Caribbean Folklore in My Own Stories (My Other Post for Caribbean Folklore Month)

Earlier in October, I did this post for Caribbean Folklore Month, an initiative of the Caribbean Authors Blog.

It’s invitation: “to share your stories, your artwork, your memories, your poems, spoken word, and performances of your country’s folklore.”

I decided to look back across my own bibliography to see if I had such folklore (spoiler alert: I do) and single some of them out (from memory).

The Boy from Willow Bend – I had a teacher who used to tell jumbie stories in free periods and the story that opens my first book is my vague recollection of a story she told, fictionalized.

“Midnight is when it come, big and fat and looking for little children to eat…”

It occurs to me as I re-write that from memory that all these stories were about getting us to stay in the house and go to sleep. I mean, the soucouyant, also mentioned in this book, as a story within a story, roams at night and per stories I was told growing up, she was a real terror and the only way to get her was to find her skin (she needed to strip off her skin to wander), and sal’ um so that when she go fu put um back on eeh bun’ she.

But the two apparitions or jumbies that stand out for me in this book are the one who ‘blinded’ main character Vere and the one who followed him later on on a lonely road. Both of these are inspired by true stories. I had a family member who could see them, I won’t say who, but as with Vere in the book, jumbies don’t like when you run yuh mout’ so they ‘blinded’ the smadee so he (she?) couldn’t see them anymore. As for the woman in the hat (who may or may not have been a woman from before time, as far back as slavery even considering that all of these roads have been cut through what used to be cane lands), I had another family member who ran all the way home after running in to her (this was a real thing). The explanation some have for why we see so few jumbies these days is too much light; more streetlights, carlights, houselights etc. means less shadow and jumbies prefer to move in shadow. True story.

The main thing though – call back to the title – is the weeping willow, the crying/whistling sound they make when the breeze blows through them – and that is something a grown man, once a boy, who remembers the willow tree lined alley that inspired the book, told me affected him on reading the book, that sense-memory of that dark alley and the willow trees. Which makes sense when you remember that jumbie lub lib in tree.

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In Oh Gad!, the characters and the community as a whole visit the slave dungeon at Blackman’s Valley, inspired by the stone slave dungeon at Orange Valley in Antigua. The book transmits some of the history of the latter, handed down orally and through books like To Shoot Hard Labour, which is a post-slavery non-fiction narrative. There’s some ancestral bonding that takes place there – the decision to have them roast cashews was inspired by something I remember reading somewhere (don’t worry I would have looked it up at the time, but I’m going on memory now) about the obeah woman who blessed the 1736 King Court led rebellion during their meetings at Stony Hill Gully, and how her roasting cashews was part of the ritual. So, this isn’t folklore per se but it feels important to mention it here as part of our collective (both mythological and factual) lore.

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The theatrical production in Musical Youth is built entirely around the Anansi character, specifically children’s author Ashey Bryan’s version of him in The Dancing Granny. Anansi, the trickster spider, is from West Africa. He is a demi-god in African spirituality but to us, over here, he is the one on the name of all the stories we grew up on, including ‘how tiger stories became anansi stories’. And every Caribbean child, certainly of my generation, grew up hearing Anansi stories.

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With Grace is a Caribbean faerie tale and those faerie tales have their magical characters (fairy godmothers and such), well I decided to pull that magic from our culture and repurposed an obeah man for this role. No dark magic, this is a children’s book after all, but more culturally relevant and in the end a good takeaway, I think. And since I have never, never ever never ever ever been to an obeah man, the character’s interaction with the fictional obeah man is all mek up.

There is also a tree faerie in this book. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t look up tree faeries – maybe I thought I was inventing something. I did look up a lot of the fairytale tropes so that I could weave around them and make my own thing – obeah man instead of fairy godmother, for instance – but the tree faerie, I think my mango tree and love of mangoes was perhaps the inspiration for that. I’ve since learned more about tree fairies, sprites, or deities in other cultures – all the way back to the dryads in Greek mythology, further back than that probably and forward all the way to my mango tree faerie, now a part of the tree faerie lexicon (it is written), the spirit who lives in the tree and helps it to grow and in this story, helps a girl to find family.

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Also feel free to check tales of jumbies (Papa Jumbie, Amelia), zombies (Zombie Island), supernatural events (Little Prissy Palmer, Portent), and more among my published short stories. I don’t have a ton of purely speculative fics but it’s not unusual for me to sprinkle some magic on to my tales.

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