Tag Archives: caribbean

Beware The Douen

Douen are mythical creatures with backwards feet that live in the forest and are supposedly the lost souls of children. If a Douen learns a child’s name they are able to call out to the child in their parents voices to lure them into the forest. The backwards footprints confuse both the children and anyone looking for the children. The children are never seen again.

The informant told me this story while we were talking about working in the entertainment industry. C told me that he loved the industry because of its diversity and community. I originally asked about the folklore of the industry but once I said the word “folklore” his face lit up and he told me this story. While working on the show “Saint X”, one of the Dominican crew members told him this legend of the Douen. It stuck with C because of the physical description of the creature, with the backwards feet.

The Douen, although not well known in America, is a piece of Caribbean folklore that seemingly resonated with C. The only physical description that my informant gave me was the backwards feet, implying the rest of the creature is fairly humanoid. I believe this resonated with my informant because of the common proverb in American culture “stranger danger”. The danger of the Douen is directed towards children, emphasizing their ability to be easily manipulated or tricked, which echos the same warning as “stranger danger”. The detail of the Douen needing to know the child’s name is interesting because it serves as a warning against sharing personal information with anyone/anything. It also could stem from magical folklore, where using or knowing someones name can be considered powerful.

Myth: Anansi Story from a Coworker


Informant S is a 25 year old graduate student in the film production department of USC SCA and is the collector’s coworker. S is from New Jersey, and their family is from the Virgin Islands. S has “heard various Anansi stories within [their] family. This one [they] remember partially reading it for a project [they] were doing in a class but it also was within the realm of the ones [they] heard growing up [they] just couldn’t fully remember it so [they] just found one.” The informant has studied folklore for their own personal interest in it and employed it in their own filmmaking.


Informant: “Anansi is essentially like an African diaspora. It’s a spider, like a trickster-spider, and it’s everywhere in the Caribbean, it’s in the whole diaspora. And there’s one Anansi story I sort of remember where he’s hungry and he wants dinner. So he keeps getting himself invited to, like, dinner parties and pretending there’s a bunch of people and then he steals the host’s dinner and just, like, leaves. I think he killed one of them at one point. But it’s all these different like creatures of the forest I think, there’s a fox, a wolf, and a crow I believe? And then eventually he keeps coming home, eating all the food he stole, and not bringing any back for his wife and kids. So, I think his wife rats him out and then there’s like a fake dinner party made to get him and he eats so much food he can’t move anymore. And then all the people he stole the food from capture him and basically tie him up and leave him tied against a tree. And then he eats the rope and escapes. That’s not… that’s the gist of it, I can remember.”

Collector: “Like that’s how it ends?”

Informant: “Something like that. They usually have kind of dark endings but the… essentially Anansi is supposed to teach you […] lessons about why not to trick people and be greedy and selfish and a bunch of stuff. […] Anansi itself is like a… almost universal… one of the few universal diasporic concepts. There’s a whole bunch of them, that’s just one I remember.”


I was lucky enough to find an informant for this collection entry that was familiar with concepts of folklore itself. S mentioned that their interest in the African diaspora is rooted in their own personal background, connecting them to heritage or family as we’ve discussed in class. It seems like this kind of interest in cultural folklore is common among the children and grandchildren of immigrants in America. S’ story reminds me of the concept of “universal archetype” – though that theory has been disproved, I can see why some folklorists have considered it. The concept of a trickster god, while not archetypal, appears in a number of folklores – notably in Indigenous American folklore, according to Lévi-Strauss’ work in structuralism. Anansi, like Lévi-Strauss’ examples, acts on instincts that are pretty reminiscent of human flaws, and is connected with a specific type of animal – a spider. Though S believes the story is to teach people not to mess with trickster gods, I believe it has to do with human flaw such as greed and gluttony as well. What’s more, I think it’s interesting that the informant specifically mentioned what they believe the story is supposed to teach, and has a pretty clear understanding of this story as a myth.

Juan and the Otter


My father is an avid storyteller with a number of “dad jokes” in his back pocket. An electrician by trade in Southern California, his stories often come from the blue-collar line of work that he finds himself in. This joke story is a memorate whose origins my dad can’t remember. I first heard this joke as a kid while we were swimming in my aunt’s backyard pool. I remember him drawing out the story for as long as possible, maintaining the seriousness until the final punchline at the end, hinged on a play on words that harkens to the phrase “you can’t have one or the other.” He told me this story over dinner at my family home in this particular iteration.


TS: You want to tell the Juan or the otter one?

SS: Yeah. Well, there was once was a man. And he lived on a Caribbean island. And he used to go diving for pearls.

SS: And his name was Juan. And Juan and his wife lived a very simple life. They just lived in their little house and, and he’d get enough pearls to, for them to survive, and they were happy. And one day he was on his boat when he’s eating his lunch. And this otter jumped up on the boat, swam up and came up on the boat and it shocked him. And the otter looked at him and looked at a his food, and so he gave the otter some food. The otter ate his food, and he gave it a little more food, and uh, the otter looked at him and dove off the side of the boat and went away. And pretty soon the otter comes back with big arms full of oysters in his in his flippers, and he dumps them up on the boat.

SS: So Juan opened up the oysters and found many pearls. And he realized that the otter could dive down way farther than all the other pearl divers. So he befriended the otter, and they made a partnership. So they would go out and they would they would get the pearls together, the oysters. So pretty soon it became a thriving business. And they work dad started to have, you know, bigger house and, and lots of nice things because they got so many pearls and so many oysters. And so they started charging a lot of money for the services of this otter because they’ve you know, had enough, right? So one day the, this-this stranger came and he talked to the, to the wife and he wanted to know about hiring the hiring Juan for the day, and the otter and she–and she gave him the price. She said well, it’s $2,000 a day. And he was shocked. He was freaked out. And he said, “Well, that’s crazy.” She says “What?” “Well, how much for just–just Juan?”

SS: She said, “[imitating an accent] Oh no, señor, they are a pair. They only work together, you cannot have Juan without the otter.”


This joke falls into the category of a tale that has a final punchline to deliver the pun that it hinges upon. Having heard the story before, I know it follows the oral-formulaic method of storytelling, as he will lengthen or shorten the story depending on how invested the audience is. There are certain key motifs to remember in the story: of course, the phrase “Juan or the otter” is one, Juan as a pearl diver, his wife as his manager, and the stranger who asks for their services. When I first heard the story, I was around 10, and my dad told it with a conviction that made me believe the story is true until the very end. As such, he drew the story out to be much longer than this iteration, but this has every part of the story necessary for it to function. Given that I already know the punchline, I think he was less detailed in his oration.

While my father doesn’t remember where he first heard the joke, I imagine it can be traced back two his Mexican American coworkers, as it is set in the Caribbean and involves using a general Latin American accent to deliver the final punchline. The joke falls into a blanket category of “dad joke,” often garnering groans of disappointment from his audience when the final punchline is delivered.


Description: They are ghosts of children who reside within the forest that lure children by calling out their names and having them follow their footsteps. The children eventually become lost and become Douens themselves.

Background: The informant has a prevalent interest in urban legends and found this story while searching for ghost stories and urban legends.


DT: One of my favorite ones I’ve looked up cause I like scary urban legend stuff is Douens, which are spirits of kids whose feet are on backwards. They call out other kids’ names if they are in the forest and make them follow in their footsteps, which make the kids become lost and eventually turn into Douens. Basically it’s a story they told kids to stop them from going into the forest alone.

Me: From where did the urban legend come from?

DT: I think it’s Caribbean. From Tobago I believe. They’re basically like imps and fuck with people pretty much, so there’s different versions of them on what they do or stories rather.

My thoughts: 

Ghost children are certainly a common occurrence across many types of folklore. While a terrible reality, children do die. Douens are interesting takes on those that disappear within the forest.   Despite the simplicity, I see a lot of space of nuance. Unlike most monsters, who lure children for the sake of eating them or something similar, Douens are likely searching for companionship, luring children to transform them into one of their own. So while Douens are likely created for children to fear, there could be another perspective where they can be sympathized with as they are likely once children themselves.

The Soucouyant

BACKGROUND: My informant, OR, was born in the US. Her parents are both immigrants from Grenada. OR is always joking about Carribeans being a very superstitious people and this piece is just one story out of the many that OR told me about her family’s beliefs. This story in particular stood out to OR because her parents always jokingly warn her brother to watch out for seductive soucouyants. 

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend to discuss the role of superstition in Caribbean culture. 

OR: Okay. So basically, um, the soucouyant is kind of like half vampire, half fireball. 

Me: Fireball?

OR: She’s like a blood-sucking hag, essentially. I think other islands literally just call her the hag. She sucks your blood and… okay, she usually appears like, um, either a woman or like a reeeally sexy woman during the day. And then at night, she peels off her skin and puts it in a mortar and pestle and grinds it up. (laughs) And then she turns into a literal fireball and like runs around the sky at night and she can enter your home through like a keyhole or like any crevices, or if you like leave the windows cracked. So you gotta close the windows. And um, they say, if you want her to not come in your house, you have to drop, um, like rice outside your house and you have to drop a lot because basically, she will be counting the rice until morning. I think the Haitians actually call it the Lougarou, but in Grenada, Lugar is actually a totally different thing.

THOUGHTS: I really like this story for its specificity. The concept of a half-vampire half-hag half-skinless witch creature really says a lot about the specific fears and taboos of this community. The fact that this story was aimed at OR’s brother and not OR points to the fact that the Caribbean community may fear the control that women can possess over men. OR mentioned that the story is a variation of the European version of a vampire so I think the gender swap is notable in examing the significance of this story in Caribbean culture.

For another version of this legend, see: Simpson, George Eaton. “Loup Garou and Loa Tales from Northern Haiti.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 55, no. 218, 1942, pp. 219–227. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/535864.