A Haunted Caribbean
That Creepy Feeling
Imagine. You’re on vacation. The sun and beaches by day couldn’t have been more inviting and enjoyable. Every inch of you is relaxed and all of your day-to-day stress seems to have melted away.
You decide to take a leisurely stroll just after your sumptuous, unforgettable evening meal. You can hear the waves rolling on shore, the occasional call of some night bird. The air is heavy with the smell of the ocean and exotic flowers. Things couldn’t be more perfect. But wait, you have the creepy 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 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…
Every culture and country has its ghost stories. Some are passed down through the community orally and some become literary works as in New England’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
Caribbean countries are no different with their tales of ghosts and hauntings. 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 be traced back to specific African tribes. For example, Jamaica tells of the duppy which is a ghost that appears at night, especially if you are walking about alone. It is such a common tale that 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 will not be able 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, the Bantu tribe specifically. 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, 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 that emerge at night to haunt its chosen victims. The cure is also the same.
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 an old woman by day. The Olde Hague is said to show up where there are babies and attaches itself to them. Fortunately, the Ole 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 because she is compulsively counting the grains, often starting over for accuracy, well into the morning light.
As with most tales of ghosts and hauntings, they make you hurt yourself and sometimes others. One unfortunate by-product of this tale of the old woman who morphs into the Ole Hague by night, innocent older women are distrusted and even persecuted.
In the Jamaican town of Port Royal there are the tales of pirates, Blackbeard in particular, who have reportedly has 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 off the shores of Port Royal and other Caribbean ports? The proliferation of shipwrecks strewn about the waters, a true haunting reminder of the marauding buccaneers of the past and a 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.
© 2016 Cynthia B. Turner