Tag Archives: Jamaican


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.

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.

Sorrel and Yams

The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.

Jamaican views on Yams and Sorrel.


“Sorrel is a drink that is used in Jamaica that has magical properties that are healing. When an individual becomes sick they will drink sorrel to heal, if they are injured they will do the same. Yams in this culture have a superstition on them where in a sense that they are said to give the ability to help an individual run fast.”

I asked the informant if she believes these things to be true about the two foods and she responded, “I am a track athlete here at USC, and I rely on my ability to be fast and I eat yams because in my tradition yams help you to be fast, but they are also delicious! I would consider myself to be fast and I believe they have helped in that aspect. I don’t think that yams gave me the ability to be fast I just think maybe the have enhanced it because I have eaten so many in my life. With the Sorrel, I believe that it is a form of medicine. When I can feel myself getting sick I will drink some Sorrel and hopefully start to feel better. I believe in this because it has worked for me in the past so I will continue to use it.”


Using foods as a means to achieve something is definitely not unheard of. It is totally normal to have food remedies to help with sickness or whatever other conditions we want to fix or enhance there is a food remedy. I have never heard something this extreme with food remedies. Yams will make you fast, that is a different and interesting concept to me. I think that this traditions is one of those traditions that the community has a superstition about, so it becomes true. With the sorrel that reminds me of hot chicken noodle soup or vitamin c. Whenever we feel a cold coming on we take proactive methods to try and prevent the sickness from taking its toll. The healing properties of sorrel, I connect with honey. Honey is used to heal sore throats and wounds similar to sorrel it comes from a long time ago and is still used today because it actually works.

Dreams Mean…

The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.

Jamaican Dreams


“In the my culture deaths and marriages are often predicted by ones close family members. It is believed that if a family member dreams about someone in their family’s wedding the person being dreamt about will die soon. I think we believe in being able to predict deaths because life and death is a big deal in our culture. Marriage is also an important aspect in my culture as well and is ritualized. When a person dreams about a family member’s death that is consider a prediction of that family member’s wedding.”

I asked the informant if she had ever had a dream like this or known someone who did and it became true. She told me that she didn’t know anyone who had ha a dream like this and she personally  has never had one. I asked where she learned this belief from snd she said that she remembers her grandma telling her about it when she was younger before she passed away.


Being able to predict someones death could be a blessing and a curse. Knowing that someone you love is going to die soon has to be difficult to handle. However on the other hand being able to predict a wedding is exciting. Death and Marriage are two major stepping stones in most cultures and they are ritualized because of that. Marriage you are become one with someone else and you are able to start a family, but death is the end of your life and the start of your after life whatever you believe that may be. I think that is why they are both made such such a big deal out of and ritualized with customs and rituals and why cultures have so many beliefs centered around these two major life events.

Recipe – Jamaican

Rice and Peas


1 cup dried beans (red or kidney beans)

1 lb. rice (brown or white based on preference)

1 onion (yellow)

1 teaspoon of salt

1 can of cocoanut milk

1 stick of dried thyme

“Soak the dried beans preferably overnight or for a couple of hours. Throw away the water. Put the beans in a pot, and add cold water to them. Then cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil. Add cocoanut milk to the beans. Cook the beans until they become tender. Slice the onions into quarters and add into the pot along with the salt and the dried thyme. Add the dry rice as well. There should be enough water to cover the rice half way. To check the water level, you can put your finger in the pot and the water should be up to your second joint. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover the pot, and let it simmer until the water has evaporated. Check the rice, if it’s still hard you can add a little bit more water and let it cook longer.”

This dish is usually served with meat or fish.

Subject’s Analysis:

“It’s an old favorite Jamaican dish. My mother taught me how to make it, when I was young. This is a meal that can be used on a daily basis. In the old days people cooked it for Sunday dinner.”

Collector’s Analysis:

I have had this meal several times, and it is simply delicious. In addition it can be served with many side dishes, and is relatively easy to make. This dish is not only a Jamican thing, I have eaten very similar foods in the homes of Caribbean friends of mine. My grandmother noted that the dish used to be prepared for Sunday dinners, and this was because of the fact that Sunday is the Sabbath, and in traditional Christian fait this is supposed to be a day of peace and leisure. What better way to relax, than to eat a large tasty meal? While this dish is prepared sometimes for Sunday dinner, the dish is also very popular for family gatherings, and is almost always served at Caribbean parties.

Proverb – Jamaica

“Man walks too fast, walk two time.

Subject’s Analysis:

I received this entry from my Jamaican grandmother. She said that the meaning was that if you walk to fast, you will have to go back in order to find your way. She said that this proverb is supposed to emphasize patience. She learned the proverb from her mother when she was growing up as a child in Jamaica. This proverb is used as advice to someone who is rushing through a job, or assignment, or rushing in general.

Collector’s Analysis:

I think that my grandmother’s analysis is only a small part of the overall message. While I think that this proverb is about patience, I think that this proverb is also about attention to detail. I believe that what it’s saying is that people must take care and pay attention during their first attempt at something in order to do it correctly, otherwise they will be forced to repeat the task because it was done improperly.

Proverb – Jamaica

“Patient man rides donkey.”

Subject’s Analysis:

My grandmother a Jamaican native learned this proverb from her mother during childhood.  She said that it is native to Jamaica. She said that it means because donkeys walk very slowly, only patient people ride them. She added that it is a metaphor for the fact that “patient people will eventually come into victory”.

Collector’s Analysis:

I agree with my grandmother’s analysis of this saying. I think that she has it down. Donkeys are well known to be stubborn and slow means of conveyance. Some would even say that it takes the patience of a saint to deal with them. So the proverb is easily understood. I think that this Jamaican proverb uses the donkey, because of the fact that donkeys are prevalent work animals in the Jamaican countryside, to this day. I have childhood memories of our neighbor across the street owning a donkey, and using him to haul food such as sugar cane from place to place. The last part of my grandmother’s analysis I think is a hidden meaning of the phrase. Her saying “patient people will eventually come into victory” is a proverb that also emphasizes patience. It could be related to the phrase “slow and steady wins the race”.

Proverb – Jamaican

“Chip noh fly far from de block”

“Chip not fly far from the block”

“The chip does not fly far from the block”

Phyllis learned this proverb from her parents when she was growing up in Jamaica. She often heard it in reference to “bad” kids who had “bad” parents. She also heard it used by her mother when she did not want her to be friends with certain kids that she did not approve of by virtue of their parents actions.

She heard it said not only from her parents but also from other adults. Phyllis says that the proverb is talking about the cement used to build structures in some parts of her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. If a piece of the cement that is part of the structure breaks off it is similar to the block it fell from. “Fly far” can be interpreted to mean “is similar to.” The block itself is composed of many similar chips and they all share similar characteristics.

The chips are symbolic of offspring. She says that children are similar to their parents, in not only appearance but also behavior, much in the same way chips of a cement block are similar to the block they fall from. A similar proverb that I have heard is “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” This proverb also highlights how parts of a whole, whether it is apples from an apple tree or chips from a cement block, are similar to the whole from which it came.

Phyllis says that the proverb is very important because parents influence their children and guide them to adulthood. If parents act in a manner unbecoming of adults with a child then it is the children that are damaged as a result. They can receive negative influences from their parents. She stressed the fact that children emulate their parents as they grow and some parents set a very bad example for children to follow.

I think the proverb is useful, but also that it should not be taken too explicitly. It is not always their parents. It could be the case that a child grows up doing the complete opposite of his or her parents out of rebellion. I think it runs the risk of generalizing too much. If not considered to explicitly apply to all situations, I believe it does help inform people of possible modes of behavior someone might have, especially when numerous instances of similarities in the actions of parent and child are observed.

Proverb – Jamaican

“Cow no know de use a im tail till fly tek ee”

“Cow no know the use of his tail until fly take it”

“The cow does not know the use of his tail until the fly takes it”

Dorothy said she heard this proverb from her father when she was a little girl. It is very much connected to her agricultural upbringing. The proverb refers to a cow taking for granted the utility of its tail. Over time, she says, the tail can become infested with flies and eventually damaged to the point of uselessness. It is at this point that the cow will know the usefulness of having a tail. Without a tail the cow cannot repel insects, something the cow took for granted before.

She says they proverb speaks about people in general not taking for granted having all of their body parts fully functional. A person may have bad hygiene practices and not think anything about it. Over time they may develop and illness or infection and end up losing the use of a body part as a result of bad hygiene or just lack of appreciating having a functional body. At this point the person will regret not appreciating having a functional body. She says that people should be grateful for having all of their limbs and being in decent health.

This proverb is similar to “You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” The difference is that it is more focused on the body, while the latter is applicable to broader situations. The cow really has no idea how useful having a tail is. I think that if I lost a limb or digit I would be in for a serious surprise, much like the cow. I think the proverb helps teach people to appreciate the little things more than they do. Things that we assume are automatic and will always be there can suddenly disappear. When I hear the proverb I cannot help but notice that the cow is completely helpless in defending himself from the fly infestation. Metaphorically that is similar to saying we are helpless in preventing a proportional fate from befalling us. When I look at it like that I feel compelled to appreciate everything out of fear of being unable to defend myself as opposed to actual appreciation of my body. It seems somewhat depressing and I do not think that is the actual intention of the proverb.