Trini Folklore: Soucouyant

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Soucouyant (n): A person, usually an old woman, who sheds her skin, travels as a ball of fire and sucks people’s blood, leaving a blue mark.

Soucouyants have an unnatural and indelicate propensity for casting off their skin. They usually conceal their skin in or under a mortar and pestle.  If you get a visit from the soucouyant there are two plans:

  • one is to sprinkle salt upon the cast-off skin, should you meet it (there’s the rub); or when you are expecting a visit from the ‘thing,’ or
  • strew the floor around your bed with rice. 

By some mysterious law, the Soucouyant will be compelled to pick up each rice grain by grain, thereby affording you an opportunity for slaying or otherwise disposing of the monstrosity. Yesterday day-night soucouyant suck me farder…On he leg an he han. It was looking blue blue.

Caribbean Folklore

The Soukouyan is known as a fire-hag in Barbados. Old-hag in the Bahamas and St. Vincent and the old-higue in Jamaica and Guyana. A legendary, evil, wrinkled old woman who hides by day but by night. She sheds her skin, carefully hides in a jar, and then becomes a ball of fire roving in the air to seek out and light upon sleeping victims. She sucks the blood of these victims, especially babies. Also derived from French Creole Soninke sukunya ‘man-eating sorcerer.

Also, the soucouyant myth may have been used during scientific underdeveloped times to explain the mysterious deaths. Especially the deaths of babies.

Caribbean Folklore

Upon Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Britain in 1962, Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams was concerned “the transition to modernity, the rich, traditional folk customs might fall victim to a static uniformity”. As a result, he started several programs to ensure the establishment of “Trinibagonianness that would transcend the convenient, colonial separateness of groups, ideas, and ideologies.”

Therefore some of the programs Dr William championed included: The Prime Ministers Better Village Competition, Village Community Centers, Folk Concerts, the revival of Parang, and the dramatization of Caribbean folklore characters Soucouyants, Pierrot Grenade, Robbers and Douens.

Soucouyant & Salt

Various words and phrases from Trinidad & Tobago can be traced back to English, French and Spanish origins. Mother-giver is one such word that has its roots in the English language. In conclusion, growing up in Trinidad and Tobago is interesting because the slangs can change over time. I have lived in the United States for 20 years now. Every time I travel back to Trinidad and Tobago, I have to reacquaint myself with the words and phrases that have evolved.

In closing, several of the Caribbean folklore characters in Trinidad are women. The Soucouyant, Mama D’Leau, La Jahbless, and Mermaids. One has to wonder if:

the discussion of salt in relation to Caribbean women’s sexuality exemplifies the struggle of contradictory notions of gender that rests on or in the body metaphorical and literal of women at the level of orature.

Leave us a comment below of Trini phrases you have heard. Like Whe-Whe or fry bake.

Sources:

Featured Image by KongQueror.

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