maarit forde & diana paton
In 1905 the prison authorities at the Antigua jail, which served as the central
prison for the Leeward Islands, employed a photographer to take individual
and group photographs of at least eleven people who had been convicted of
practicing obeah. The group shot (figure I.1) depicts nine men and two
women in two rows, all staring with their faces toward the camera. All wear
white prison uniforms, identical except for the differences between men and
women. Each holds a small board on which is chalked his or her name and the
island where she or he was convicted. The individual photographs were pasted
onto preprinted documents recording that the photographed individual had
been ‘‘convicted for practising Obeah under the Leeward Islands Obeah Act
No 6 of 1904,’’ and documenting his or her sentence, place of birth, age, marital
status, trade or occupation (‘‘obeahman’’ in some cases), religion, and a series
of physical descriptors, such as skin color, hair color, and height. The images
belong to the genre of the police photograph or mug shot, the chalked names
providing a means for state authorities to identify these people. These photo-
graphs and identifying information were circulated ‘‘to all the neighbour-
ing Islands, both British and Foreign,’’ in the hope that the individuals pic-
tured would be kept under surveillance upon their release, wherever they
should travel.∞
Someone working in the prison or the colonial civil service must have
decided to group together this particular set of prisoners—obeah convicts—to
photograph them collectively and individually, suggesting the significance that
the colonial authorities gave to this category of crime at this time. In one sense,
the photographs allowed for the fixing, classification, and control of the group.
They record the fact that these prisoners had been temporarily brought to a
point of stasis by confinement in prison, and thus suggest one of the themes of
this book: the significance of state power, and more specifically, state hostility,
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