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Ilka Hilton-Clarke

ilkahiltonclarke@gmail.com

Trinidad and Tobago Folklore

Trinidad and Tobago Folk Medicine- To avoid Strokes- by Marion O'Callahan - click here

  • Imps
  • Loup Garoo
  • Jumbies
  • Mama D'Leau

Whereas Superstitions might be quite similar in different countries, with variations, I have found the folklore to be rather typical of each country where I have lived. Of course there will be influences from other countries in Trinidad and Tobago, because of the cosmopolitan nature of our population. People living here have their origins in Europe, Africa and Asia. The folklore of Trinidad and Tobago is very colourful and interesting. These folklore characters also appear in other Caribbean countries, with variations.

La Diablesse

La Diablesse (Lajables), the Devil Woman, roames at  night. She has eyes like burning coals and a face resembling that of a corpse, but hides it  under a beautiful wide-brimmed hat and  a veil over her face. She is dressed exquisitely in a blouse with puffy sleeves and long, petticoated, skirts.She has one cloven foot, which she tries to hide  under her long skirts. She turns up  at village dances, where she is immediately disliked by the women present, but she utterly  charms the men and  then asks  one of them to take her home. He follows her, totally under her spell.
She leads him deep into the woods and then suddenly she disappears. Unable to find his  way home, the poor fellow stumbles around  in the dark wood until he either falls into a ravine  or a river to his death or gets attacked by wild hogs.

 

The Soucouyant

The Soucouyant (Sukuya), also called Old Hag,  is a supernatural being who has made a pact with the devil to be able to change herself into all kinds of different forms. At night she sheds her human skin and changes into a ball of fire or any kind of animal and casts spells on people to turn them into animals also,  but she has to slip back into that skin before dawn breaks and the cock crows, otherwise she will not be able to get back into it.
So it may happen, that, when people suspect that an old woman neighbour of theirs is, in fact, a soucouyant, they may trick her by  going to her house at night  and destroying the skin she left behind by putting salt on it so that it will shrink and she will not be able to get back into it and thus die.
In Trinidad, if  somebody  walks around with a "hicky" soukie) on his neck, he may get remarks from his friends like :" Eh, Eh, Soucoyant suck yuh or wha ? "

 

Douennes

Douennes (Dwens) are the souls of children who have died before they were baptized. They are doomed to roam the earth forever. They are seen  playing in forests and near rivers and the odd thing about them is that they have no faces and their feet are turned backwards. They may approach children and lead them astray in the forest until they are lost, or they may come near people's houses at night, crying and whimpering.

 

 

Papa Bois

Papa Bois, also called Maître Bois, lives in the forest and  he protects the animals that live there. He is often seen by hunters and other people who live near the forest. He  gets animals out of snares and treats sick animals at his dwelling.  He is an old man who is very hairy, like an animal and usually is only dressed in a pair of ragged trousers with a bamboo  horn hanging from his belt.
He is able to turn himself in an animal as well to be able to observe the hunters unnoticed. He is usually very kind, but can be dangerous when crossed. He might even cast a spell on a bad hunter and turn him into a wild hog.

 

Imps

 

Loup Garoo

 

Jumbies

 

Mama D'Leau

 

 

 

FOLKLORE CHARACTERS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.
Illustrations and Text from Côté ci Côté là, The Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary.
Contact the Author John Mendes at: cotecicotela@gmail.com

 

GANG GANG SARAH Folklore. An 1800s kind and wise African witch who was blown by a storm to Les Coteaux, in Tobago. She searched for her family in Golden
Lane, and got married. After her Tom died, she failed to fly back to her native home from the silk cotton tree, because she ate salt, causing her to lose the art of flight. Tom and Sara are etched on their gravestones where they lie side by side.

 

IMPS
Axe Man- An Imp in a Carnival Devil band who carries an axe. Agitania carries a key to open the gates of Hell, and is Master of Ceremonies.  The Bell Man carries a bell, the Scale Man has a scale. Imps carry dice, scrolls, face cards. The Marker’s flag shows directions. King Imp wears a Crown and leads them. They restrain the Dragon and taunt it to do the Dragon Dance near water. These and even more Imps make up the Carnival DEVIL BAND.
1906 pioneers Patrick Jones & Gilbert Scamaroni started this Mas’. There are three groups of characters in the devil band, all followers of the Dragon: Imps, Beasts and Ruler, the last sometimes referred to as Crown Prince or Gown man, since that costume comprises a long robe. For every character the band goes to pick up, a certain piece of music is played which is accompanied by special characteristic dance movements. When the band has to cross a drain with water, symbolic of Holy water, the Imps leap sideways, backward and forward expressing great fear. Finally they leap over backwards, the only acceptable way.

 

JACKALANTAN
Universal. Jack-o’-lantern; Will-o’-the-wisp.
Folklore. A moving light that attracts the unwary into desolate, harmful areas, far away from their destination, then suddenly vanishes. Most sightings reported in Tobago.

 

JUMBIE; BHOOT (Trinidad Hindi)- Spirit, ghost.
Mischievous or malevolent spirit, creature or person. A night person.
Pan jumbie- a lover of the steelpan.
To jumbie someone- Harass, scold.  
Wo’k jumbie- a workaholic.
JUMBIE BALLROOM- Empty. Absence of anything worthwhile. Empty refrigerator, cupboard, toothless mouth. Bare, sparse.
JUMBIE BEAD; Akar Saga; Crab’s Eye; Giddee Giddee; Indian Licorice; Jequirity; John Crow Bead; Precatory bean;
Rosary Pea. Abrus precatorius. Striking, bright red and black seed from a pod. Leaf tea treats fever, coughs, and colds. Strung and worn around wrist or ankle to ward off jumbies, (evil spirits) and Mal Yeux.
JUMBIE BIRD; Ferruginous Pygmy-owl
Glaucidium brasilianum. 15.24 cm (6 ins) Its night screeching is interpreted by some to mean that someone in the area will die.
JUMBIE, LOOKING FOR- If you looking for Jumbie, you will find one under any rock. Fault-finders will find something wrong.
JUMBIE MARRIDIN’- Rain falling and Sun shining at the same time.
JUMBIE PARASOL (or UMBRELLA)
Large wild mushroom, found in the forest.
Para Sol- Spanish- For the Sun.

 

LA DIABLESSE
Lah-jah-bless. Patois. Bride of the devil. Folklore. Notorious creature of the night, which solicits or woos male passers-by. Very attractively attired, she wears a large wide-brimmed hat that conceals her corpselike face. Her eyes glow red like burning coals. At the end of one leg, through her draped, petticoated skirt, can be seen the satanic cloven hoof, mark of the evil one. She would appear at a village dance, and is instantly disliked by all the ladies. The men find her irresistible, and after casting her spell, she invites her victim to follow her home after the dance is over, and entices him to a forest death. She disappears, and the hapless man may fall into a ravine, drown in a river, or is gored to death by quenks. To escape, take off all your clothes, turn them inside out, put them back on, and run like yuh see de devil self!

 

LUGARHOU Lah-gah-hoo.
French- Loup Garou-Werewolf.
Folklore. A person who can
shape-shift into animals, (even a large wave!) and alters its size from tiny to huge instantly. It rattles and drags chains at night, sometimes carrying a coffin with 3 candles on one shoulder, while holding a whip of dried sticks and reeds.
To see one, put some dog yampee in your eye and peep through a keyhole at midnight. To kill one, beat it with a stick anointed for 9 days with holy water and holy oil.
Hmmm! Good luck wit’ Dat one!

 

MAMAN de L’EAU
Mama Glow. Folklore. French- Mother of the waters. Half woman / half snake with long flowing hair which she constantly grooms with a magic fish-skeleton comb. The torso is a naked, beautiful woman, the lower part coils into a large snake, hidden underwater, which she sometimes noisily cracks on the surface. Males who wreck the surrounding forest and inhabitants are strangled, becoming married to her forever in the netherworld. Thought by some to be Papa Bois’ lover. To escape, take off your left shoe, turn it upside down, and walk backwards fast ’till yuh reach home!
Then throw away your soiled undies.

 

MERMAN & FAIRYMAID
Folklore. Tobago Mermen are handsome, dressed like Kings or warriors, and grant wishes. They mate with the beautiful river Fairymaids, whose long hair and deer hoof foot empower them to steal men’s shadows. To escape her spell, burn a pair of shoes on the beach. She will appear and ask if she is to be paid for past services. Answer “Nothing but this pair of shoes” and throw another pair into the waves.

 

PAPA BOIS; Maître Bois; Pa Bouchon
Folklore. French- Master of the forest;
Father interceptor, obstructor. Protector of forest animals. Aged, but very muscular, big white beard, very hairy, half human / half animal, with legs and vestigial (remnants) horns of a goat. He carries a cow’s horn in his hand, which he sounds to warn the animals of approaching hunters, and will treat damaged animals. He can turn himself into any animal, very often a deer. Usually kind, he is offended if you look at his feet, and demands respect and courtesy. He is to be addressed: “Bon jour, vieux Papa” (Good day, Ancient Father) or “Bon Matin, Maître”. (Good morning, Master) Single hunters may see Papa Bois, as he never appears to a group, and usually to warn or ban that hunter for overdoing it. He can be dangerous when crossed, and might cast a spell on a bad hunter, turning him into a quenk! He and MAMAN de L’EAU are thought to be lovers, as they both share the same hatred for persons who wreck the forest.

 

PHANTOM Folklore. Tall as the treetops, ghastly man. Keeper of the road, who stops all travellers in his path. His long legs span crossroads. He emits a shrill, unearthly whistle just before snapping his legs together, squeezing his victim to death, sometimes breaking the necks of anyone who dares to pass between them. His body and head are totally unnoticed, as they are camouflaged by branches & leaves of the trees.

 

SUÇOYER Sue-coo-yah. Folklore.
French- Suçoter- Sucking.Portrayed as an old hag, who has made a pact with the devil to be able to transform herself into any animal or a ball of fire at night, and sucks the blood of her victims. She casts spells on people to turn them into animals. She must return to her shed skin before the cock crows at daybreak, or die. Legend has it that salting her shed skin prevents re-entry and causes death. A Suçoyer may be forced into the open by spreading 45.36 kg (100 lbs) of rice at the village crossroad, where she is compelled to pick up each grain, one at a time. Unexplained blue marks on the body or ‘hickies’ often evoke the remark “Whapen? Like Suçoyer suck yuh, or wha”?

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