Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spirits of the Caribbean

Soucouyant - Trinidad and Tobago

The Soucouyant is an old woman with terrible skin, who lives alone. At night she takes off her skin, hangs it up and becomes a flying ball of flames. She flies around sucking the blood out of people- especially children and those with dirty thoughts in their mind. She can be fought off with salt and an especially good way to kill her would be to pour salt or hot peppers into her skin as it is hanging up. Leave a plate of rice outside your window for protection - she will compulsively count out the grains. Counting compulsions seem to be a re-occurring theme among Caribbean spirits. You can also crush her by the turn of a key, just as she is slipping through the lock. In Jamaica she is called the Ol' Hinge.

Ciguapas - The Dominican Republic

These beautiful but dangerous creatures live high in the mountains of the DR and come out at night. They have brown or blue skin, long hair and backwards-facing legs. So, they may be beautiful to only a few very confused men. They are difficult to track because their feet show them coming from where they are going. But they can be caught under a full moon, using a cinqueño dog. Like the Jablesse, they lure men into sexual situations, often deep into the forest, only to kill or abandon them afterwards. She could be an old Taino legend, or brought to the island by African slaves.

Jumbies - Trinidad and Tobago, Guayana

Jumbie seems to be a generic name for many different types of spirits, most of them evil. Most of these spirits have their roots in Africa and their stories were brought to the Caribbean by Africans brought there as slaves. This existing belief in magic and spirits is called
Obeah in most of the English-speaking Caribbean. Most Jumbies share a compulsive and miserly quality. To divert their attentions from your home you can try these tricks:
leaving a pair of shoes outside your door; jumbies don't have feet and would spend the entire night trying on the shoes to get them to fit before moving onto you.

leaving a heap of sand or salt or rice outside your door; jumbies are compelled to count every grain before the sun rises.

when coming home late at night, walk backwards so that the jumbie would be unable to follow you inside.

if one is being chased by a jumbie, cross a river, as they cannot follow over water

leave a rope with many knots by your door step. Jumbies love to try to untie knots, so they will forget about you while trying to untie the knots.

Two interesting Jumbies are the
Massacooramaan, who lives in rivers and capsizes small boats to eat those inside, and the Bush Dai Dai, yet another beautiful woman who goes into the mining camps of Guyana to seduce miners and later eat them. She then turns herself into an animal and slips away into the forest.

Jablesse - Eastern Caribbean, (Trinidad, St. Vincent, Montserrat)

Also called La Diablesse, she appears as a beautiful woman, sometimes dressed in antiquated but fine clothing. But underneath her skirts and petticoats she has one normal foot and one cow's hoof. Being beautiful, she lures men with the promise of sexual pleasure, and instead pulls them into great danger. She may steal their spirits or scratch their eyes out or simply lure them into sugarcane fields until they become so lost they go crazy. Some stories say she is afraid of smoke; simply lighting a cigarette may be enough to scare her off. If she enters a dance, all the women have an immeadiate dislike of the mysterious woman. They seem to know she is after their men. If you listen close enough you may be able to hear her hoof thumping as she dances.

El Chupacabra - Puerto Rico, Mexico and the U.S.

The goatsucker is a more recent phenomenon, probably not based in colonial history as the previous spirit-monsters have been. The legend began in the 1990's in Puerto Rico when livestock and pets began dying, apparently drained of their blood through punctures in the neck. Since then the story and reports of sightings have spread throughout the Americas. Some say the chupacabra is reptilian, and when it screeches the chupacabra's eyes glow an unusual red which gives the witnesses nausea. Other's say the creature is more dog-like.

Zombies - Haiti

No, not the flesh-eating, virus-revived zombies of current movies. From Wikipedia: According to the tenets of Haitian Vodou, a dead person can be revived by a bokor, or sorcerer. Zombies remain under the control of the bokor since they have no will of their own. "Zombi" is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger-Congo origin; it is akin to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means "god". There also exists within the voudon tradition the zombi astral which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor's power. The zombi astral is typically kept inside a bottle which the bokor can sell to clients for luck, healing or business success. It is understood that after a time God will take the soul back and so the zombi is a temporary spiritual entity.

This famous photograph by Zora Nealie Hurston was taken in 1937, while she was researching folklore in Haiti. People claimed this woman was Felicia Felix-Mentor, who had died and been buried in 1907. Scientists and Anthropologists have attempted to explain zombies away by claiming certain poisons can put living people in such a trance or that zombies may even be a cultural explanation for mental illnesses.

I hope you enjoyed this list. Please, if you have any stories to add or details to offer about these spirits and creatures, leave a comment!

Related Post:

The Wondrous Lexicon of Oscar Wao


Sally said...

really?...you should be studying for your test tomorrow and not posting on your blog :)

Anonymous said...

As the story is told in Trinidad, Jablesse can appear as a male or female , depending on the victim. The victim is ok as long as you don't speak a gentleman tips hat a woman a nod, but if there is sound you're a gonner!
Paul Keens Douglas has a funny bit called " Dark Night People" . I grew up on it.

Justice58 said...


Anonymous said...

I just read your blog concerning "jumbies" a name which includes all the spirits of an nefarious nature. You may also want to research 'dwen' which is supposed to be a child who died before it was baptised, who has backward facing feet, and lives in gru gru patches, and "lagahoo" who is supposed to be la jablesse's husband. He has hooves and pulls a chain behind him. Trinidad folklore.

Heather said...

Here's a link to some awesome Japanese monsters: