Jamaican Folklore Ideas for Black Horror Writers

We’re now in the scary season. So here are some ideas from Jamaican folklore for black horror writers.

 

Ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night are the stuff of Halloween and all things horror. In Jamaica, we don’t celebrate Halloween, which is a few weeks away. You’ll see why in a bit.

Supernatural elements in books and movies speak to man’s eternal question about what lies beyond the veil of our mortal world. Horror writers breach this veil and show us what we truly fear: the unknown and what it might hold. If you’re interested in writing in this genre, you may be wondering where to find inspiration for your creepy tales. Look to your own culture with its rich folklore. Dig up from your memory all those stories you heard at camp or from your grandparents. I’m telling you, senior folks can spin tales that will make you sleep with the light on every night.

My country’s folklore has given me ideas for the novel I’m writing. That’s why I’m sharing some Jamaican myths that might interest black horror writers.

Jamaican Folklore Ideas for Black Horror Writers

Duppies

We're now in the scary season. If you're interested in writing creepy tales, here are some ideas from Jamaican folklore for black horror writers.

Duppies are spirits of the deceased. They can be either good or malevolent. Good duppies are family members or friends who appear to you in a dream to warn you of danger or to give you advice. Most Jamaicans will tell you that you can know you’re in the presence of a duppy if your head starts to “grow” or feel as if it’s swelling. If the duppy is wearing black, you have no need to worry. However, if it’s in white, run!

These spirits can also take the shape of a human or animal or other forms, such as smoke. So if you see a green lizard in a graveyard, don’t kill it. It just might be a duppy!

When I was growing up, my mother impressed on me the importance of always saying, “Excuse me, strangers” whenever I threw used water outside after dusk. The idea scared the crap out of me but I always said it. (I had heard my elders say that a duppy would box a person if he or she disrespected it.) Even when I became an adult, I continued the practice, though on and off. I’m happy to say that no duppy ever boxed me.

Other Traditions

In Jamaica’s death tradition, another belief is that you should never announce when you’re leaving a “nine-night” or wake, or else the duppy would follow you home. Walking backwards and turning around three times would thwart the duppy, however, since these spirits can only walk in a straight line.

Also, if you’re thinking of striking a duppy, use your left hand, although I think one would be far too busy making a fast getaway.

Now you know why we don’t celebrate Halloween in Jamaica. We nuh like duppy!

Cotton Tree

The Cotton Tree is an abode of duppies. They live in its roots. Veerle Poupeye explains the history behind this belief:

“… the Silk Cotton Tree has considerable cultural significance, as is evident throughout the Caribbean. The trees were considered sacred by the Taíno, as the dwelling place of spirits and hold similar significance in African-derived popular religion, which may have incorporated some Taíno beliefs. In Jamaican culture, the Silk Cotton tree is associated with duppies and serves as a site for gatherings, rituals and revelations in Revival and Kumina.” (Veerle Poupeye. “Natural Histories: A Note on Cotton Trees and Jamaican Art.” National Gallery of Jamaica Blog, 09 June 2013, https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/natural-histories-a-note-on-cotton-trees-and-jamaican-art/.)

Rolling Calf

The rolling calf is a monstrous bovine creature with red eyes of fire and a chain that it drags behind it. The belief is that it blocks the path of persons who travel at night with the intent to harm them. The only way to escape it is to drop things that will compel it to stop and count them. Another alternative is to run to a road junction. Apparently, intersections confuse the beast. Never fear, city dwellers. You only encounter a rolling calf in the countryside.

River Mumma

The River Mumma is a water spirit who protects the rivers in Jamaica. A word of warning: if you find a golden comb on a rock by a river, leave it be and get the hell out of there! Legend has it that she leaves her comb on a rock to entice her victims. And if you should be so lucky as to snatch the comb while she’s not there to pull you under, she will come looking for it—and you!

Ol’ Higue

By day, the Ol’ Higue looks like a crone. At night, however, she sheds her skin and preys on people while they’re sleeping. She sucks their breath, which makes her a threat to infants. In her true form, she appears as a ball of fire. She can also shape-shift into an owl. Being without her skin, however, makes her vulnerable. She needs to put it on before sunrise. However, if someone finds her skin and rubs salt and pepper on it, it will be impossible for her to wear it again. This makes it easy to kill her.

White Witch of Rose Hall

I’ve read the novel and watched a Jamaican play about Annie Palmer, the infamous White Witch of Rose Hall. I’ve also toured the estate, seen her grave, and tried to erase the memory of her bedroom with its garish, red wallpaper. Stories abound about her cruelty, cunning, and skill with voodoo, which she learned from her Haitian nanny. She met her end at the hands of Takoo, her slave lover, after she murdered his granddaughter out of jealousy. But was she really a villain, or was there a more sympathetic side to her story? That, my dear writer, is up to you.

 

Are you a black horror writer? What do you think about these Jamaican beliefs? I love to hear from readers. Share your thoughts in the comments.

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4 Comments on "Jamaican Folklore Ideas for Black Horror Writers"

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lisa
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lisa

“… “Excuse me, strangers”…” made me smile, and since I already ask my guardian angels, ‘what are we going to do today?’ then it will be easy to add ‘excuse me, strangers,’ when tossing out water!

Stories of that rolling calf would certainly affect the imagination of a child, and most likely any adult caught walking a lonely country road –
or path – under a full moon!

Great post, and timely as I read tonight on Friday the 13th!

Nadine
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Nadine

Saying it still scares me, so I try to toss out water early enough. 🙂

Stories about the rolling calf didn’t terrify me so much because I didn’t grow up in the country. But there’s no way you would catch me walking along a lonely road, especially at night, under a full moon! My poor nerves!

Thanks, Lisa!

Charlotte Dugas
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Charlotte Dugas

Stories of duppies and rolling calf terrified me as a child. To this day I am not a fan of horror movies or books.

Nadine
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Nadine

I know what you mean about those stories, Charlie. I avoid listening to duppy stories. My imagination will run wild and keep me up all night.

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