In my grandparents’ native country of Dominica, the tradition is to pass on to the upcoming generation intriguing stories that would transcend generations. In an effort to dissect this legend I’ve been told when I was little, I turned to both my grandparents for clarity.
D: “One particular belief in Dominica is that some older ladies engaged in witchcraft and that they should be avoided. Those older folks were called “soo kooyans”, pronounced –“Sue koo yan”.
It is said that the soo koo yants can only engage in witchcraft at night time. That they have to shed their skins in order to transform themselves into evil spirits. It is believed that when these beings are transformed they receive superpowers that enable them to fly and travel long distances but that they have to return to their homes before daylight otherwise they won’t be able to return to their human form. The soo koo yant enters people’s homes through small openings and feeds on human blood leaving bruises on the body. It is believed they need human blood for their energy and they live in the countryside.”
D: “Others are claimed to have traveled from Dominica all the way to the United Kingdom and returned to Dominica with attire such as a dress that belonged to the Royal Family.”
The informant later explained that nobody could afford this woman’s dress and no one had seen her dress in all of Dominica. The fabric was never found on the island. According to the lore, these people are afraid of certain plants.
D: “When one wants to know if an older person in the community is a soo koo yant, they would get a special grass, named “Pat Pool” a patwa word that translates to “chicken foot”, and when these people are walking on the sidewalk that if one should send or scatter the grass in their path that they would panic and turn around and not dare walk across or over the grass, this goes on to this day when younger folks hear that someone is a soo koo yan they would engage in this act to verify if they are really witches.”
H: “When a soo koo yant travels at night, you see a bright ball of light that is coming and it descends on your house and then it tries to open windows to break in. It comes while you’re sleeping. Sucks up your blood. And it has to move before daybreak. When it wants to rest it jumps from tree to tree.”
H: “It takes a ritual or spell to turn itself into a witch. When a soucouyant leaves its home it says certain words to remove their skin and they put it into a wooden box. It has to come back before daybreak to put on their meat suit. And they’re afraid of salt and pepper. Older people would salt the doors and windows because it would burn their skin.”
For the informants, this legend is important to them because it is a story that is passed down through generations to be wary of those around them because everything is not always as it seems. According to lore, Soo koo yant is basically an old hag. While in most communities the elderly are regarded as trustworthy and caring, this legend carries the message that this isn’t always true. My takeaway from this story is that those who are constantly overlooked can sometimes be the devil in disguise.