Doll face with evil eyes

Trini Phrase: Maljo


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

  • Maljo, ,  (n):  Evil eye; the belief that a conscious or unconscious look of envy or ill will can harm someone. 
    • French Creole ,
    • Spanish  mal de  ‘evil eye’;
    • Yoruba fi  ‘put eye on,
    • Igbo /ole  ‘look ugly  eye’,
    • Kikongo / / ‘look with 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 , characterized by fever, changed colour, inability to urinate, loss of appetite and weight, greenish stool.

Maljo – In Trinidad

It is not unheard of in Trinidad that if you have something of value, somebody somewhere will give you maljo. For example, if you buy a new car and all of a sudden you get in an accident, it’s not unheard of that you blame the accident on maljo that somebody put on your new car because you didn’t take it up to Mount Saint Benedict to get blessed! To know whether a child has maljo, you put a twig of the escobilla plant in his or her hand…if the child is afflicted, the plant wilts.

Secondly, it is believed in Trinidad “maljo will always return back onto the perpetrator” so one needs to be careful not to wish ill on others.

Many Trinidadian characters and gryphons like lagahoo and soucouyant have close avatars and grammatical relationships (Fr. loup-garou) in the European tradition. In contrast, some are more evidently African (Yoruba orisha) even though they may gain a European-derived name (dwen, Spanish Duende). 

Maljo – Psychological Dysfunction?

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

Limits to Agency in Psychopathology: A Comparison of Trinidad and Albania Roland Littlewood Published online: 21 Feb 2007.

Lastly, there is a more significant amount of divinatory, preventative and treatment practices in Trinidad of maljo. One can treat maljo by fixing a branch of sweet broom in a glass of holy water, perhaps making the sign of the cross, and saying ‘nomine’ in Spanish; then hitting the affected child three times with the broom and leaving it in the water. Elle pu couper maljo (‘she has Spanish prayers’: lit. can cut maljo). 

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

Featured Image by Gary Bendig on Unsplash


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