Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip (Part 5)

Blue Devils





          Jumbie Tree

As I lay on my cot thinking about what had just transpired, I could not help but focus my attention on all the folklore stories my grandmother had told me through the years. She spoke of devils and ghastly demons that walked the earth to cause trouble for God fearing people. Some I had seen and some I never wanted to see. These stories heightened my anxiety about the young girl who died in the latrine.

The Blue Devils were the scariest ghouls because I got to see them every Carnival season without fail. The Blue Devils from Paramin, my father’s village, were men and women who painted themselves with blue dye, ran from house to house, and said to anyone who would listen that they would enter the house and steal all children if they did not receive money. It was akin to an evil Santa Clause expecting money instead of cookies.

The Blue Devils usually came down the hills stopping at every house as they marched down to Maraval village - dancing and jumping around and making a lot of noise. You would hear them coming from a distance. Drums beating, bells ringing and lots of whooping. The sound often started oh so faint but grew in tone and volume as their steps got closer.

The Blue Devils often were trailed by a band of music men. The band dressed in regular clothes. They were not devils but the devil’s imps. They were considered lesser beings - there to do the bidding of the devil. And in this case, their duty was to play music, blow horns, and make noise.

My sister and I would stand by the road to the entrance of our property waiting to hear the initial sound of the drums. It was usually early morning on Carnival Monday - always the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

Upon hearing the drums, we would call out to our grandmother warning her of the approaching Blue Devils. When they would come around the bend on the top of the hill, we would usually see large men in front tied up in chains with smaller Blue Devils tugging on the chains to hold the big Blue Devils back. Other Blue Devils would be jumping and walking around with mean looking faces and twirling their tongues in an unnatural manner. Most of the Blue Devils carried pitch folks that they would thrust in the air with every roar that was yelled from their mouths.

We would run back to the house when the Blue Devils got closer – always heading straight to the bedroom to kneel on the bed and peer out the window. We always hid our faces behind the window curtain making certain not to let the Blue Devils see us. I would tell my sister to run through the backdoor if they come in the house. They would travel down the dirt path to the house dancing and kicking up dust. When they reached the front of the house they would dance wildly and poke their pitch forks at their imaginary adversary. My grandmother would watch them for awhile standing on the porch. We were enthralled by the quick tempo of the dancing and rhythmic cadence of the chants. It was amazing!

My grandmother would give the Blue Devils some money and they would bow and turn and dance back down the path and on to the next house. My sister and I would sit and chat about the experience for hours thanking God that the Blue Devils had not captured us this year. 

But there were other ghouls that caused us anxiety.

Douens were the worst of all the unseen jumbies – a term we used to call all ghosts and ghouls. Douens were young children who died without being baptized. Often the size of toddlers, they were faceless and without visible sex organs. Their feet faced backwards which was probably their most striking feature. Douens would try to entice young children by calling their names, having the children follow them into the forest, and leaving the children there – lost and afraid. We were always told before going out in the yard or across the street to fetch fresh water from the stream that we should not stray too far from the house because the Douens are out there and they will get us.

I never saw a Douen in my life and would not want too. That was the creature we most feared because we could not stomach getting lost in the bush and having to possibly face a soucouyant.

A soucouyant was an old woman who made a pact with the devil in exchange for becoming a shift changer. She lives like an old woman during the day and at night sheds her skin and becomes a ghoul. She can readily turn into animals or put a curse on individuals so they would change into animals. She does all her dirty work at night - routinely sucking the blood of her victims. But before the sun rises in the east, she must return to her skin or she will forfeit that skin forever. Soucouyants would also suck on your body like a bat. Young men and women with a hicky were often asked if a soucouyant sucked him or her.  

Another frightful devilish creature was the Lajables. A Lajables was another woman who was the devil in persona. She had a veiled-covered corpse-like face with a wide brim hat on her head. She had one regular foot and the other foot was a hoof. She often would hide the hoof in grass or under a long dress. She would ask unsuspecting men to walk her home. She would lead the men into the bush, disappear, and then they would be lost. The men would either be eaten by wild animals, bitten by snakes, or fall to their death in a ravine.

All these jumbies lived in the jumbie tree. The jumbie tree was and still is a revered tree in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the entire Caribbean and Central and South America. On some islands, the tree is called the Kapok tree or Silk Cotton tree. It is believed that the tree’s roots stretch to the underworld and jumbies dwell inside the tree. Cutting it down would open the spirit world and cause havoc on earth.

These folklores were real to me. The characters struck fear into the hearts of young children. And year after year the tales were passed down from sibling to sibling and mother to son, slowly indoctrinating unsuspecting youth with tales that would generate nightmares for years. It certainly kept me in line, obedient, and inclined to not venture too far from the house on my own.  

So there I lay on the cot looking up at the ceiling thinking if the little girl in the latrine was still out there waiting to show her face and maybe her backward facing feet.

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