people, given a choice, would prefer slave status to being free.

I think Jamaican history proved the author wrong there: it seems slavery was not actually an advanced form of social welfare. But, but - he makes you feel things from his perspective sometimes. You get some insight into his feelings about the tsunami of moral superiority thundering over the ocean from abolitionist Britain - that rouses him to a near-frenzy. He is far, far more incensed against interfering evangelicals than he is against rebelling slaves.

He is pro-colonial; anti-imperialist; pro-slavery;anti-moralbusybodying. At one point Hamel calmly explains to the heroine's planter father - whose daughter has been kidnapped by the rebels - exactly what he has been doing, and why. He has raised rebellion because: " I would have revenged myself on the buckras, for bringing me away from my own country, and selling me to a Negro. I would have made Combah king of the island, to revenge myself on the missionaries, and secured to him your daughter, and half-a-dozen more white women, to teach the buckras that black men have as much courage, and power, and knowledge, and strength, and right, as white ones.

They will repay one day on all your heads. There is justice upon the earth, though it seems to sleep; and the black men shall, first or last, shed your blood, and toss your bodies into the sea! His excuse for keeping the status quo seems to be that the alternative social model offered by England is equally bad.

Society in both countries is profoundly unequal: and - he thinks - the English poor suffer worse exploitation than black slaves in Jamaica. So he prefers a sort of plantation-based, benevolent feudalism to ruthless industrialisation. I do think he soft-pedals the amount of violence facing the slaves in their daily lives.

The other surprising thing is how deeply the author who was apparently born and raised in England and who ultimately died there loves Jamaica. Not its human aspect so much as the island itself: its varied light, its winds, creepers, seas, trees, lagoons, streams, heat, mountain paths and little lizards. You know he does, because though he never directly rhapsodises about the Jamaican landscape, he can't stop mentioning it.

Its presence has sunk permanently into his mind. His other obvious love is for mixed-race Jamaican women - often stunningly beautiful, and, unlike white women, not vacuum-packed in deadening sexual purity. His nominal heroine is Joanna, a planter's virgin daughter: but his real heroine is her 'Quadroon' maid, the lovely, lively Miss Michal.

Joanna is given nothing to do but pine silently for her lover and weep over her mother's grave. Michal is at peace with her complete self: she flirts with the hero, defies the villain, dresses as a boy, carries vital news, makes moral decisions and turns the head of any man who sees her - including the warrior-king, Combah, who speedily drops his plan of making Joanna his trophy-wife the second he sets eyes on Michal.

Don't get me wrong, this book is not up there with 'Persuasion', 'Wuthering Heights', or 'Vanity Fair'. Perhaps it's not even a good read. It's formless, a bit silly, the characters are often stereotypes, the humour dated and the chief villain is just a whipping-boy for the author's personal rage at moral evangelism.

But it's strange. And the ending is impressive: Hamel, forced to choose between saving a white friend to whom he owes a personal debt and his duty to the rebels, consciously chooses his friend. Thereafter he is morally stricken. He has broken his oath. The whites offer him gold, and a life of peace and honour. He refuses. He will go back "to my mother's country". He hoists sail in his little canoe and heads 'eastward' - but eastward to Haiti, or on an impossible voyage to Africa?

The white men stand on the beach and strain their eyes for the last glimpse of his dwindling craft, but they never learn more of his fate. I even think Williams had plans to write another book, perhaps taking up the story of Michal, whom he clearly sees as his most fascinating character.

But he died within five years of 'Hamel' and if he began another work, it's lost. That's a pity. Not a great writer, but a writer with his teeth into a great subject. View 1 comment. This is an old-school gothic novel set in colonial Jamaica. Very slow moving and murky, with the usual mix of jealousy, lust, ambition and cruelty Feb 10, Olivia rated it liked it. It was a lot of things, but mainly


Hamel, the Obeah Man

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Hamel, The Obeah Man. Volume 1

Access options available:. By the late s, the first wave of Gothic narratives seemed to have all but exhausted the spectacular horrors supposedly found in the ruins of medieval Europe; yet many writers continued to use Gothic tropes and rhetoric in fictions that more directly addressed pressing contemporary anxieties. One such novel is the anonymously published Hamel, the Obeah Man , set in early s colonial Jamaica, a scene torn by severe racial and political conflict. The institution of slavery was still in existence, though increasingly under attack, both from local revolts organized by the enslaved and from the antislavery movement in England. Representatives of the latter had long labored to make the British public aware of the inhumanity of slavery and the cruelties practiced in the British slave colonies, a campaign that resulted in the abolition of the slave trade in In the s, they were taking the struggle further by agitating in Parliament for total emancipation. Fearing that emancipation was not to be stopped, and already facing declining profits from the sugar trade, the white plantocracy in Jamaica seems in turn to have been overcome by a sense of doom, even though many planters continued to speak up for what they felt to be their rights against the perceived interference of the imperial government.


Hamel, the Obeah man




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