Written by: Tiara Chutkhan
From the dawn of time, we have been spooked and scared by different spirits and demons that have been said to walk the earth. Some come out at night, when the moon is high in the sky, illuminating the world below. Others can be seen in the day, unafraid of the light or being seen by the human eye. These stories have been shared around fires as family and friends gather, or inside the home by children looking to give each other a fright.
In the Caribbean, the stories of Jumbees are among the spine-chilling tales that have been passed on for generations.
Jumbee is the name given to most of the nefarious creatures in Caribbean mythology. There are many different types of Jumbees, each reflecting the Caribbean's ethnic makeup of African, Amerindian, East Indian, Dutch and English people. The Jumbee is said to be the spirit of evil people who were destined to become instruments of darkness in their death. The creatures themselves cast dark, shadowy figures and are much more sinister than the average ghost.
Maybe you’ve heard the stories before, from your mom or aunty who claimed to have seen Jumbee years ago back home. Maybe you’d like to learn more about the shapes and forms these creatures take, to avoid them in the future.
If you think you’re a brave star, carry on and read of the different Jumbees that lurk in the islands.
The Bacoo is a mythological figure that resembles a leprechaun, known from Irish folklore. It’s thought to have African roots, as the word “baku” means little brother or short man in many dialects. The small creature is said to reward its owner with wealth or wishes at the price of a constant supply of milk and bananas. Bacoos are mischievous, intelligent and devious, behaving like a poltergeist by moving items and pelting rocks at homes. They can shape-shift and make themselves unseen during their active hours in the night.
The Moongazer only comes out during a full moon. The spirit is an unusually tall man who gazes at the full moon. Moongazer is also described as muscular, white or dark, straddling a road or on the edges of a cliff. In some versions of his story, it’s said only a shadow can be seen by the light of the full moon. The Moongazer terrorizes rural villages by standing with his long legs at either side of a road and hands on hips while he stares at the moon. Anyone who tries to pass will be crushed to death as he quickly closes his legs.
A Choorile is a vampire-like creature of East Indian origin and considered to be the ghost of a deceased person. The most well known version of Choorile in the Caribbean is an evil spirit of a woman who had died in childbirth, but her child lived. She’s tormented by the separation from her child and bawls in grief. She haunts and terrorizes pregnant women and newborn babies. A Choorile resembles a human woman, but their feet are turned backwards and other features are sometimes upside down. They have the ability to change their form and look beautiful or normal to lure young men to their deaths. They are often met at crossroads or fields.
Ole Higue is known to be a woman who sucks the blood of unsuspecting victims as they sleep— particularly children and babies. Ole Higue lives among villagers and is a quiet and introverted old lady. At night she sheds her skin and hides it, then heads to the home of her intended victim. She turns into a ball of fire and enters the home through a keyhole. If an Ole Higue is discovered in the village, her removal is often a community event. To dispose of an Ole Higue, you can turn the key while she is trying to enter; this will crush her. You can also find where her skin is stored and put hot peppers to burn her when she tries to wear it again.
The Massacooramanis a large, hairy, man-like creature that lives in rivers. It has sharp teeth and is tall and bigger than a man. The Massacooramaan is said to capsize small boats and eat the occupants. Amerindians and miners who work in the interior of Guyana often speak of the Massacooramaan. To the Amerindians, he is a powerful river spirit that pulls boats down into the water. It is unknown if he ever walks on land.
The Dutchman Jumbee
The Dutchman Jumbee is considered the most frightening Jumbee of them all and is blamed for the evilest acts. According to the stories, during the 1500s the Dutch used to kill slaves and bury them with their treasures to act as guards for the items. The Dutchman Jumbees are the Dutchmen who did the killing and in death, they were brought back to the Caribbean. There are trees called Dutchman trees. The stories say if one climbs these trees or cuts at it, the Dutchman Jumbee will cause them to fall and break their neck, spine, get violently ill, or encounter bad karma.
So there you have it. In practically no time, our beautiful islands can turn into chilling twilights with just the mention of a Jumbee.
Of course, there are ways to keep yourself protected if you feel one of these spirits might be slinking about.
Leaving a heap of rice outside your front door forces Jumbees to count every grain before the sun rises. It is believed that Jumbees can’t cross water, so if you find yourself being chased, crossing a river might save you. When coming home late at night, walking backwards may prevent a Jumbee from following you inside.
The stories of these supernatural creatures are fascinating and unique. They continue to be passed down orally to each generation— our own Caribbean twists on vampires, goblins and ghouls. Most chilling of all, we are reminded that when night falls there are new energies that come awake and roam, searching for those who are brave enough to wander, as the rest of us drift off to sleep.