Is There a Haunted Caribbean?
The Caribbean Feels a Little Less Sunny When You Know It's Haunted!
Imagine you’re on vacation. The sun is bright and your sunscreen is heavy. By day, the beaches are white, the waves gentle and lulling. They couldn’t be more inviting and enjoyable. Every inch of you is relaxed and all of your day-to-day stress seems to have melted away as you breathe the salty air.
You decide to take a leisurely stroll just after your sumptuous, unforgettable evening meal. You can hear the waves rolling off shore and the occasional call of some night bird, and the air is heavy with the smell of the ocean mixed with exotic flowers. Things couldn’t be more perfect. But wait, you have the creepy, hair-stand-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling that you are not walking alone, although there are no other sounds of footfall. The only sound of breathing is your own and you see no one as you strain to peer into the darkness. Still . . . you just can’t shake the feeling, so you cut your walk short and head back to your hotel, looking over your shoulder with nearly every quickened step . . .
The Caribbean is no different from every culture and country in that its ghost stories passed down through the community orally. Some have even become literary works, as with New England’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
A Creepy Feeling That Makes Your Hair Stand on End
It is interesting that across the network of Caribbean islands, many of the ghost stories are the same or very similar in origin. That should be no surprise since many of the countries’ inhabitants are of African descent, often from the same region of Africa. These ghost stories are oral tales that have actually been passed down through the generations and can often be traced back to specific African tribes. For example, Jamaica tells of the duppy—a ghost that appears at night, especially when you are walking about alone.
It is such a common tale and there is actually a common cure for that type of ghost. It’s worth noting that most of those who know the story of the duppy sagely advise that if you suspect a duppy has decided to accompany you on that leisurely walk, throwing salt out will distract it. The hapless duppy is helpless to control the urge to stop and count the salt grains, giving you enough time to get to safety.
Martha Warren Beckworth, an early 20th-century folklorist, officially traced the tale of the duppy back to Africa, specifically the Bantu tribe. Dr. Beckworth recorded other tales as well, remarking on their importance as “one of the only ways the enslaved Africans could maintain their connections to their country or tribe of origin.”
The tale of the duppies is also found in Barbados and the Barbadian tale, complete with the salt cure, and is consistent with the tale told in Jamaica.
Other Caribbean islands refer to duppies as jumbies. Still, the entities remain the same in nature—malevolent spirits emerge at night to haunt their chosen victims. The cure is also the same. Carrying a cache of salt on that walk through the Caribbean calm maybe a good idea.
A White Witch and an Old Hague
These ghost tales can often have a monetary value for a country as a tourist attraction, especially when the tale is of a specific historical figure or a popular part of the island. One such attraction is the Rose Hall House in Jamaica, the former home of Annie Palmer, who is said to have practiced black magic and used it to kill her first (and subsequent) husband and to murder her slave lovers. Her home is said to be haunted by her malevolent spirit because of her improper burial and many tourists visit hoping to glimpse her ghostly shadow.
In Guyana, you will find stories of the Old Hague which is said to be a malevolent vampire-like entity that takes the form of a harmless old woman by day. The Old Hague is said to show up where there are babies and attaches itself to them. Fortunately, the Old Hague can be distracted when it is presented with a spread of rice grains which, like the duppy or the jumby, it is compelled to count. She can then be captured while she is compulsively counting the grains, often starting over for accuracy, well into the morning light.
As with most tales of ghosts and hauntings, there is always the potential for them to cause you to hurt yourself and sometimes others as when the irrational belief in the tale is very strong. One unfortunate by-product of this tale of the old woman who morphs into the Old Hague by night is that innocent older women were distrusted and even persecuted.
Haunted Lighthouses, Pirates, and Shipwrecks in the Bahamas and Jamaica
The islands that make up the Bahamas are the site of a number of haunted lighthouses. Some of them were built as early as 1852, as was the Great Isaac Lighthouse and are bound to have history that ties them to the supernatural. The Great Isaac Lighthouse was built in 1852. There are reported to be several ghosts that haunt the lighthouse including that of a young boy who was killed during a shipwreck and the mother of an infant who was the only survivor of another shipwreck.
The Eleuthera Point Lighthouse is also in the Bahamas. They were built at the beginning of the 20th Century and its current claim to fame is a ghost called the White Lady which is said to haunt the lighthouse.
Stirrup Cay Lighthouse and Dixon Hill Lighthouse are both open to tourists and have resident ghosts that are occasionally spotted.
In the Jamaican town of Port Royal, there are the tales of ghostly pirates, Blackbeard in particular, who have reportedly been sighted in the town. There is no better lure for some adventurous tourists than the prospect of seeing a ghost roaming the streets of modern-day Port Royal. Blackbeard’s ghost, and that of his cohorts such as Calico Jack who was hung in the town of Port Royal for his pirating ways on the high seas, are said to “still be hanging around.”
What of the shores of Port Royal and other Caribbean ports? The proliferation of shipwrecks strewn about the waters is a true, haunting reminder of the marauding buccaneers of the past and an attractive, although sometimes dangerous, lure for divers and treasure hunters.
In your travels to the sunny, sandy beaches that make the Caribbean such an enticing destination, take some time to listen to the folklore. You just might be listening to tales from Africa that survived for hundreds of years on the lips of slaves and their descendants. But be cautioned, some of the sites that are said to be haunted will certainly stir your imagination and quite possibly haunt your nightmares.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2016 Cynthia B Turner