Duppy Love Tales: Caribbean Ghost Stories That Can Save Your Marriage
I first learned about duppy, the various ghosts, spirits, and things that go bump in the Caribbean night, from my Trinidadian Mom and Dad, with a hefty assist provided by storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas. Mom passed away years ago. Dad now lives way down in Tobago. Every year in late-October, though, I still give a listen to Keens-Douglas’ Jumbies, Duppies an’ Spirits to add a little Caribbean fright to my South Florida Halloween.
Who is Paul Keens-Douglas?
As I’ve touched on previously, Paul Keens-Douglas (also known as Tim Tim) is the preeminent Caribbean storyteller of our time. No one has done more to nurture, preserve, and carry on the region’s rich and centuries-old oral tradition.
At turns hilarious, biting, deeply soulful, and even frightening, Keens-Douglas lays bare the full essence of the real Caribbean for his audience. A hurricane’s horror, tragedy, and pain. Economic hardships. Cricket triumphs. A fisherman’s daily burden. The wild comedic chaos of a typical West Indian fete. Keens-Douglas opens a window to it all, his words and inimitable style drawing the world under a proverbial silk cotton tree like so many duppies on a moonlit night.
In Jumbies, Duppies an’ Spirits, Keens-Douglas introduces many of the traditional supernatural legends known throughout the West Indies. For each ghostly duppy, he presents a colorful backstory. Their appearance, devious motives, and ways to stay safe should you happen to run into them are all detailed for your guidance and entertainment.
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…
Duppy Lessons in Love From the Lajabless
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. 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 hoof.)
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 of their clothes, turning them inside out, and putting them back on again. Of course, guys could also just avoid thinking with their smaller heads, right?
Like a lot of old West Indian stories, the inferences surrounding the legend of the Lajabless are overtly 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…
Le Sexy Soucouyant
Another sex-charged Caribbean duppy, the Soucouyant appears as an old lady by day. By night, though, she sheds her skin and flies around as a fireball seeking victims. This duppy enters homes through the keyhole. Like the sexy vampires we know all too well, the Soucouyant sucks your blood until you’re good and dead, or you turn into a Soucouyant yourself.
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…!
Beware the Beautiful Mama Glow Duppy
The legend of the Mama Glow duppy offers yet another cautionary tale for wayward men. This “Goddess of the River” is known chiefly in Grenadian folklore. Again, the spirit is a beautiful maiden. This time, though, she sits alone on a stone in the middle of a river.
As with the Lajabless, doom waits any man who falls for her charms.
Men who talk to a Mama Glow are instantly whisked away to live with her underwater. The men drown in the process, of course, never to be seen again.
There are lots of other duppy stories, of course. All are rich, colorful, and offer a unique glimpse into West Indian folklore, daily life, our cultures, and traditions.
The best and easiest way to add these Caribbean spirits to your Halloween celebrations? Have a listen of Jumbies, Duppies an’ Spirits.