Date of Performance/Collection:
Informant: R.R. – 19 year old Jamaican female, currently in her first year of college
R.R. is originally from Jamaica and came to the US when she was 15 to study at a Boarding School in upstate New York. When prompted about any folklore she knew that was specific to Jamaica, she immediately began telling me about the ghost of the “White Witch,” Annie Palmer. She mentioned that it’s a very popular story among Jamaicans, but mostly because the story is used as a tourist attraction. I have transcribed R.R.‘s telling of the legend below.
R.R: “Annie Palmer was the White Witch of Rose Hall. It’s a Jamaican ghost story. The history behind her is true but the people who raised her taught her voodoo, some shit went down and they think she still haunts the house. Apparently she did white and black magic and was super crazy. She used to sacrifice animals and use slaves too. She would take the male slaves and have sex with them, but also physically beat them and take their blood. She even killed her husband who owned the house and took all of his money. But then this black slave wizard, Takoo then murdered her with witchcraft and now her spirit haunts the house forever.”
Z.R: “And where did you first hear the story of Annie Palmer?”
R.R: “Just growing up as a kid, it’s a tourist attraction. They do tours there and tell the story.”
This piece represents an example of folklore that has arisen and developed from material that was originally canonized through literature. While a widely told and known story in Jamaica, it was found that many aspects of the tale were actually lifted from 1929 novel, The White Witch of Rosehall, written by Herbet G de Lisser. The property of Whitehall and the folklore behind it serves as a major tourist attraction, and therefore benefits from the creation and belief of the folklore that is derived from the original novel. This is related to our class discussions about the nature of cultural tourism and that there are often times when aspects of a culture are elaborated or even exaggerated for the benefit of the tourism industry. It is interesting that a website that functions to give information about popular tourist sites in Jamaica actually notes that the folk legend itself is not based on real events. Other similar versions of this story appear in New Orleans folklore regarding witches, specifically white witches that were the mistresses of a plantation or manor. The most famous was Madam LaLaurie who apparently also took male slaves as lovers and tortured them, bathing in their blood and other monstrous acts. Perhaps the emergence of the legend of Annie Palmer from literature represents a kind of cultural commentary on the nature of slave owners, specifically white, female slave owners and their cultural impact during the time.