Jamaican Duppies


This story is a tradition in Jamaica told by my grandpa proclaiming the importance of telling ghost stories. Now 79 years old, he lived the first 26 years of his life in a crowded house in Old Harbour, Jamaica. He moved to New York in ‘68 and has lived in the US since. A lot of his family still live in Jamaica and the country is still the place of his roots. He is Jamaican, Chinese, and Indian. He has a thick Jamaican accent so if you can read this in a Jamaican accent it may add to the experience. This is a transcribed script of what was said in the story, with the various “umm’s” and “uhh’s” omitted.


“In my country Jamaica, ghost stories were told to the kids a lot. Not to scare them but to keep them in and around the house. Because when they hear these stories they become scared and they don’t want to go out and stay out late. The kids thought that if the kids were bad the ghosts were gonna get you. The adults and the family members would bring into the picture where the ghosts were like good ghosts, not really evil ghosts that would just destroy you, so when they told them stories about them ghosts… we had this name that we call them in Jamaica, we call them Duppy. It’s just a folk name for ghosts. They were telling them ghost stories that would really get them scared. They would make up a lot of these stories though. Because my brother, my older brother used to tell me stories about ghost stories, and after I was so scared, after I finished listening to these stories I would go to my friends and stay out late and be thinking of the stories they told me. But in real life after I grow and I realize these ghost stories were old family traditions that they made up and that they weren’t really true. I remember coming home once, this is a real fact, I came home and I was in my 20s and it was just getting dark, and I came through the front door – this was my older brother, he was like about 14 years older than I am – and he was sitting at the table with his wife and his son eating. You know supper, and I knock and he say come in. And I left the front door open and I look straight past him and I’m thinking of getting back to him what he used to tell me about ghost stories and make me scared and the wife look at him and say ‘ [name] what are you looking at and he said, ‘look at [name], he’s looking right past us, I don’t know what he’s looking at, he’s not saying anything.’ And I look like I’m looking through the back door and I turn around and I run and they all run from the table. *my grandpa starts laughing*. And he turn to me and go ‘what was that!.’ And I say ‘it was a ghost.’ And he lost it. And I say ‘I just made it up and look past you guys. I just want to see your face thinking you saw a ghost.’ But we just used to make up stories about ghosts and that’s what I did to him that time, I can just remember they were trying to get past me into the yard, I don’t know how they did not trip over. It was really funny that they believe me.”


While this story wasn’t a specific legend about a ghost that haunts some part of Jamaica it does show the significance of ghost stories. As my grandpa says in the beginning, ghost stories were told by all members of the family, but normally to scare the younger ones. This then turns into a tradition or coming of age thing where the younger siblings could eventually scare the older siblings. The story was important to my grandpa because of how the stories can remind him of his brother and other family. 

I think it is important to look at this story, not as a very family-specific story, but as a symbol of how the Jamaican ghost stories are important. In Jamaica, the people have their own folk name for ghosts, Duppies or a Duppy, which then give ghosts a different meaning. Instead of evil spirits that simply haunt, Duppies are spirits that are given meaning by messing with bad kids. By putting their own twist on ghosts, Jamaicans had made a new type of folk-monster.