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Jumbees of the West Indies and the Carribean

By Edited Apr 4, 2016 1 2

The Supernatural Side of the Carribbean

Many, if not all Caribbean countries and the West Indies have long-held traditional folklore that include the jumbee. To this day the older population still hold a firm belief in them, particularly in Guyana where cell phones and internet live side by side to long-held superstitions. 

 So what is a jumbee?

A jumbee is not one entity but a variety of supernatural beings that represent the belief that those who do evil in life become instruments of evil. These supernatural beings are not the ghosts of North American perspectives - they are not wispy fog like creatures, but much more sinister and evil in acts and deeds. A jumbee is more in line with the folklore entities leprechauns and the banshee. 

Many jumbee around the Caribbean and West Indies resemble each other in deed and acts, but are known by a completely different names likely due to geography and culture. The various 'kinds' of jumbee you find in Guyanese folklore specifically reflect the ethnic diversity and cultural mosaic of Guyana.

A few jumbee have endured in beliefs and superstitions for a few hundred or more years and in one case I came across, still do today. Most older West Indian people will tell you that 'for every event, behaviour or sign that they can not explain is because of a jumbee.'

Meet the supernatural folklore of Guyana. 

Bacoo ... The West Indian Leprechaun

My father in law loves to blame the unknown-how-did-that-happen household mishaps on Boysie and Boya. At first I thought these were brothers or just friends he knew back in Guyana, but no. Boysie and Boya are two of the more well-known Bacoos in the West Coast, Demerara region of Guyana. 

They are not the only ones as stories of bacoo abound all over Guyana including the city Georgetown. Bacoos may have been born in the interior villages of Guyana, but they are now well-known and renowned all over Guyana. It's believed that Bacoo may have their origins in Africa and when brought to Guyana as indentured servants, brought the Bacoo with them. The word, 'baku' means little brother in many African tongues and its relative word, 'bacucu' means bananas. 

So just what is a Bacoo?

It is a figure from West Indian folklor

Harold Bascoms Artwork of a Bacoo
e that is quite similar to the much-loved mischievous leprechaun. Dwarf sized in stature they have large eyes and a prominent head it's thought they reward their 'owner' with wealth and riches untold or answer ones wishes as soon as a steady and constant supply of milk and bananas is provided. 

Bacoos behave like children but are intelligent, tricksters, mischievous and troublesome. They tend to act like a poltergeist by causing trouble and mayhem where ever they go. They are commonly believed as the source of rocks being pelted at homes or people, blamed when people have a bad day or things go wrong for no reason at all. Capable of shape-shifting, making itself invisible and despite small legs, moves rather quickly. 

Boysie and Boya who lived in and around the Stewartville area on the old road. These two are credited with moving objects around the house at night, tossing rocks and feces at houses and people particularly those whom bad mouthed Bacoos in general. They're also blamed for unexplained deaths and bad fortunes. Bacoos are playful tricksters but when angered they can lash out pitefully.

Luckily once trapped in a bottle and the cork is on tight, you can toss them into the ocean and are free of them. 

Unless you want to take responsibility for them and endure its presence - it might be best to leave corked bottles from the ocean, corked.  

A Banshee by Any Other Name is a Choorile

The jumbee known as a Choorile (also spelled churail) is a being of South Asian origin and in India it' known as a bhoot. A bhoot is a collection of entities that are specifically a ghost of a deceased person. Each region, sub region, village and farm have their own versions of the tale and the concept of the bhoots are subject to various interpretations depending on the community and region. Not all bhoots are evil. In South Asian lore, they are often resembling a vampire. 

The East Indians of Guyana brought this folklore creäture with them and merged it with Guyanese customs and beliefs. Essentially the choorile is the supernatural being of a woman who had died in childbirth, yet her child lived. She wails her loss and grief, much like a banshee does. She wants only to have her child back and her grief quickly turns to rage when denied. 

They can take on the form or present the image of a young human woman whose features are sometimes flipped upside down or have backward facing feet. Commonly met at crossroads, fields or along the road, they are rarely if ever near water. They cast the image a young lovely woman seeking help, or a ride. 

Young or old, if you become enamoured, fall for her charms or love her it's believed she will cause their death. There have been cases where people believed their loved one was a choorile, there are also tales of people falling for the chooriles charms and then outsmart them, even marry them. 

How to save yourself from a choorile? Leave shoes out at your door, they will spend all night trying to get them on their back ward feet. They do not cross water either and in the land of many waters, that is an important tidbit of information.

The Old Woman who was not Old or a Woman.

The Old Higue (Guyana), Fire Rass or Angeli (Caribbean) is a widely known and almost popular  jumbee. It is, growing more rare, but not uncommon to hear of a womans death in the news by those who believed her to be an Old Higue. And in 2007 in a village with cell phones and internet, that is exactly what happened.

The Old Higue is always an older woman who lives alone in a village and is often viewed as quiet, introverted, crazy, miserly or just one who is not overly social. She is often associated with witchcraft or voodoo. She is much like a vampire, sucking blood out of her victims - usually newborns and babies. 

Old Higue
It's believed when night falls she sheds her skin and hides it for safety in a calabash. A calabash is a plant that when dried out can hold liquids or solids, much like a jug. Once her skin sheds, she turns into a fireball, blazing across the skies to her intended victim, whom she marked earlier and enters the home by the keyhole. Interestingly there are countless sightings and reports of these fireballs all over the country and without a doubt contributed to the level of belief people have in this folklore. 

Naturally when you have a story like the Old Higue, there are methods to see her removed or forced to move on. In many tales the removal of the Old Higue was an event performed by the community as her leaving was a benefit for the community. 

There are three different ways. 

When an Old Higue enters your home they enter through the keyhole. It's said that if one locks their door part way and leave the key at a horizontal position, they can fully turn the key when they hear the Old Higue rattles the key as she tries to enter and crush her to death. If done right, you should see a pile of bones on your doorstep in the morning.  Even today many households still leave a key in the door turned to a horizontal position. 

The second, but reportedly hardest way, is to find her calabash and skin, then stuff it with hot peppers. When she dons the skin again in the morning, it will burn at her all day. 

The Old Higue is viewed as miserly, introverted and oft-times crazy. The third method of capturing her is to use rice grains. Spill more than a handful of rice or spread it around and the Old Higue will feel compelled to pick up each piece of rice. Hide any pots, jugs or bags from the area and come morning time, the homeowner should find a very frustrated, cranky and tired Old Higue, trying to gather rice grains into her hand that keep falling out. At this point the community gathers and beats the Old Higue to death. You can also use rice to draw a circle around her and she effectively can't move.

Modern Day Old Higue

I did mention earlier on in this article that an incident in 2007 where a woman in a village - with cell phone and internet access - was found beaten to death. The villagers believed she was an Old Higue.

It started in the early morning hours when a woman no one knew or recognized wandered into the village of Bare Root. Two men called out to her and she snarled at them like an animal. A neighbour loudly proclaimed her child had the mark of the Old Higue, a reddened spot. The men approached her and others started to circle around her. 

"Where are you from?" they asked, "non pareil" the woman answered followed by some nonsensical words. Several villagers worked together to trap her in a circle of rice and attempted to burn her on the spot with kerosene. She did not light up.

As the morning sun continued to rise, the villagers waved brooms over her and danced around her yelling questions. The rising sun revealed a dirty older woman, with ripped clothing and no underwear on spinning with her hands over her head protectively. Numerous villagers beat her on the spot, stuffed objects into her and left her for dead. 

When the body was finally discovered and investigated, three people faced murder charges and all three claimed they killed her for being an Old Higue. They are all in jail, as they were unable to prove they believed she really was this supernatural being. It eventually came to light that the lady was a 55-year-old mentally disabled female who wandered away from the relatives she was with in a nearby village. She did not speak clearly, would have been confused and disoriented as well as scared. 

Many of the villagers after being asked, believed she should have been left in a circle of rice and authorities called.

The Dutchman

 The Dutch have a terrible and lasting memorial to their rule, that of jumbee known as the Dutchman. He's considered the most frightening of all and take the blame for most of the evil unexplained acts of humanity. His popularity among the Peoples of West Indies and Caribbean is second only to the Old Higue. 

The stories are many and oddly enough there are 'real life co incidences' to go along with them. Dutchman tales always include a tree. During the 1500's the Danish were seen as cruel and selfish rulers who would often kill or torment slaves either as a warning to others or out of enjoyment, depends on which tale you are hearing. They would hang in the branches or be buried under the roots of the trees. 

The Dutchman is a collection of slave spirits that seem to protect their burial grounds, or maybe treasure, when certain trees are 'attacked'. There are a number of trees called Dutchman trees, and it is not only one species of tree. 

The trees developed a reputation over time of injuring those or killing them when they climbed, cut at or used the tree in any way. Sometimes the tale relates a fall, a broken back or neck, other times they are found horribly mutilated or with a medical condition no one has seen before. 

In an area of West Demerara one village tells the tale of a large tree in the center of their small community. Boys playing near it or climbing it become ill. Those who tried to carve their initials in it or cut its branches are found dead or gravely injured in freak accidents..

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Comments

Aug 22, 2014 2:42pm
vicdillinger
I REALLY like this. I'm always interested in the folk-lore of other cultures, especially those things centered on the macabre or supernatural. Thumb's up, pinned, tweeted, etc.
Aug 22, 2014 6:27pm
LittleTwoTwo
I found it a lot of fun to write as well, so many ways it could have been presented. Thank you.
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