What Are Jumbees?
In the Caribbean the term jumbee, and its many variations of spelling, is a generic term given to all malevolent entities that are often found in folklore. Whether you call them spirits, demons or devils the general idea behind the term is that 'bad' people who have done wrong are destined to become instruments of evil in death. These are not ghosts, the jumbee is not a whispy, smokey or fog like creature, it casts a much darker, more sinister figure.
A jumbee is a collection of entities and not just one specific one. The name and deeds of the jumbee depend entirely on where in the Caribbean it came from. Different cultures have different concepts of jumbees. The various kinds of jumbies found in Guyanese folklore reflect Guyana’s complex history and rich ethnic mosaic, drawing on African, Amerindian, East Indian, Dutch and English mythologies. Some of the stories from various parts of the Caribbean are similar but the names are different.
Many if not all of the Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and more, have long held traditional folklore that includes the jumbee. And many of the older population still hold a belief in them, particularly in Guyana, where long-held superstitions and modern-day conveniences like cell phones and the internet, live side by side.
Now be honest, how many of you thought it was an animal, fruit or person? I thought it was an animal the first time I heard the term.
Below is a small collection of Guyanese jumbee.
Where in the World ...
Stories abound all over Guyana of the Bacoos existence. Even in Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana, the bacoo was not isolated to remote tribes. It may have African roots as the word 'baku' in many African cultures mean little brother or short man, and its word relative 'bacucu', means banana.
The Bacoo is a mythological figure that closely resembles a leprechaun from Irish folklore. It is a dwarf-like entity that rewards its 'owner' with wealth untold or answers wishes once fed with a steady and constant supply of milk and bananas. It behaves a little like a poltergeist by causing trouble and moving items, pelting homes with rocks and causing general mayhem.
Bacoo's are mischievous, intelligent and quite devious. A trickster that can shapeshift, make itself unseen and torment those around him. They are mainly active during nighttime hours.
In Guyanese lore one tale is that a rich man kept his bacoo high on a shelf out of eyesight and used a ladder to reach him nightly to feed him his milk and bananas. On the eve that this man had to go out of town, he instructed his servant to feed the beast but to keep his eyes averted. The owner knew how devious and cruel the bacoo could be. When the servant went to feed it, he naturally looked to see what it was that was kept up high on the shelf. He was greeted by a huge black snake that appeared and servant was so startled he fell off the ladder and broke his neck.
Another popular one talks of a pair of invisible rampaging Bacoos that held a village hostage by raining stones over the houses - breaking windows and injuring residents.
My father in law, who is from the Demerara area, specifically the West Coast, talked of two bacoos named Boya and Boysie. They lived in Stewartville, on the old road. If anyone said anything bad about them or even bacoos in general, they would get upset and bad things would happen to whomever said it. It is said, by the older folk that is, that they have caused objects in a house to start flying around and even once covered a man in feces for bad-mouthing them.
So what do you do if you have a bacoo hanging around you or picking on you? It is said they can be trapped inside a bottle but not very easily. First, something that attracts them must be put into the bottle. Once the bacoo has gone into the bottle, a cork is jammed into the neck to act like a stopper. Once this is accomplished, the bacoo can not escape. These bacoo bottles are then thrown into the ocean or waterways.
If you're in Guyana and you see a corked bottle bobbing on the surface of the water, might be best to leave it be, legends have it that if it does contain a bacoo and you open the bottle, the bacoo will stay with you and you must feed him milk and bananas or incur his wraith.
The Moongazer only comes out during a full moon. Some accounts indicate a large bonfire could attract its gaze as well. The only thing agreed on in all the stories is that it appears to be an unusually tall man who habitually gazes at the full moon. Though it is also described as muscular, white or dark, standing straddling a road or on the edges of a cliff. In some accounts, it is said only its shadow can be seen when cast by the light of the full moon.
The giant moongazer is often accused of terrorizing rural villages by standing with their long legs at either side of the road and hands on hips while they gaze upwards at the full moon. When anyone tries to pass through his legs he quickly shuts them and crushes the person to death.
If you were to draw the moongazers attention, you would find yourself being rushed at before he sucked your brains out through his palm. Many accounts I came across indicated a penchant for killing babies, though no further details I could find.
A churail is a vampire-like creature of East Indian origin and is considered to be of the bhoot. A bhoot (in Indian culture) is a supernatural creature, often the ghost of a deceased person. The concept of the bhoot is subject to various interpretations depending on region and community. In Guyana it is known as a choorile and is a very specific type of bhoot.
Guyana's choorile is an evil spirit of a woman who had died in childbirth, yet her child lived. The separation from her child torments her and she wails in her grief, much like a banshee of Irish lore. She haunts or terrorizes pregnant women and newborn children.
They resemble a normal human woman, but their feet are turned backwards and sometimes other features are flipped upside down. They are capable of changing their forms at any time and often change to look beautiful or 'normal' in an attempt to lure young men to their deaths. Chooriles are often met at crossroads, fields or similar places, not often found on or near the water.
If a young man, or old one, falls for the charms of the choorile and becomes enamoured with her, it is believed that she will cause his death. There have been stories of people living with and outsmarting a choorile, in some cases even marrying one. If you encounter a choorile, it is said that crossing water or leaving shoes behind will save you, as chooriles do not cross water and will spend all night trying to put on the shoes.
Many of the younger generations of Guyanese do not recall this jumbee and she is slowly dying out of memory. Only the older folks seem to remember her or her stories. When someone is crying a lot or acting crazy they may be referred to as acting like a choorile, which is where I came across the word.
One of the more popular and strongly held beliefs in jumbee is the Ole Higue. Indeed it is not uncommon to hear of a woman's death in the news by those who believed her to be a ole higue. In 2007 such an incident happened, more on that story later.
In Guyana, this type of jumbee is known as the Ole Higue. In other parts of the Caribbean they are known as Fire Rass or Angeli. It is always a woman who is said to suck the blood of unsuspecting victims as they sleep, with children and babies being her favourite victims.
The ole higue lives among other guyanese and in villages as a somewhat quiet or introverted old lady. At night this old lady sheds her skin and hides it in a calabash (a plant that can be dried out and used as a container to hold things). She then turns into a ball of fire and heads to the home of her intended victim entering via the keyhole. Interestingly, countless sightings of these balls of fire have been reported all over the country and no doubt is a part of why there is such a staunch belief in this jumbee.
There are three ways to dispose of an Ole Higue if they should bother you or your village, and quite often the removal of a Ole Higue is a community event.
The first way is to turn the key while she is trying to enter through the keyhole. Even today, many people still lock their doors and then turn their key to a horizontal position to allow the higue to enter partially. As the Ole Higue struggles to get past, it rattles the key and alerts the homeowner, who can then turn the key fully and crush her. It is said that a pile of bones should be seen on the doorstep, if successful.
The second way is find the calabash where the skin is stored and to put hot peppers in the skin. When she tries to wear the skin again, it will burn her.
Being a miserly ole lady, the final way to catch one is to spill rice grains on the floor in front of the door to the house. As she enters, she will be compelled to count the rice grains before she can pass. She will use her right hand to pick them up, her left to hold them. A hand can only hold so much rice before they start to fall and she has to start over again. It's best to use a large helping of rice grain and keep bags or containers outta sight. When the morning comes, the homeowner will awake to a very tired, distressed and cranky ole higue counting rice. This is when the homeowner beats the woman to death. You can also stop a higue from moving, by surrounding her with a circle of rice.
As promised, a news story from April 30, 2007 about the murder of a woman who apparently inspired the superstitious to believe she was a Ole Higue.
During the early morning hours, she had wandered into the village of Bare Root, where people possessing cell phones and even internet, still believed in the old stories. Two men had called out to her and when she snarled at them, it was determined that she was not human. A resident watching suddenly noticed a red mark on their child, which is a telltale sign of a Ole Higue who had come to suck the child's blood.
Several villagers banded together to trap this woman in a circle of rice and then attempted to burn her with kerosene, but she did not ignite and that to the villagers only confirmed she was a Ole Higue and not human. As the sun continued to rise, the villagers waved a broom over her and asked her where she was from, she replied “non pariel” and repeated some nonsensical phrases. As the sun got higher, the woman stood straighter and revealed that her dress did not cover her properly and she had no underwear on. No one in the village recognized her or knew her.
They beat her on the spot and shoved objects into her. They then left her to die where she lay.
When the body was found and sent off for autopsy, reporters came to the village where they were told that IF she was a Ole Higue, they wanted no part of her. An elderly woman who lived in the village and who disapproved of the beating, said the victim was probably mentally unstable and thus an easy target for the fearful and the superstitious.
Days later, the victim's name was released. She was a 55-year-old mentally disabled lady who had wandered away from relatives in a nearby village. She did not speak clearly and would have been disorientated and confused. Three people were charged with murder and they were ultimately sentenced to jail because they were unable to prove that they truly believed she was a Ole Higue. It was suggested she should have been left in a circle of rice and authorities called.
The massacooraman (or masacouraman) is a huge, hairy, man-like creature that lives in rivers in the interior of Guyana. The massacooramaan allegedly capsizes small boats and eats the occupants. Amerindians and miners (pork knockers) who work in the interior of Guyana often speak of the massacooramaan. To the Amerindians it is a powerful river spirit that pulls boats down into the water in the rapids, often these boats were carrying the pork knockers.
It is much taller and bigger than a man, and has sharp teeth. It is unknown whether or not the massacooramaan lives in the river or dwells on land, but it is certain that it can swim very well and attacks boats in the river at whatever chance it gets.
The Dutchman Jumbie
The Dutchman jumbees are second only to the Ole Higue in the depth of belief in them and how common they are found in present-day Guyana lore.
Ask any Guyanese person and they will tell you that they will blame every event, behaviour or sign that they can not explain on jumbees. The Dutchman is considered the most frightening of them all and take the blame for the evilest of acts that defy explanations.
The stories go that the Dutch during the 1500's use to kill the slaves and bury them with their treasures to act as a guard for said treasures. The Dutchman jumbee are not the killed slaves, but the Dutchman who did the killing and in their own deaths were brought back to Guyana, if they had died elsewhere.
Many trees in Guyana are called Dutchman trees. If one climbs these trees or cuts at it or anything else like that, the Dutchman jumbee will cause them to fall and break their neck or spine, or they get violently ill, or encounter all sorts of bad karma. Each village has its own tale. In an area of the West Demerara the story goes that a Dutchman and his dog, torment and were generally cruel to their slaves and would hang them for no real reason, or as a warning to others. Any who climbed the tree, dug at its roots or tried to mark the tree, were commonly found dead within days at the most.
I do not know if these stories are true or not, I imagine there is a small amount of truth to it and a whole lot of fiction, it is still a strong belief within many areas of Guyana.
What do you know?
Avoid and Escape Jumbees
There are many recommended ways to avoid or escape jumbee encounters:
- Leave a pair of shoes outside the house door, so jumbees (who do not have feet) spend the entire night trying to wear the shoes before moving into the house.
- Leave a heap of sand or salt or rice outside the house door, which compels jumbies (more so the Firerass, or ole Higue) to count every grain before the sun rises.
- Upon coming home late at night, walking backwards may prevent a jumbee from following one inside.
- If a jumbee chases a person, crossing a river may stop them. It is believed that jumbees cannot follow over water.
- Leaving a rope with many knots outside the doorstep to distract them. Jumbees love to try to untie knots; in doing so, they may forget about the house occupants.
- Cakes, Tarts and Pies of Guyana
Guyana has a rich and diverse palette of food and spices - many cultures having had a hand in its development. This article showcase five Guyanese recipes that are a easy to intermediate level of cook. And they are oh-so-good.
- Giants of Guyana
Guyana is a tiny country covered mainly in pristine rainforests. A number of the worlds largest and heaviest animals reside in those rainforest.
© 2012 LyttleTwoTwo
Share your Jumbee story
Asha Naraine from Montreal, Quebec on September 25, 2014:
These stories are so terrifying yet remind me of my grandmother and my visit to Guyana .. I love the folklore thank you
LyttleTwoTwo (author) from Canada on March 30, 2014:
To the commenter analisa ...
The stories are folk tales, from days long ago carried into today's times by an oral history. The original authors are unknown.
analisa on March 25, 2014:
who are the authors of these stories
denika on March 11, 2014:
yea its really interesting and i hope it will help to contribute good points given to my english project.thanks for all of it.i enjoyed the forklore and jumbie story.
LyttleTwoTwo (author) from Canada on July 03, 2013:
@ Harold Bascom. I have corrected the error and do apologize for the typo. Thank you for letting me know.
Harold Bascom on June 10, 2013:
Thank you for the line of credit below my drawing (my interpretation of the mythical bacoo. Please note, however, that my first name, Harold, has been misspelt.
Susan on April 05, 2013:
Tks for the stories... some of them are true but some are folktale
manfromguyana on November 10, 2012:
Very nice sketches you have of our folklore spirits from my country..I can attest to a few of these supernatural beings, being somewhat real..the others we just heard as stories to scare us when we were kids..The Dutch man jumbee was proven to be real back in the 1950s from mysterious deaths of workers who tried to chop down a silk cotton tree aka dutchman tree that was standing in the middle of the proposed road leading to Berbice at that time..due to them not being successful..they built the road around the tree..i have a few pics that i took when i was down there a few years back of this tree..it is very amazing of the history that it holds..I would like to post some pics of it but i don't know where to post them..Also the Ole Higue and Choorile have a lot of eyewitnesses and facts behind them..My father use to live in the west bank of demerara back in the 1950s when he was a child and he says he use to see these fireball type ora's flying through the cane fields but could not explain what they were..some of the local villagers would wake up to find there newborn infants having deep colored black and blue marks on there skin.according to there stories some have actually died from loss of blood...a lot of them would use a remedy by rubbing crab oil on the babies skins to ward off the Ole Higue..According to these eyewitnesses they said, when they would wake up in the morning they would find vomit mixed with blood next to the baby's cradle..The stories you usually heard this from were the older generation of guyanese.. When i lived there back in the 80s and 90s i never seen one or encountered such a being..
The Other Supernatural being you listed was the Choorile AKA LajaBless..The Trinidadians know her as the famous LajaBless.She is a very pretty and provocative looking woman that attract young men if seen..I heard of a true encounter of such a woman back in the early nineties from one of my close friends that use to work graveyard hrs taxi shift..His story begins when he just started his new job and he was returning back to Georgetown from a late night airport run he had to do..on his way back he saw this very pretty looking young woman at the side of the road walking in the dark..so he decided to pic her up..He tried to strike up a conversation with her to learn more about her and where she was going and why she was out so late at night..the girl never answered him..he took the hint and told her he can take her as far as the city and he would be done for the night..as he approached the city, he let her out of the car and he drove off never to see her again..the next morning when he woke up to clean out his car he found 2 hoove prints on his floor mat where the girl was sitting..he could not believe his eyes..according to folklore he was supposed to die that night from her.He says that he got extremely lucky.there are known cases that if anyone should ever encounter this type of demon they would usually die a horrific death..There are many other stories and true events that i know of and would be glad to discuss and share ..
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on August 27, 2012:
This is fascinating - really interesting. I wonder if the word Choorile has a relationship to the word churlish? Might be a stretch, but they sure sound alike. Voted up and up.
bishopkmb from Maryland on August 22, 2012:
This was really interesting. I enjoy ghost stories or folklore! Thank you for sharing. I would love to look into this more.