Doll face with evil eyes

Trini Phrase: Maljo

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Understanding Maljo: The Trinidadian Belief in the Evil Eye

Maljo, (n): Evil eye; the belief that a conscious or unconscious look of envy or ill will harm someone. This belief is found in various cultures and has different names, such as French Creole malzie, Spanish mal de’ evil eye’, Yoruba fi ‘put eye on, Igbo /ole ‘look ugly eye’, Kikongo /ntadidi je disu/ ‘look with bad eye’.

I heard them say how my donkey grows, It seems like they want to give it maljo. The whole this is through jealousy , Because they want to buy me donkey from me.
A disease, attributed to maljo, characterized by fever, changed colour, inability to urinate, loss of appetite and weight, greenish stool.

Source: Dictionary of Trinidad English – Maljo used in a sentence.

Jealousy and Maljo

In Trinidad, it is not uncommon for someone to give another person maljo if they have something of value. For example, if you buy a new car and then get in an accident, you may blame the accident on maljo that someone put on your car because you didn’t take it up to Mount Saint Benedict to get blessed. The belief is that jealousy is the root cause of maljo.

Mount St Benedict Trinidad

Picture of Mount Saint Benedict Trinidad.

Identifying Maljo

To determine if a child has maljo, they are given a twig of the escobilla plant. If the child is afflicted, the plant wilts. It is also believed that maljo will always return to the perpetrator, so one needs to be careful not to wish ill on others.

Cultural Beliefs in Trinidad

Trinidad has a diverse culture that blends different traditions. For example, in the European tradition, many Trinidadian characters and gryphons like lagahoo and soucouyant have close avatars and grammatical relationships (Fr. loup-garou). In contrast, some are more evidently African (Yoruba orisha) even though they may gain a European-derived name (dwen, Spanish Duende).

Differentiating Psychopathology

What may be considered severe psychological dysfunction is divided between Trinidad into the discrete categories of madness, malkadi (epilepsy), maljo (evil eye), as well, and doltishness (mental handicap but also senility) (Littlewood 1988). Madness is called folie in Creole and is also known as crazy, offkey, off the head, going off, loco, kinky, head ai’ right, ai’ right dey, ai’ collective.

Treating Maljo

Lastly, Trinidad has various divinatory, preventative, and treatment practices for maljo. One such method involves:

  • Fixing a branch of a sweet broom in a glass of holy water.
  • Making the sign of the cross.
  • Saying “nomine” in Spanish.

Then, the affected child is hit three times with the broom and left in the water. The saying “Elle pu couper maljo” means “she has Spanish prayers” and indicates the ability to cut maljo.

In conclusion, maljo is a Trinidadian belief in the power of envy or ill will harm someone. Therefore, it is essential to understand and respect cultural beliefs, even if they differ from ours.


Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago by Lise Winer

Featured Image by Gary Bendig on Unsplash


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