Sacred-Texts  African  Index  Previous  Next 



SR HENRY HESKETH JOUDOU BELL, who recently retired as Governor of Mauritius, spent many years in the British Colonial Service in the West Indies, where he began his career in 1882.

Writing of his experiences in Granada and describing Quashie's "love for and unshaken belief in the uncanny" with consequent "profound faith in the existence of" ghosts, or as they are called in the West Indies, "jumbies" or duppies, Sir Hesketh relates the following experience of his own.

"I rented for some time a place rejoicing in the name of 'Paradise.' It was in rather a lonely situation and had no near neighbours. On account of the reputation the house bore, namely, of being haunted by troops of jumbies, it was with the greatest difficulty that I could induce a groom to sleep in the place, and only succeeded in getting one to stay by allowing him to sleep on the mat outside my bedroom door.

"I certainly used to hear, during the night, all sorts of peculiar noises and gruesome sounds, but the house, being an old one, was infested by rats, and

{p. 145}

to the gambols of these gentry I ascribed the uncanny noises.

"The groom, however, emphatically denied the culpability of the rats, and insisted on blaming the ghosts for the noise. Over and over he would tell me that he would have to leave the work, as 'De jumbies does trouble me too much,' and frequently, in the middle of the night, I would wake up with a start, hearing the boy yelling out to me. 'What on earth is the matter, you----?' I would call out in exasperation, only to receive every time the same answer about the jumbies. 'Just listen, sah, dey lighting matches all round the house.' I certainly could hear sounds as of matches being drawn, but that was all, and the other sounds could be put down to the hats that infested the place.

"One night, however, I was really horribly alarmed, and experienced a good share of the feelings engendered by reading some of Edgar Poe's ghastly tales. I was quite alone in the house and had given the boy leave to sleep out for the night. I went to bed as usual and was awakened after a few hours' sleep by some sound or other. The wind was pretty high, and whistled mournfully through the trees. I had not had a pleasant dream, and awakened with a feeling of uneasiness, while my thoughts reverted to unpleasant ideas and some gruesome tales I had read the day before.

"The mournful cry of an owl resounded from time to time, and it seemed to me the rats and bats seemed unusually restive and ghostlike. Heavens! what was that rustling sound just outside beneath

{p. 146}

the window? It sounded like a footfall. There it is again! Gracious! I'd swear that was the clank of iron, it sounded like fetters! A cold perspiration broke over me, my hair was quite damp. I held my breath to catch the slightest sound. Again I heard the clank of the chain, now close beneath the window. All the blood-curdling stories of fettered ghosts I had ever read flew through my brain. The moon shed fitful rays from behind a cloud and enabled me to distinguish objects. Again the clank and a rustle.

"Do all I could, I could not tear my eyes away from the window, and every second I expected and dreaded to see a cold, white face with gleaming eyes pressed against the window pane. I could stand it no longer, and don't know what I was about to do, when an awful sound broke the ghostly stillness of the night. 'Hee Haw! Hee Haw!' 'Twas the other donkey loose outside. Never had I thought there was such enchantment in a donkey's bray, never so sweet a sound had I ever heard, nor one so full of comforting melody. Once more I was at peace, and, calling myself some inelegant names, I turned on my other side and slept till morning." (1)

No doubt, many a ghost-story in Jamaica may be as easily explained away by the incredulous visitor to the island, but certainly neither he nor anyone else will be able to shake the superstitious belief of the "bush" in the active agency of spiritual entities that exerts a really extraordinary influence on the daily life of practically every Negro whether he is in the West Indies or elsewhere.

Unquestionably, many a hair-raising experience is

{p. 147}

wrought with terrors that have their sole foundation in hysteria or imaginative fear as a consequence of an attack of nerves, and one must be careful about the uncritical acceptance of every story told, particularly if it is of the hear-say variety.

On the other hand, it has been my experience, that the seasoned missionary is naturally so sceptical on these matters that his tendency is to sift all evidence and try to find a normal explanation for everything and as a general rule his quest is not in vain.

Thus the very next district to my own was at one time in charge of a missionary who suddenly found that his alarm-clock had developed a strange propensity. He would leave it on the table and at his return find it on the floor under the table. Sometimes he was awakened at night by the clock's insistence on returning to the floor. Circumstances precluded all possibility of the perpetration of a practical joke--he was alone in the house. Finally, one day in broad daylight, while in an adjoining room, he heard the clock crash to the floor from the table. This started a serious investigation. The clock was an old one and would run only when placed on its back. After due experiment and long observation, it was found that the unwinding of the main-spring caused the key at the back to revolve, and as the clock was resting on it, a slow but perceptible movement was noticeable which made it gradually edge off the table. Thus another perfectly good ghost story was spoiled.

Later the same missionary was able to trace a troublesome knocking that had disturbed a household at all hours of the night, to an inoffensive dog

{p. 148}

which in the customary fashion of easing the annoyance of fleas had caused the mysterious disturbance.

These instances are cited merely as illustration of the usual calm and determined attitude of those who are habituated to the "bush" and who necessarily cannot afford to let their nerves run away with them. They instinctively seek to find a normal explanation for the phenomena that would otherwise destroy their peace of mind.

What, then, am I to think of the accounts that have reached me from seasoned missionaries and other equally reliable witnesses, giving me such personal experiences as have defied their every effort at explanation by natural causes? Several such signed statements are before me on my desk. The writers generously give me permission to use the facts but naturally ask to be spared undue publicity. I can appreciate their feeling as it has taken me a quarter of a century to find enough courage to state openly my own views and experiences. Personally I know each witness and can vouch for his sincerity and soundness of judgment. Let me outline a few cases. Some of these incidents are of comparatively recent occurrence, others happened as much as thirty years ago or more. I have gathered them as I could pick them up. But in every case I have obtained the account in writing and over the narrator's signature.

Here we have an incident in Kingston. A man is annoyed by his dead brother who "appeared to him several times over his bed and at eleven o'clock in the morning, looking just as he did when he was in the coffin, but no words were uttered." Two ordinary

{p. 149}

blessings of the house have no effect. The apparition continues on unchecked. A special blessing is employed and the spectre comes no more. To all appearances, the harassed man is sane and normal. If it is only a delusion, it has so taken hold of the unfortunate that he is certainly convinced of its reality.

Also in Kingston we have a distracted woman and her children who are almost driven mad by the repeated apparition of a man in their house who disappears as soon as accosted. The account continues: "Upon going to the house and questioning the woman, what struck me as sincere and genuine was that the woman and especially the son of about ten years were really terrified, so much so that I was concerned for the boy lest he become deranged by fear. There was no fooling about his story, and no contradictions in it. I made him tell me the details, and show me the places where he stood and where the man was, in the repeated apparitions. I blessed the house and warned the mother to keep the boy's mind off the whole affair. They were bothered once or twice again and then the trouble disappeared. At least the people were sincere in their fear. There was no request for money or material aid. Certainly the little boy was living in an agony of terror. The mother was a very nervous person and I suspected her for a while of terrorizing the boy. But I found out that to them, at least, it was real. Who can say, whether it was so or not?"

Out in Westmoreland we encounter the conviction

{p. 150}

that unless a child of four is "properly" buried, the ghost will come back and haunt the home.

Up in the Dry Harbour Mountains, an unbaptized boy is "troubled with spirits" and his father seeks the help of the priest who writes: "I started out with the boy's father and tramped through the mountains until I wondered whether a white man had ever penetrated into that part of Jamaica before. After a long climb, we at last reached the hut. Much to my amazement I found the sick boy sitting on a high home-made bed. He looked far stronger and more healthy than myself with apparently nothing wrong with him. When I questioned him, he gave me the same story as his father had given me, that he was troubled with spirits. As he lived so far away from civilization, I gave him what instruction was necessary and baptized him. A few days later I heard that the boy had died almost immediately after my departure."

Now we have the example of an unfortunate leper who "during his sickness used to be taken up and thrown around the room by some unknown spirit."

From another part of the island this comes to us: "A woman sent for me to come and bless her house for the reason that she and her daughter were annoyed by evil spirits. I went and first questioned her on the nature of the molestation. Her first complaint was that the malignant spirits 'rattled the shutters.' 'But that could be the wind,' I suggested. 'But den dey trow stones in der window.' 'Some boys plaguing you.' She was visibly annoyed at my difficulty to be convinced. 'Fader, I gwine tell you der whole trute.

{p. 151}

My daughter and me in bed and dey empty der pitcher of water ober us.'"

Here is a somewhat longer account in the very words of the narrator. "The following is the story told me by a black boy at X. He was lodged by a woman who owns and lives in a haunted house. His bed was placed across the floor in front of the door leading to the woman's bedroom. Though he slept there for some time, he saw something only once, but he often heard footsteps walking up and down the front steps. He swears to the truth of these footsteps and also to the following. One night he awoke and saw a woman standing above him. She stood there for a time while he looked at her. She said never a word and finally turned and went out. He gathered the impression that she wanted to get into the bedroom but his presence had stopped her.

"The next day I spoke with the woman who owns the house. She says that she used to see ghosts when she was a little girl but was never afraid because they never harmed her, but just appeared to her. That stopped and she had never any more experiences with the supposedly preternatural until eight years ago, she is now about forty-five years old.

"She had bought a house and was living there alone. One night as she entered her home, something took her by the arm and led her into the house and then departed. She gathered it was a person. This was her first experience. From that time to this day, she has been constantly frightened by noises of various kinds and of a haunting character but mainly by footsteps climbing the stairs. This is always at night,

{p. 152}

never in the daytime. Among others which she did not have time to tell me, these were her special experiences.

"One night she woke up and heard footsteps coming to her door, in through the door and across to a washstand which stood in the way to her bed. She sat up, the ghost splashed in her wash basin and then flicked her face with water. She screamed and the ghost departed. She touched the drops of water on her face and wiped them off.

"Another night, she had a woman sleep with her to whom she told nothing of the haunted character of the house. The woman in the morning, in great fright, told her the same thing had happened to her, the flicking of the water, and refused to sleep in the house with her again.

"Still another night, and this has happened a number of times, she woke up from sleep, although not roused by noises. She turned over on her side and screamed with fright, for she had turned over on an, other body. It disappeared and she went to sleep again. Sometimes she is awakened by a suffocating feeling and finds something pressing down on her shoulders and body and enveloping her.

"Another night footsteps came across the floor; she sat up in bed; the ghost approached and gave her a terrific blow in the abdomen. Since that time she has suffered from a fiery internal fever which no doctor on the island seems to be able to cure although she has seen many of them.

"Whenever she screams, the ghost departs. She cannot see the ghost but only hears it and feels it. {p. 153} Asked if she knew any obeah-man, she said that she didn't, but if she did, she would go to him if he could help her.

"Apparently the ghost is afraid of men. For, when she has a boy sleeping in the house she is not disturbed. But when a woman is with her the ghost bothers her as usual.

"I believe there is something in her story. She was so certain of the details, and there are a number of people who support her testimony. She vowed several times that she was telling the truth and is tortured by the ghost and she wants to sell a house on which she has spent money and energy in making it comfortable for herself."

Whatever may be thought concerning the physical actuality of these various incidents, even if the credibility of the witnesses should be called into question by some, this much is certain, that to those unfortunates who went through the experiences they were of terrifying reality; and no amount of explanation or argument to the contrary would shake their belief that they were victims of some spiritual force, call it duppy, shadow or any other name you please.

This does not mean that they regard the agent, whatever it may be, as in any way diabolical. Far from it. According to "bush" ideas concerning the human composite of body and soul, there are qualities in the spiritual element of man that enables it under particular circumstances to produce certain extrinsic phenomena and to exercise a powerful influence for good or evil as regards others, occasionally

{p. 154}

here in life but especially after death when it is freed from the trammels of the body. In other words, the operations of duppy and shadow are not to be regarded in themselves as supernatural but purely natural since there is no intervention of a spiritual force outside themselves, except perhaps as happens in the case of the obeah-man, when he undertakes the control and use of these natural forces of the human soul. And even then, it is really a supernatural use of a natural force that is understood by the "bush" psychology.

Be that as it may, whether we regard them as psychic phenomena or merely as popular superstitions, two elements are to be carefully distinguished in Jamaica, the duppy and the shadow. It was once commonly the belief that the obeah-man could catch the shadows of living people and imprison them in a silk-cotton tree, with the consequence that the victim of the lost shadow pined away and died unless the myal-man undid the mischief by releasing the shadow and returning it to its owner. So, too, while the obeah-man might "set duppies" on people for their endless annoyance, the myal-man could free them from their spectral tormenters. To differentiate properly these two elements, the shadow and the duppy, we must go back to the Ashanti from whom they were originally brought to Jamaica in the days of slavery.

Captain Rattray tells us: "The Ashanti use a number of names translated into English by the words soul or spirit or ghost." (2) He then goes on to define the various terms employed. Thus he writes:

{p. 155}

Saman is "a ghost, an apparition, a spectre; this term is never applied to a living person or to anything inherent in a living person. It is objective and is the form which the dead are sometimes seen to take, when visible on earth, and in it they go about in the asaman or samandow (the place of ghosts); samanpow is the 'thicket of ghosts'; samanfo, the ghosts, i.e. spirits of ancestors. The word has no connexion whatever with any kind of soul." (3) Elsewhere Captain Rattray asserts: "A saman is in the form and shape of the mortal body and has all its senses, or some at any rate, and feels hunger and thirst." (4) It is further explained by the same author that according to Ashanti belief, when a man dies, his spirit or saman immediately appears before the Supreme Being, or as some think, before a subordinate deity, and ascertains whether it is to go to the spirit world below or haunt the earth for a time, if not permanently. He adds: "Such a spirit then becomes 'a wait-about, wait-about spirit . . . . . . It does not seem," he says, "to have much power for harm, and is shy generally, and confines itself to frightening people. The saman, whose stay on earth has been only ordained to last until his destiny has been fulfilled, eventually disappears to the world where all spirits live." (5) It is also observed that "food is constantly placed aside" for the saman, and that when they are visible to the human eye they are "reported generally as being white or dressed in white." (6) This is the Jamaica duppy in every detail.

The Reverend R. Thomas Banbury describing

{p. 156}

Jamaica of his day, expressed the opinion: "The word duppy appears to be a corruption of doorpeep, something peeping through the keyhole." (7) Personally I am absolutely opposed to this derivation of the word duppy, but as far as I can determine it is the only one that has been suggested in Jamaica. Doctor Werner, writing to me, ascribed the origin to Dupe, "ghost" in the "Bube" language of the southern and eastern parts of the island of Fernando Poo. But while the cultural influence of the Ashanti in Jamaica is paramount, there is no indication of influence from the Fernando Poo group of slaves. Since, then, Ashanti terminology has so dominated everything Jamaican, it is but reasonable to turn to the Ashanti again when seeking further elucidation of Jamaican problems. As a matter of fact we find in Ashanti the word dupon signifying "the broad and large part of the root of certain trees above ground, projecting like a buttress from the low part of the trunk," (8) and it gives reference to the odum, or silk-cotton tree. Now it is precisely among these buttressed roots of the silk-cotton tree that the duppies in Jamaica are supposed to reside, and I cannot help feeling that either the word duppy is derived from dupon, or possibly the latter has acquired its name from the duppies who frequent the roots.

Mr. Banbury further states: "Duppies are ghosts which are supposed to appear to persons in this country termed foyeyed or gifted with second sight. It is commonly believed that departed souls return to earth, haunt their habitations, or remain near

{p. 157}

where their bodies are buried. These eat and drink like living beings and are displeased when the inmates of houses leave nothing for them in the house at nights. For this reason the superstitious are known to let food remain on the table for the duppies." (9) He further observes: "The duppies generally appear in their grave clothes." (10)

While the duppies are primarily spiritual entities, they unquestionably include a material element in their composition. On occasions of deaths in the neighbourhood, especially if by violence, good care is taken at night to plug up every crack and crevice in the hovels, "to keep the duppies out." In fact, when about a hundred unfortunates were drowned at Montego Bay during the hurricane of 1912, it was almost impossible to find a messenger to go on an errand that would keep him out after dark, the general excuse being, "Too many det (dead) round, sah!" Moreover, while Mr. Banbury maintained: "Duppies are believed to act the part of guardian angels to their friends and relatives," (11) I certainly never met any Jamaican who was not averse to meeting the duppies of even those who had been nearest and dearest to him in life.

Father Emerick writes: "The usual meaning of the word duppy, when not taken in connexion with other superstitions, is the same as that of our word ghost. The Jamaica duppies, like our ghosts, retain an interest in the persons and the world they left behind, and seek intercommunication with them. But their interest is seldom, if ever, otherwise than selfish, or malicious, or vindictive. To be able to see and

{p. 158}

converse with duppies you must be a 'foyeyed,' that is a four-eyed, gifted with a second sight, by which you can see what is going on in the spirit world. For the foyeyed to see duppies it is not necessary for them, like the mediums in our modern spiritualism, to shut themselves up in a spirit cabinet or pass into a hypnotic sleep of any kind; they simply cannot help seeing the spirits when they are around. Like our ghosts, duppies amuse themselves by haunting houses, frightening people by slamming doors, upsetting chairs, drawing bed curtains, etc. They have a special attraction for untenanted houses and lonesome places. Haunted houses are common in the country and to be found even in the city." (12)

Father Emerick goes on to relate the following personal experience. "One of the city duppy houses was a large two-storey house. When I was sent to Jamaica in 1895, to help Reverend Patrick Kelly, he was in the throes of resurrecting a school in this same building. Father Kelly and myself lived in this building, sleeping there during the night. This building was said to be haunted by the soul of a wealthy leper who died in it. Whether it was due to the dead leper or some other kind of a duppy, we had some curious duppy experiences. One night we were both disturbed by someone apparently coming to our door. About an hour or so after I had grabbed quickly the knob of my door to keep out the mysterious intruder, I heard Father Kelly calling out lustily from beyond a vacant room between us, asking me if I had come to his door." (3)

Later the same author tells us: "But the Jamaica

{p. 159}

duppies do not limit their operations to haunting houses, but, like the fairies they like to wander about. On this account, according to duppy belief, you must not speak to unknown persons you meet in the road at night. You might make a mistake and address a duppy and be knocked by it." (14) And again: "These duppy knockers not only knock people but they have a peculiar way of knocking in and about houses and making it very uncomfortable for those living in them. There was scarcely a district where these knocking duppies were not busy bothering some house." (15)

The Jamaica duppy, then, for all practical purposes, may be regarded as substantially the same as our ghost, both as to its nature and its method of manifestation and annoyance.

As already mentioned, according to Ashanti acceptation, the "wait-about, wait-about spirit" is doomed to haunt the earth permanently. The name for such a spirit is osaman-twentwen which is explained by Christaller as "a departed spirit that is not admitted to the asaman, on account of his wickedness in his life-time, but must hover about behind the dwellings." (16) Twen literally means "to wait" and the reduplicated form is an adverb signifying nimbly or cleverly.

In the Jamaica "bush" there is a similar belief that in the case of notoriously wicked individuals, their ghosts of duppies go about ordinarily in the form of a calf, with a piece of chain attached to the neck, as a warning of the consequences of evil-doing. These creatures are known popularly as "Rollen

{p. 160}

Calves," and they are thus described by Mr. Banbury.

"1 now advert to a curious superstition that is still rife in Jamaica that is, the belief in what are called Rollen Calves. These are a set of animals, or rather as it is believed, evil spirits in the shape of animals, which travel at nights, and are often seen by the people. There is hardly any of them but who will tell you that they have met with Rollen Calves in the dark. These creatures of transmigrated souls are seen in a variety of forms, like cats, dogs, hogs, goats, horses, bulls, etc., and are said to be most dangerous and inveterate when met in the feline form and of a black or brindled colour. A bit of chain is generally attached to their necks, which they carry with them from the infernal regions. People affirm that they often hear the rattle of the rollen calf's chain about their yard at nights, and listened to his battle with the dogs, who are its bitter enemies. They fly at it with precipitation and compel it to retreat when they encounter it. They are supposed to take up their abode in the daytime at the roots of cotton trees, bamboos, and in caves, as duppies do. But at such a time are not visible except to the foyeyed, or those that can see spirits.

"These creatures are also believed to be sometimes under an obeah spell, when they will attack people in the night, and obstinately dispute the path with them. They possess the extraordinary power of suddenly growing from the size of a cat or dog to that of a horse, or bull. The only way of getting rid of the infernal monster on such occasions, is to flog

{p. 161}

him with the left hand. He is exceedingly afraid of a tarred whip. Waggon men and others who affirm that they have encountered the roaring calf, declare that they have heard him cry out when flogged 'Me dead two time, oh,' (I am twice dead.) They are very fond of molasses, and for that reason are often seen at crop time about sugar estates at nights, seeking to satiate themselves with this article. For the same cause they have been known to follow the sugar wains, in the night, conveying sugar to the wharf. They are said to be fond of cattle, this occasions the breaking of the 'cow pen', the rollen calf getting in among the cattle, and causing terror." (17)

In passing, Mr. Banbury illustrates his account with the following anecdote. "A man who is a member of the Church of a certain denomination, an educated and upright man, one whom I believe would not tell a lie, informed me that he was travelling late one night, the moon was shining brightly--when he came upon a very large black creature lying at full length across the road. No dog, he said, could have been so large. He made a lick at it with his stick in terror. The stick flew out of his hand, and he never saw where the beast went. He got home, and took in with fever and was ill for some time-no doubt from the fright. Of course, he set it down to have been one of these fabulous creatures of the night. His terrified imagination transformed what was most likely a large black dog into a Rollen Calf." (18)

That Mr. Banbury regards the whole belief with

{p. 162}

absolute scepticism, is clearly evidenced. "I remember," he says, "one night riding on a mule very late, and dozing going along, when the mule made a leap on a sudden up a steep bank, from the road, and began to snort at a great rate working his ears backwards and forwards. Nor with all my efforts would he go down again. I was determined to find out the cause of his fright, I alighted, went down into the road, and saw a very curious-looking animal lying in the middle of the way, doubled up. I could not make out what it was at all. It had long woolly hair of a whitish colour. I gave it a sharp lick with my supple-jack, and up it sprang. I then saw by the light of the moon that it was a young ass. After going on a little further, I came upon the mother feeding. If there was ever a close resemblance to a Rollen Calf, that was one; and any superstitious person, without taking the trouble to examine it, would have set it down to be one. These circumstances in point prove most conclusively that 'Mr. Rollen' is nothing more than one of our domestic animals seen in the night; or an animal that is not generally met with, as was before hinted." (19)

Mr. Banbury suggests that the word rollen does not signify rolling but roaring. (20) Once again I must disagree with him. Never did I find any indication of such an interpretation in any part of the "bush." I am rather inclined to think that we have here one of the rare examples where rolling is used in the sense of wandering or roaming.

As regards the superstition itself, this belief in the Rollen Calf is rapidly dying out in Jamaica. The

{p. 163}

"bush" still talks about it, but in an incredulous sort of a way with an air of amused toleration. At least, that is the conclusion I drew from personal contacts in various parts of the island.

Entirely distinct from the saman or duppy or ghost, is the Ashanti sasa which according to Captain Rattray "is the invisible spiritual power of a person or an animal, which disturbs the mind of the living, or works a spell or mischief upon them, so that they suffer in various ways. Persons who are always taking life have to be particularly careful to guard against sasa influence, and it is among them that its action is mainly seen, e.g. among executioners, hunters, butchers, and as a later development--among sawyers--who cut down the great forest trees. The remorse that might drive the murderer in this country to confession or to suicide, the Ashanti would explain at once as the operation of the sasa of the murdered man upon his murderer. I have mentioned occasionally in the preceding pages of steps taken to avoid the vengeance of the sasa. The sasa is essentially the bad, revengeful, and hurtful element in a spirit; it is that part which at all costs must be 'laid' or rendered innocuous. The funeral rites . . . are really, I believe, the placating, appeasing, and the final speeding of a soul which may contain this very dangerous element in its composition." (21)

This is substantially the shadow of Jamaica. However, as in the case of the duppy, we find a material element connected with the shadow in the general acceptation of the "bush." Further it should be

{p. 164}

noted in passing that at a Jamaica funeral, as will be seen later, at times the sasa or shadow is "laid" with as elaborate a ceremonial as happens among the Ashanti.

In connexion with what is known as the Apo Custom, an annual festival among the Ashanti, there is a lampooning liberty which is thus described to Captain Rattray "by the old high-priest of the god Ta Kese at Tekiman."--"You know that every one has a sunsum (soul) that may get hurt or knocked about or become sick, and so make the body ill. Very often, although there may be other causes, e.g. witchcraft, ill health is caused by the evil and the hate that another has in his head against you. Again, you too may have hatred in your head against another, because of something that person has done to you, and that, too, causes your sunsum to fret and become sick. Our forebears knew this to be the case, and so they ordained a time, once every year, when every man and woman, free man and slave, should have freedom to speak out just what was in their head, to tell their neighbours just what they thought of them and their actions, and not only their neighbours, but also the king or chief. When a man has spoken freely thus, he will feel his sunsum cool and quieted, and the sunsum of the other person against whom he has now freely spoken will be quieted also. The King of Ashanti may have killed your children, and you hate him. This had made him ill, and you ill, too; when you are allowed to say before his face what you think, you both benefit. That was why the King of Ashanti in ancient times, when he fell ill,

{p. 165}

would send for the Queen of Nkoranza to insult him, even though the time for the ceremony had not come round. It made him live longer and did him good." (22)

1 sometimes wonder if this ceremony may not have given rise to the practice still in vogue in Jamaica of "throwing words at the moon?" You may tell the moon the most insulting things about a party within his hearing without being liable for libel, as you would be if you addressed the same words to your victim or to another person. Thus you in turn may be called "a tief" or "a liar fee true," every word reaching you and those who are standing about, and yet if you ask the vilifier what he is saying, the answer will be: "Not you, sah, Him moon talk." It certainly "cools the sunsum" of the speaker who goes away contented and satisfied, though it must be confessed it has a far different effect on the object of the remarks. I speak from experience.

At all events, with the Ashanti it is believed that malignity towards another can physically affect the object of one's hatred, inducing sickness and even death. It is this spiritual power of the soul, or as Captain Rattray called it, "the bad, revengeful and hurtful element in a spirit," that is known as the Ashanti sasa or Jamaica shadow. This is its normal or natural function, independent of any supernatural co-operation. It is, however, believed that it is within the scope of obeah-practice to dissociate from living man this sasa or shadow, which accordingly must have some entity of its own independent of the sunsum or soul. Furthermore, unless the victim of this

{p. 166}

obeah interference succeeds in regaining his lost shadow through the instrumentality of the myal-man, he is doomed to waste away with fatal results.

On the other hand, when a man comes to die in the ordinary course of events, his sasa or shadow tends to demand an independent existence of its own to the annoyance of those who remain in life, unless it is captured and "properly laid" at the funeral, as will be seen in the next chapter.

Accordingly, Mr. Banbury tells us that depriving persons of their shadows is also called in Jamaica "setting the deaths on them," and he explains: "It is believed that after the shadow of any one is taken, he is never healthy; and if it be not caught, he must pine away until he dies. The shadow when taken is carried and nailed to the cotton-tree." (23) This of course, would be the work of an obeah-man.

It now becomes the task of the myal-man to try and restore the shadow to the person from whom it had been taken.

After the great myalistic revival that followed on the emancipation of the slaves the catching of shadows became almost as important as the digging up of obeah, on the part of the myal-man who according to Mr. Banbury, "declared that the world was to be at an end: Christ was coming, and God had sent them to pull all the obeahs, and catch the shadows that were spell-bound at the cotton-trees. In preparation for that event they affected to be very strict in their conduct. They would neither drink nor smoke. Persons who were known to be notorious for bad lives were excluded from their society. At

{Two pages (167 and 168) missing in book--jbh.}

{p. 169}

been properly laid at the funeral, is ordinarily ascribed to the duppies. This is probably due to the fact that, as in many parts of Africa, it is not well to speak of the dead, especially under the malevolent aspect, and so duppies in general are blamed for everything and there is then no need of any reference to a particular shadow, which otherwise hearing itself named, might feel called upon to make its presence felt to the utter annoyance of the invoker.

Still another Ashanti term is the sunsum which is thus described by Captain Rattray: "It is a man's sunsum that may wander about in sleep. 'It may encounter other sunsum and get knocked about, when you will feel unwell, or killed, when you will sicken and die.' Perhaps the sunsum is the volatile part of the whole 'kra'" (27) i.e. the human soul. It was only on very rare occasions that I came across any indications of vestiges of belief in this dream-soul during all the time I was in Jamaica. Possibly there are still some who secretly place credence in the theory that his dreams are actual experiences of a portion of his soul far afield during the hours of sleep. But, I feel quite sure that even the most ignorant in the "bush" have become too sophisticated to openly admit such a belief.

Another superstition, now rapidly dying out in Jamaica, is that regarding "Ole Hige," a sort of vampire that haunts the hovels of the Blacks or is seen at times gliding along the roads at night in a fiery glow. For many years I was convinced that this was nothing more than an ingraft on Negro superstition due to contacts with the whites, as "Ole

{p. 170}

Hige" really means Old Hag and when she assumes her rôle as vampire, in good European witch fashion, she doffs her skin before setting out on her mission. In this connexion, we even find recorded the time-honoured story of the husband who suspected the nefarious practice of his wife and feigning sleep until her departure rubbed pepper and salt inside the temporarily discarded skin. The usual discomfiture of the witch followed in natural course. (28) What was my surprise, then, to find Christaller in connexion with the Ashanti stating under the term Obayifo, meaning witch, hag; wizard, sorcerer: "The natives describe a wizard or witch as a man or woman who stands in some agreement with the devil. At night, when all are asleep, he (or she) rises or rather leaves his (her) body, as a snake casts its slough, and goes out emitting flames from his eyes, nose, mouth, ears, armpits; he may walk with his head on the ground and his feet up; he catches and eats animals, or kills men either by drinking their blood or by catching their soul, which he boils and eats, whereupon the person dies; or he bites them that they become full of sores." (29)

Concerning the Jamaica belief in "Ole Hige" in his day, we are informed by Mr. Banbury: "This is another most curious creature of the imagination which was much believed in times of old and greatly dreaded; and the notion respecting the fabulous being of blood has not quite died out. It delights in human blood, especially that of new-born infants. In days gone by the "Old Suck," as she was also designated on account of her imagined propensity, was

{p. 171}

to be seen enveloped in a flame of fire, wending her way late at nights through the 'nigger houses,' or along the high road, bent on robbing some poor innocent of its newly circulating blood of life. For this reason infants just born were guarded with the utmost care from the voracious creature of blood. This has given rise to the foolish notion, still generally practised amongst the people throughout the island, of keeping up the ninth night after the birth of an infant. This night is thought the most critical, as on it the old hag uses her utmost endeavour to get at the babe. It is the night previous to 'coming out of room' after child and mother are confined for some days. On this night a constant watch is kept up by the anxious mother, the midwife, and her friends. If the infant comes off safe this night there is no more fear. The hag would not after that molest it. Knives and forks, and sometimes the bible are placed at the head of the infant to scare away the 'blow-fire'. The doors are marked all over with chalk. This has the effect of keeping the old hag all night counting until it be too late to enter. Sometimes mustard seeds are scattered before them which have the same effect. Her approach is suspected by an irresistible drowsiness and the flickering of the light. If those who are watching should give way to this feeling and fall asleep, woe to the unfortunate infant. The hag enters and sucks it. As soon as this is done the child cries, the people wake up in a fright, the babe takes in immediately with the locked-jaw and refuses the breast. The little one is now considered doomed. The locked-jaw was always believed

{p. 172}

an invariable sign of the suck of an old hag, and in times of slavery a great majority of infants died of it, no doubt from the bad treatment of the mothers near up to the time of delivery by their owners, and from exposure of the infants after birth. There were mothers also, who on account of the rigour of slavery, no doubt used means to get off their babes, rather than that they should have been subjected to the same hardships as themselves. The strangest thing in connexion with this superstition is, that it was believed to be the living that acted the part of the 'old hige.' Women who were addicted to it had the power of divesting themselves of their skins, and with their raw bodies issued out at nights, in quest of blood. People have affirmed that they have seen the 'ole hige' going along in the night as swift as lightning, with blazes of fire issuing out of her armpits." (30)

Strictly speaking, therefore, ole hige should have been dealt with in the previous chapter on witchcraft, for she is a witch pure and simple. And so she would have been, were it not for the fact that the little residue of the superstition that still remains in the "bush" is, by common consent, usually associated with duppies in general, probably for the same reason as in the case of shadows already referred to, that no one wants to attract ole hige's attention by naming her.

Mr. Banbury further speaks of the Jamaica "Rubba Mumma" or River Mother which is known in Haiti as Mère de l'eau, and in Surinam as Water Mama. Thus he says: "This superstition most likely

{p. 173}

took its rise from the story of the mermaid or water nymph of England; she is believed to inhabit every fountain-head of an inexhaustible and considerable stream of water in Jamaica. For this reason the sources of such streams were worshipped, and sacrifices offered to the 'Rubba Missis.' It is a well-known fact that the slaves on water-works used to persuade their overseers or masters, to sacrifice an ox at the fountain-head of the water turning the mill in times of much drought, in order to propitiate the mistress of the river, that she may cause rain and give an adequate supply of water to turn the mill. It is said a bullock was yearly killed on some of the sugar estates at such places for this purpose." (31)

One's first impulse would be to agree with Mr. Banbury and find here nothing more than a European nymph transplanted to a West Indian setting. But maturer consideration leads me to think that this is rather a residue of the old Ashanti myth about the divine origin of water, (32) as well as a reflexion of what constitutes the very basis of Ashanti theological beliefs, as Captain Rattray calls it, namely, the accepted relation of every important body of water in Ashanti to the Supreme Being as "a son of God." (33) For, as we are told, "Waters in Ashanti, some in a greater, others in a lesser degree, are all looked upon as containing the power or spirit of the Divine Creator, and thus as being a great life-giving force. 'As a woman gives birth to a child, so may water to a god,' once said a priest to me." (34)

Among Jamaica Proverbs concerning duppies in general, the following may be mentioned in passing:

{p. 174}

In the Jamaica Alphabet we have: "D is for duppy, him yeye shine like fire," which would rather seem to have reference to Ole Hige than to the ordinary run of duppies.

"Man don dead, no call him duppy," showing that a duppy is an after death manifestation. This is clearly a use of duppy in its strictest sense.

"Duppy say: 'day fe you, night fe me,'" meaning "Every man to his taste," and implying the activity of the duppy by night.

"Ebery cave-hole hab him own duppy," that is, "Everyone has his own trouble," but indicating the association of duppies with the darkness of the caves.

"Duppy know who fe frighten," signifying "People will only injure those who they know cannot retaliate." Doctor Martha Warren Beckwith, President of the American Folk-Lore Society, paraphrases this as "The devil knows whom to frighten," and defines a duppy as a ghost or an evil spirit of any kind. (35) This, of course, is the most extended use possible for the word duppy, but there are times in Jamaica when it is so used.

The present chapter has been concerned with the "bush" ideas in Jamaica on ghosts and kindred spirits. Its purpose has been to analyse and differentiate these beliefs as beliefs, and nothing more. There is no question here of determining the underlying facts, if any.

The average Englishman or American in Jamaica, as elsewhere, would scorn to admit any belief whatever in ghosts. And yet, if put to it, either at home or abroad, how many of them would be ready to go

{p. 175}

alone into a cemetery at midnight without bolstering up their courage by whistling? They may not believe in ghosts, but they are at least a little nervous, to say the least.

So, too, I am convinced that while educated Jamaicans generally are apt to protest loudly against this foolish superstition concerning duppies, yet in their heart of hearts, after dark they have a wholesome respect for the reputed habitat of Mr. Duppy, if not a positive dread of meeting him.

Certainly, in the "bush," duppies are accepted as fearsome realities. Even were we able to prove dogmatically that such an entity could not possibly exist, we would make little impression on the minds of the masses of the simple children of Nature among the Jamaica hills. For, as the Ashanti say: "If the spirit world possesses nothing else, it has at least the power of its name." (36)

{p. 176}