We’re all very familiar with fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers and mythology from ancient Western civilizations, but not many of us know about folklore from the Caribbean, despite being part of the Caribbean ourselves. The reasons behind this are complicated enough to merit several chapters in a history book, but you’d be surprised at how many similarities exist between Caribbean folklore characters and the ones you know by heart. Since most of these are practically unheard of in Puerto Rico, here’s a list of some spooky Caribbean legends to get in the spirit of Halloween and learn more about the Afro-Caribbean roots that make up our culture.
- The Bacoo
These Guyanese mythological creatures are mischievous and borderline cruel pranksters that will wreak havoc in your home; unless you feed them a steady supply of milk and bananas, in which case they’ll behave and reward you with incredible wealth. To trap your own personal bacoo, place something shiny in a bottle to lure them in. Once inside, stop the bottle with a cork and you’ve got yourself a bacoo! Be careful if you find corked bottles floating in the ocean, though– they may contain a starving and vicious bacoo that was thrown away by its previous owner and is just waiting to cause mayhem.
- La Ciguapa
A popular legend in the Dominican Republic, la ciguapa is a succubus or a seductive female demon, that takes the shape of a beautiful woman with long, black hair and lures men into her forests. It is said that she entrances them and leads them into her lair, where she kills and eats them. La ciguapa is also very hard to catch, due to the fact that her feet are turned backward, with the heel facing the front, so that any footprints she leaves make it seem as if she went the opposite way.
- La Diablesse
Another succubus but of Trinidadian origin, La Diablesse has the ability to present herself as a beautiful woman that men find irresistible. She dresses in clothing belonging to another era, covering her ugly, rotting face with a wide hat and hiding her hoofed leg behind the folds of a long dress. She spends her time bewitching men and luring them into her forests, where many of them meet their death by drowning in rivers. It is said that her presence is also accompanied by the sound of rattling chains. If you have fallen under La Diablesse’s enchantment, you need to take off your clothes, turn them inside out, and put them back on again in order to snap out of it and save yourself.
- The Douen
The Douen are the spirits of children that died before being baptized. They dwell in the forests of Trinidad and Tobago, luring children in, and may occasionally infest a house and pull childish pranks on its residents. They appear to be small, naked children that wear big straw hats that cover their faces, which are devoid of features except for mouths. Like la ciguapa, their feet are also turned backward, making them hard to track. Beware, parents—don’t call your child’s name out loud in a public space. If douen are nearby, they will learn the child’s name and imitate their parents’ voices to lure them away into the depths of the forest.
- The Rolling Calf
These evil spirits from Jamaican folklore are said to be the reincarnated souls of wicked people. They are shape-shifters that can take the form of a dog, cat, goat, pig, or a horse, but more commonly appear as a black bull-like creature with blazing red eyes and flaming nostrils. They may have one human leg, one horse leg, and the two hind legs of a goat, and are also covered in chains that drag the ground behind them and make rattling sounds that warn of its presence. Rolling calves roam dark roads and towns at night, searching for people to chase and torment. However, worry not! When facing a rolling calf, you can drop tiny items such as rice or salt, and it will be forced to count every single one of the grains, which will be sure to give you enough time to run away. You can also ward it off by wielding a whip in your left hand, drawing a circle on the ground and sticking a double-edged knife in the middle, or reflecting moonlight at it using a mirror.
- The Soucouyant
Known by other names such as Ole-Higue and Asema, the soucouyant is the vampire of the Caribbean. During the day, they appear as innocent elderly women. Once the sun sets they shed their skin and become a ball of fire. In this shape, they can shrink in size to fit through any crack and crevice necessary in their pursuit of a victim. They suck the blood from the arms and legs of sleeping people, leaving bruise-like marks on the skin. To defeat a soucouyant, you can drop rice or salt in front of her and she will be compelled to count all of the grains, a task that will keep her busy while you look for her skin, which she keeps hidden. Once you find the skin, pour some salt on it so that the soucouyant won’t be able to put it back on and she will be destroyed.
If you live in the Caribbean or are planning a visit, make sure to keep an eye out for these spooky legends this year. You never know what might be lurking in the shadows. Happy Halloween!