USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘obeah’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Duppies

Panteha’s mom is from Jamaica, and taught her many legends and folk beliefs from Jamaican folklore. The following is a description Panteha shared with me of folkloric figures called “duppies”:

“So duppies are like, they’re like spirits…so there’s like good duppies and bad duppies. So like a duppy is basically like, someone’s soul that’s still stuck on earth and has been basically just like causing trouble. And there can be like, good duppies that like, they can give you good luck or whatever. But like, obviously no one talks about that; all they do is talk about the bad duppies. And my mom used to do this like, really scary voice when she was talking about it–she was like, ‘duppies sound like this! they sound like this,’ it’s like when Danny’s doing the ‘red rum’ [in The Shining]. They’re supposed to have these crazy like, nasally voices…

You know how like uh, like you have a day where you wake up and you stub your toe and burn your tongue on coffee and like, all these small little things happen? That’s supposedly like, bad duppies just like causing shit for you. And so when that would happen like, literally eating a spoonful of salt is supposed to stop that. So like, I remember like, one specific morning when I was really young, I fell out of bed and like hurt my ankle and like whatever, like burnt my tongue and tripped andy mom was like trying to force me to eat a whole-ass spoonful of salt and I was like, “no,” like I’m not gonna do that. Um and then, ugh, what else…My mom actually didn’t tell me this cause I think she um, didn’t wanna tell me cause I was like a little kid, but I heard from one of my uncles that like, you can shame a duppy or like, scare away a duppy by like, shamelessly exposing your genitals.”

Many cultures hold a belief in malicious or irksome spirits of some kind, which cause trouble for the living but can usually be warded off with certain practices or precautions. Salt often figures prominently in magical remedies for evil spirits’ acts, across cultures. In Jamaica, as in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, West African and indigenous mystical practices coexist with Christianity. Panteha’s mom is an observant Christian, but simultaneously maintains a belief in folk beliefs like that of the duppies.

Legends
Magic
Protection

Rolling Calf

Panteha’s mom is from Jamaica, and taught her many legends and folk beliefs from Jamaican folklore. The following is a description Panteha shared with me of one such legend:

“There’s like this legend [in Jamaica] that you’ll be like driving on the road and you’ll hit like, a baby cow and then you like, die the next week…It’s called the rolling calf. It’s like, so hard to explain ’cause the way people talk about it, it’s like it’s a normal thing. But like…If you encounter this animal you’re like, doomed to die. But then a way to get rid of the curse is you’re supposed to like, find a crossroads and stick a knife in it, which doesnt work now cause like, the roads are paved…

I have this distinct memory, I was like five, and we were driving- it was like, pitch black, late as fuck at night and like, literally people in Jamaica plan so they like, don’t have to be driving on these roads after it gets dark, ’cause it’s like, there’s so many folkloric tales and also like, actual crime. But like, we were driving and there’s this place that’s like, right in between Ocho Rios, which is kind of a beach location, and Sav-la-Mar, which is the rural place where my mom grew up. Um and it’s like, right nestled in the middle of nowhere and it’s like this rest stop kind of place, but they have the best Jamaican patty. So we’re like, okay, we’ll stop there, it’ll be great. And it was like, there was like no one there, we were the only people there, and it’s crazy ’cause it’s like, you’re in the middle of the jungle driving on this tiny dirt road, and then all of a sudden it’s like, this neon bright light, so it’s kinda crazy. So we stopped there and my uncle, um, Uncle Paul, was freaking out. He was like, ‘we should not be stopping! We should not be getting out of the fucking car!’ He was like, talking about the rolling calf and he was like, throwing handfuls of coins behind him as we walked and I was like, really amused by it but like, my mom and her sisters were like, really clearly stressed out.”

This piece of folklore incorporates elements of both the contemporary legend and traditional magical practices, such as using coins to ward off evil spirits. It has likely persisted as a commonly believed legend because of other dangers posed by driving in rural areas late at night, and may serve as a stylized means of discouraging people from going out in unsafe environments.

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