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About sharing For hundreds of years Jamaicans have been prevented by law from practising Obeah, a belief system with similarities to Haiti's Voodoo. Now, campaigners and practitioners believe they have a chance to overturn the law.

Until recently, the practice of Obeah was punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties. The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls for a decriminalisation of Obeah to follow.

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But Jamaica is a highly religious country. Christianity dominates nearly every aspect of life; and it is practiced everywhere mesxage small, wooden meeting halls through to mega-churches with congregations that in the thousands. The island claims to have the highest ratio of churches to people in the world. So the proposal to decriminalise what many Christians regard as black magic, a scam, or even evil, is highly controversial.

It has survived in rural communities though, and finding an Obeah man is a relatively easy task in the hills of St Mary. Locals point out a property that is surrounded by a corrugated metal messqge, painted in bright blue and yellow.

'The gift'

It is not exactly a discreet mesage for a man who takes part in illegal activity. But he is not hiding who, or what, he is. People come to him all day long for the advice that he dispenses from his veranda.

He is in his sixties but says he first got the "gift" as when he predicted the death of a neighbour. If you are sick I can help you; if a husbxnd puts a curse on you I can take it off. That's what I do to help," he says. He says he can help with all manner of things, from curing illness to removing curses.

Enslaved Africans brought spiritual practices to the Caribbean that included folk healing and a belief in magic for good and for evil. However, it has been decades since anyone was convicted. Some politicians argue that if it is right to rescind punishments such as flogging with a wooden switch and whipping with a cat o' nine tails, the whole law should be repealed. Obeah in the city Although few people believe in Obeah in the cities, the practitioners have to come to Kingston to stock up on the potions and products they need.

One small chemist in downtown Kingston has most of the regular goods you would expect to see for medsage. But it also foor some surprising items on the shelves at the back: rows of candles, soaps and sprays called "go away evil", and potions that claim to either attract a new partner or stop an existing one from leaving. But over the years the popularity of Obeah has waned and finding Obeah men and women to reveal what they do is rare.

People who use them, rarely want to talk openly about it. Many of the pharmacists who sell the paraphernalia refused to talk on the record and did not want to be identified. Customers will mostly ignore questions about their Obeah purchases.

flr But one young woman says she is after something that will "tie" her man, to stop him running off with other women. It worked then and it works now," she says.

But repealing the legislation will be tough. The Church associates Obeah with evil, others believe it is used to defraud vulnerable people, and many Jamaicans believe parliament has more Swingers colby ks. things to be getting on with, like tackling crime or improving the economy. It is a sentiment shared by former Husbnad Minister Edward Seaga.

He is an expert in Jamaican anthropology, and does not believe decriminalisation would make a difference.

I don't remember the last time someone was arrested," he says. I don't think criminalising it one way or another will make much difference to its survival.

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He says he will continue what he does regardless of what the politicians decide. I don't vote for any of them, it's God I vote for. I'll just keep doing what I do," he says.

More on this story.