Residence: Media, Pennsylvania
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/7/2012
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Patois, Spanish, French, and German (a little of each)
It’s a witch. A witch that sucks blood, almost like a vampiric witch that flies. They kill cattle, they suck the blood from the cattle. People will wake up and find their sheep, or cattle, or goats or whatever dead. And the soucouyas are typically associated with women, typically not men. And they supposedly remove their skin…and when they turn into the soucouya, then they have the power to fly. But they have certain weird traits, almost like their kryptonite. (laughs). Their krypotonite is stuff like salt. You can stop them in their tracks by putting a pile of salt and they have to stop and count the salt. You know, you hear stories, as my mom said she’s seen people flying, some people who got it by practicing some kind of witchcraft. Or obeah. We call in obeah. But people do believe there are people like this. Also, and there was a person, apparently, and I heard this from my cousin, because her sister was actually a nurse, a major nurse at the general hospital in Dominica. And there was a woman who came in, and they said she was a soucouya. She had removed her skin, right? But what happened was somebody hid her skin – you can hide it or you could put something on it so they can’t get back in it. So after they finish flying around and they try to go back in their skin, either it’s hidden or it’s made unsuitable for them to put on. It’s what they put on it. I’m not sure if it’s salt or pepper or what. And she couldn’t get back in her skin. And they die if they can’t get back in their skin. So she ended up in the hospital, just dying and I think she died in the hospital. So that was a documented case. Now again, I’m taking this from my cousin, and she wouldn’t have a reason to lie, and neither would her sister, but who knows, maybe the women was a burn victim or something, but they said all of her skin was gone, which is a very unusual burn type case, you know? Not like a burn case which is typically where part of your body has some skin off, but your entire body had the skin removed? How is that possible? So it seems like that is a credible documentation on someone who had their skin completely removed which does support the soucouya concept. So sometimes I’m like, well I don’t know, I’ve never seen one, but I can’t say they don’t exist, partly because of people who say that they do exist.
My mother has told me about this legend several times. The soucouya, as my mother calls it, is also known as a soucouyant, soucriant, soukonian, a true Loogaroo, and Ole-Higue in different parts of the Caribbean and in some cases, the south of the United States. I’ve heard variations on the tale where the soucouya is always an old woman who lives on the edge of a village and exchanges blood she collects from people and animals for magic powers with a demon, sometimes the devil. In some tales she specifically sucks blood from babies, an example of the monstrous mother archetype that Warner discussed in Six Myths of Our Time. Clearly, not only is the soucouya an explanation for livestock dying from unknown sickness or perhaps starvation, but it also reflects misogyny in Dominican and other West Indian cultures. An autonomous woman who lives on her own is viewed as stepping outside the gender norms; thus she is a labeled a witch, unnatural, a threat, and in this case, a soucouya.