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Author Topic: Caribbean Folklore  (Read 57468 times)
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« on: September 03, 2004, 08:54:42 AM »


Jamaican Folklore

Anancy: Anancy, the spiderman, is of the Ashanti culture (Ghana). He is legendary for his trickery and cunning. Every Jamaican has memories of Anancy stories being told by some elder family member or friend. From Anancy and Dawg to Pig an Long-Mout. He can be God-like, being the reason why pig mout long, why rat live inna hole.... But Anansi can be a human figure, not only cunning, lazy, envious, and greedy, but also wickedly accurate about the pretensions of others.
Jonkonnu: Jonkonnu, a celebratory pageant which dates back to the days of slavery. Colourful Jonkonnu troupes usually perform in communities at Christmas time. However, they are seen less frequently nowadays. The characters, typically played by men in costume, include Pitchy Patchy (bits of coloured cloth cover the dancer from head to foot), Horse, Cow, House, the Devil, Bellywoman (Pregnant woman), Policeman, Actor Boy. They dance to the beat of drums (gumbay, congo) and other instruments like the bango, fife, and kitchen grater.

Gran' Market: Gran' Market, a community fair featuring plenty of food, crafts, street dance and music, is held just prior to Christmas. Like Jonkonnu, it is a tradition from the days when slaves were given time off at Christmas and they celebrated in the town square. Similar markets are now held before holidays like New Year's Day, Easter and Independence Day. Everyone comes to town for Gran' Market, even the elderly who are normally housebound. People meet, greet, purchase foods for the holidays, and enjoy themselves all day and, oftentimes, all night long.

Obeah: Obeah. Guzzu. Witchcraft, black magic, white magic or religion? To Jamaicans, it is a combination. To older rural Jamaicans, it is as real as the earth. The younger urban population regard it lightly. Everyone, though, has heard of somebody working obeah on someone else. And how you have to careful nuh fi eat from certain people. An' how yu need a bush bath now an' den. An' which obeahman have de good oil fi different tings. An' which duppy fi set pan who,....

Kumina: Kumina is an African-derived religious ritual practiced by sects such as the Pukumina or Pocomania. During Kumina, bands of people 'travail' in the spirit. With an intensifying frenzy, they dance in a circle to the sound of drumbeats and chanting. At the climax, the singing stops and dancers seem to be possessed by spirits. In this state, they give messages, warnings and other portent revelations.

Dinky-mini: Dinky-mini is a group dance and song ritual held to cheer the family of a dead person. Dinky-minis, African-derived traditions, were an integral part of the mourning process in rural communities. Nowadays, however, dinky-minis are performed mainly at cultural stage shows.

Digging songs & Folksongs: Folksongs tell the story of life's happening. They tell of the history of a people. The building of the Panama Canal- '1-2-3-4 Colon man a come' ; World War II- 'Fan me, soldier man fan me'; Timeless worries- 'Shine-eye girl is a trouble to a man, cause she want everyting'. Digging songs, worksongs of the farm or plantation, enabled slaves to communicate while under the watchful eyes of the overseer and also helped to lighten the work. This tradition has been retained by subsistence farmers working each others field (grung') and swinging their hoes in unison. A lead singer sets the pace and the others respond in a chorus. Many digging songs have common masculine like nagging wives; (Lead) 'Woman is a people, (chorus) 'grumble too much'. Other manual labourers, like river rafters, have adopted the tradition- 'We'll be rafting down the Rio Grande, uh huh, uh huh'.

Guyanese Folklore

Bacoo: A spirit of small stature that pelts stones at houses and moves objects within a house. He is supposed to live on banana and milk. Stories abound of the existence of bacoos in Georgetown and other areas in Guyana. Could have come from Surinam and are said to be trapped in a corked bottle unless released. Active mainly at night, it is said that a satisfied bakkoo will answer the wishes of its owner. 'Baku' in many West African languages means 'little brother' or 'short man'. It also is related to the word the word 'bacucu' meaning 'banana'. In West Africa, the short races (such as the pygmies) were believed to have magical powers. This seemed to have been brought to Guyana, where the short races, or 'bakus', were still regarded as having magical powers.

Cumfa: A possession dance of West African origin; a dance characterized by the possession of spirits summoned by the drumming known among the Ndjukas of Surinam. In the 1930's in Charlestown, Georgetown, the Cumfa Dance as practiced there (La Penitence, Albouystown and Charlestown) was characterized by 4 main features - (1) the dancers danced barefoot on broken bottles scattered on the ground (2) they lighted a piece of wood and pushed the lighted fire into their mouths (3) plunging into the trench water under a high tension of elation (4) some of the spectators would often be possessed by spirits and stagger, like the mentally insane, and butt their heads on the ground. It is said that the Cumfa ceremony grew out a dance of praise to King O'Cumfa on the Congo River. The African ancestors of the slaves used to worship him for days and nights by the river.

Obeah: In Guyana the practice emerges as (1) the religious rites of certain traditional African mysteries brought to South America and the Caribbean by the slaves and frowned upon by slave owners as devil-worship and calling up spirits from the dead. (2) The rites attached to poisoning, administered in secret by slaves on their European masters, in a deeply motivated urge to freedom or (3) spells against other slaves for money, or to gain love, or in revenge for wrong, real or imagined. Obeah men or women were often individuals with powerful personalities and with a desire to dominate, who used a paraphernalia of materials for the purpose of harming others e.g. a compound of dirt from a human grave and the blood of a black cat mixed with a paste and kept in a goat's horn, a dried frog, the tail of a pig, feathers from a white sensa fowl, various herbs to induce trances, etc. In Guyana legal history, many murder cases involving obeah have been tried to the amazement and terror of a partly superstitious populace. In recent times, the Prime Minister of Guyana stirred regional emotion by removing certain laws involving obeah from the statute books.

Ole Higue: The story is that the ole higue, the Guyanese form of a human vampire, capable of discarding her skin takes the form of an old woman living in a community. At night she transforms herself into a ball of fire, flies from her own house up into the sky and then lands on the roof of another house where there is a baby in a cradle underneath a sheet whose blood she will suck dry and then go home. The suspicions of the community are soon aroused and the school children cry "ole higue" at her; they make chalk marks, on the bridge to her house, the door, the jalousie window. But the legend goes that she crosses these marks bravely. Then the community sets a trap. When the ole higue flies abroad another night she finds that the baby in the cradle is clothed in a blue night gown. There is a heap of rice grains near to the cot and the smell of asfoetida. These cast a spell on the ole higue who has to count the grains of rice, and if she loses her way, she has to start counting again. The light of morning comes and the ole higue still has not finished counting the grains of rice. People burst into the room pick up cabbage broom and begin to belabour the ole higue. They beat her to death, with great emotion "You gwine pay for your sins before you die" they say.

Queh Queh: Pre-nuptial dances and songs bordering on the sensuous from West Africa rehearse the bride's part and a help to prepare her for the future -'Lend me our mortar" is one of the queh queh songs. Some of the songs inclued "Oman a Heavy Load", "Gal you glorious marnin come", "Buy me lova wan shut, Me go wash am." These dances and songs often end in sessions of wild abandon.

Tocouyaha: Monster in river opposite Timehri Airport. It is supposed to be found in the deeps of the Waratilla Creek opposite Timehri. In an answer to a signal from a macaw this monster rises from below to attack the occupants of any boat which happens to be passing. This is an Amerindian belief and they say bubbling water can be seen over the spot where the monster is located.

Kanaima: The spirit of vengeance or justice believed in by Amerindians. Death is caused by a knot in the intestines or in some mysterious fashion. Also a person who carries out acts of vengeance.

Makanaima: The Great Spirit of many Amerindian tribes. The Amerindian legend of the Patamona tribe has it that Kaie, one of the tribe's great old Chieftains, after whom Kaieteur is named, committed self-sacrifice by canoeing himself over the falls in order that Makonaima, the great spirit, would save the tribe from being destroyed by the savage Caribisi.

Churail: Churail (or Churile) is supposed to be the evil spirit of a woman who had died in childbirth. She haunts pregnant women and attacks women and and newborn children. It is also a vampire-like creature of East Indian origin.

Dai Dai: Amerindian spirit of the forests who protects the gold and diamond treasure - short, squat, resembles a moving tree.

Fairmaid: Female water spirit - fed by food without salt - left on foreshore, edge of trenches.

Jumbie: Generic term given to a spirit, ghost or any sort of supernatural being.

Masacouraman: Powerful spirit of rivers - he pulls down into the water at rapids, the boats carrying pork knockers into the bush.

Moongazer: Tall, white and misty figure in legend, habitually gazing at the moon. May kill children. Unusually tall person.

Trinidadian Folklore

In Trinidad & Tobago, the roots of many of the folklore legends can be found in the animist traditions of West Africa, from where thousands of slaves came during the colonial era. Other ethnic groups, such as the Europeans, Hindu and Muslim East Indians, brought their religions but, for the most part, left their folklore behind. In Africa, where animist beliefs imbued trees, wildlife and the forces of nature with supernatural significance, religion and superstition were, to a large extent, synonymous and thus, both were transported effortlessly accross the Atlantic into the New World.
The folklore of Trinidad & Tobago, therefore, is one rich in colour, humour and grotesquerie. The best concoctions from the most imaginative would find significant difficulty in trying to beat it. Couched in the terms of the French-Creole (Patois), for most slaves arrived with the French planters and were therefore french-speaking, the characters that inhabit these darker reaches of our collective imagination run the gamut from seductive to surreal.

PAPA BOIS: Papa Bois, the Father of the Woods, is known by a wide range of names, including ‘Maitre bois’ (Master of the Woods) and ‘Daddy Bouchon’ (Hairy Man). He has the ability to appear in many different forms, sometimes as a deer, sometimes hairy and, though very old, extremely strong and muscular, with cloven hoofs, leaves growing out of his beard and small horns sprouting from his forehead. As the guardian of the animals and the custodian of the trees, he is known to sound a cow’s horn to warn his friends of the approach of hunters and is highly intolerable of wanton hunters who kill and destroy without reason. Offenders beware! Papa Bois has been know to lead hunters deep into the forest, leaving them lost or perhaps compelling them to pay a fine of some sort, such as to marry ‘Mama Dlo’.

SOUCOUYANT: Essentially a merging of the witch and vampire, the Soucouyant, or "Old Hag", is usually a lonely, anti-social old woman living on the outskirts of a village. At night, she sheds her skin and transforms into an animal, bird or her customary form - a ball of fire - and flies through the night in search of a victim's blood, which she needs to refresh her spirit for the following day. She has to return to her skin, which usually she hides in bushes, trees or inside an overturned mortar, before the sun rises or she shall be trapped in her transformed state, without the benefit of her powers, until the sun goes down again. Filling the shed skin of a Soucouyant with salt causes it to shrink, thus impeding her return to her skin as it can no longer fit, or inflicts severe pain unto the Soucouyant, consistent with that of salt on an open wound. To expose a Soucouyant, one should pile heaps of rice or sugar about the house or at the village crossroads, where she will be compelled to pick them up one grain at a time, an impossible task to complete before the rise of the sun.

LA DIABLESSE: La Diablesse or "Devil Woman" roams at night. She has eyes like burning coals and a face resembling that of a corpse, which she hides 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, which she uses to conceal her cloven foot. She lingers on dark, lonely roads and occasionally turns up at village dances, where she is immediately disliked by the women present. She utterly charms the men and asks one of them to take her home. He follows her, totally under her spell, deep into the woods where she suddenly attacked by wild beasts. To discourage the attentions of the La Diablesse, the potential victim should wear his garments inside out. The reasons for this are believed to be a result of her being such a stylish dresser, that she will lose all interest and seek her victim elsewhere.

MAMA DLO: Mama Dlo, also known as "Mama D'Leau" or "Mama Glo", whose name is derived from the French "Maman de L’eau" which translates roughly into "Mother of the Water", is to the rivers and lakes what Papa Bois is to the woodlands. A hideous creature with the torso of a woman and her lower half being that of and naconda, Mama Dlo is said to be the wife or lover of Papa Bois. Careless or mean-spirited men who commit crimes against nature (such as starting a forest fire, polluting the waters, poaching, or needlessly putting a significant number of animals to death) could be taken by Mama Dlo, who will claim them as one of her husbands for two of their lifetimes. These men are forbidden to leave her realm and can take no other mate but her for the duration of their "marriage". The only hope for a man who finds himself in the presence of Mama Dlo is to remove his left shoe, place it upside-down on the ground and leave the scene with haste, walking backwards the entire way home so as not to turn his back upon her.

DOUENS: Douens are the spirits of children who have died before they were baptized and as such, they are fated to roam the forests of Trinidad, practising their wide repertoire of pranks. They take the form of naked children, never growing in excess of two or three feet in height. Their faces, which are featureless with the exception of a small mouth, are hidden behind a large, floppy, straw hat but, you can identify a Douen by his feet, which are turned backward, heels facing forward. Malicious little creatures, Douens take pleasure in luring normal children away from their homes and deep into the woods until they become lost. Parents are advised not to shout the names of their children in open places as Douens use this knowledge to entice young ones away. However mischievous they may be, Douens do have a good natured side. They have been know to aid Papa Bois in the forest by leading him to injured or trapped animals and imitating animal calls to throw hunters off track.

LA GAHOU: The La Gahou's name comes from the french "Loup Garou", which means werewolf. Like the Soucouyant, he is a shape-changer as well as a blood-sucker, although he is less particular about his source of food, being quite content with the blood of a goat or cow if a human supply is unavailable. This shape-shifting ability is usually passed down through the generations of old Creole families and, again, like the Soucouyant, he takes the form of an old village man - a wizard or witch-doctor who instills both fear and respect, not only for his facility to change his form to that of a vicious animal, but also for his power over nature. He can lay curses and extended protection and from him, charms and bush medicine are also readily available. Villagers can protect themselves from the La Gahou by carrying crucifixes on their person as well as receiting the special prayer, or L'Oraison, used to ward off evil. A pair of scissors, open in the shape of a cross, placed on top of an open bible at the head of a bed can be used to trap a La Gahou, as it it forces him, with a howl of pain, to revert to his human form on the spot.

PHANTOME: This spectre stands at the crossroads, with his immense height and long legs wide apart, straddling the road. As a victim approaches him, he slaps his legs shut, squeezing him to death like an anaconda. His only warning is a shrill, a spine-tingling whistle which the Phantome emits prior to his assault. It is difficult to escape an attack from a Phantome as potential victims encounter grave difficultes with outrunning his enormous strides. When he disappears, a thick vapour lingers on the spot where he last stood.

JUMBIES: A generic name given to ghosts, spirits and anything else that might be wandering about in the ether; The local version of the Bogey-man.

Tobagan: Folklore & Superstitions

Tobago shares the same folklore legends as her sister island Trinidad. However, there are some characters, like the Mermaids and Fairy Maids, that are not included in Trinidadian folklore. These legendary creatures are exclusive to Tobago alone. One can only assume that their lineage is purely European in nature.

MERMAIDS : Mermaids are, strangely enough, male. Why they were not simply called mer-men is anyone's guess. They inhabit the turbulent waters from the St. Giles Islands at the north end of Tobago, down the windward coast to Fat Hog Bay. Riding upon the crest of waves, they are handsome men like kings of old or warriors of long ago, beplumed and richly garbed. They are capable of granting wishes or showing the way to sunken treasure. However, their bounty must be accepted with coution, since they are also capable of bestowing evil.

FAIRY MAIDS : The Mermaids mate with the Fairy Maids, who inhabit the rivers and hidden mountain pool areas. Very beautiful, with long flowing hair and one tiny deer's hoof, the Fairy Maids have been know to "turn" men's heads, stealing their shadows and leaving them demented. If this is the case, accompanied by friends and family and with the help of a "workman", the cursed man must go to the river and address the water pleading for the restoration of his lost shadow. With this done, he must leave the water's edge and not look back. To end a relationship with a Fairy Maid will cost a man two pairs of shoes: The first must be burnt on the beach and the second, when the Fairy Maid appears to inquire about payment for services rendered, must be thrown into the water.

Forward to a united Africa!
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2004, 09:16:08 AM »

Thanks for the info.. G man asked about Cumfa in another post and what you have shared here has sparked my curiosity.

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