Uncommon Beauty: Sexy Ghosts & Spirits of the Caribbean
As the son of Trini parents born and raised in St. Croix, I first learned about the various ghosts, spirits and things that go bump in the Caribbean night from my Mom and Dad, with a hefty assist provided by storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas. Mom passed away years ago and Dad now lives way down in Tobago, but I still give a listen to a live recording of Keens-Douglas’ Jumbies, Duppies an’ Spirits every year around this time to add a little Caribbean fright to my South Florida Halloween.
In the story, Keens-Douglas introduces many of the traditional supernatural creatures known throughout the region in his own unique, and often hilarious style. For each ghostly creature, he presents a colorful backstory offering details on their appearance, devious motives, and ways to stay safe should you happen to run into them.
As a kid, the stories provided the same type of good, clean frightful thrills that excite all kids here in the U.S. as Halloween approaches. Now that I listen to them as an adult, though, I hear a bit more…
Take the story of the Lajabless (also La Diablesse), for instance.
The Lajabless is a devil woman who comes out at night to prey on unsuspecting men. I can’t imagine, though, why a guy would be unsuspecting of her since she always wears the same thing – a big, wide-brimmed hat to hide her corpse-like face and a long dress to hide her feet (one of them is cloven like a cow’s).
Anyway, like La Dame Blanche in Martinique, the Lajabless hangs out on lonely dark roads waiting for some wayward guy to stop and offer assistance. Any man silly enough to do so soon meets his end. Or, as Keens-Douglas puts it: “As soon as dem man stop to talk to de Lajabless, she gone with dem! Next day you find dem over some precipice with de neck break.”
According to folklore, men can protect themselves from the Lajabless by removing all their clothes, turning them inside out and putting them back on again. Of course, guys could also just avoid thinking with their smaller heads!
Like a lot of old West Indian stories, the inferences surrounding the legend of the Lajabless are very sexual. From afar she appears beautiful, especially to those who’ve stayed a bit too long at the local rum shop. Combine a lonely, sexy damsel in distress with a West Indian man’s infamous proclivity toward straying, and you have a ghost story that doubles as a cautionary tale.
Remain faithful, or die? Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty scary…
Another sex-charged Caribbean spirit, the Soucouyant appears as an old lady by day, but sheds her skin at night, flying around as a fireball seeking her victims. She enters homes through the keyhole, and like the sexy vampires we know all too well, she’ll suck your blood till you’re good and dead, or you turn into a Soucouyant yourself.
Keens-Douglas: “In the morning when you wake up you have a little mark on your neck and allyoh (you all) say is hickey allyoh have. Well is not hickey – is Soucouyant…”
There’s also Mama Glow, the Goddess of the River known chiefly in Grenadian folklore. Again, the spirit is a beautiful maiden, though this time she sits alone on a stone in the middle of a river. Men who talk to her get whisked away to live with her underwater (i.e.: drown).
There are lots of other stories, all rich, colorful and offering a unique glimpse into West Indian life, our cultures and traditions. The best way to add these Caribbean spirits to your Halloween celebrations is to get yourself a copy of Jumbies, Duppies an’ Spirits. If you don’t have a West Indian CD store near your house, never fear: you can purchase an MP3 download of the 20-minute performance right here.