Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 30th 2013 Contents B2
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 30, 2013
My grandmother Theresa tells a story
of an incident that really happened over
70 years ago in a forest a couple hundred
feet from where we live.
A young couple ventured into the woods
to pick mangoes from a large tree, which
still stands. With them was their four-year-
The boy wandered off into the forest and
was lost. His frantic parents searched until
darkness fell and then hastened to the con-
stabulary at Siparia two miles away and a
report was laid.
The police called in experienced hunters
who knew the high woods thoroughly, and
augmented by townspeople, dozens of
searchers combed the forest high and low
for a week. The search extended as far as
the south coast on Quinam Beach, over
seven miles away, since in those days the
mighty forest stretched unbroken from
Moruga to Erin.
The search was called off, and the grieving
parents left with the inconsolable void of
having lost a child that those in similar cir-
cumstances know too well.
About three months later, some villagers
were again in the vicinity of the mango tree
when they heard voices coming from a near-
by clump of balisier.
In the thicket was the lost child. His
clothes were in tatters, but he seemed
healthy and well-cared for---not at all hag-
gard and dehydrated as one would expect
of a person wandering in the jungle. He was
sitting in a cleared circle and playing with
bits of wood and stone.
The boy was reunited with his overjoyed
parents, but on being plied with questions
about his ordeal he would only reply cryp-
tically that he had been cared for in his
absence by "friends."
The boy lived to be an old man and is
now deceased, but it has always been
believed he was taken by douens.
The douen, like other characters of local
folklore, is almost a direct transfer of the
stories of West Africa, from whence hun-
dreds of thousands of hapless captives from
the Ibo, Dahomey and Yoruba nations were
transported to the West Indies as slaves for
the sugar barons. From the Ashanti coast
they brought the tradition of the griot (sto-
ryteller) and around their fires outside their
huts in bondage, the timtim grew and flour-
ished. Brer Anansi, the tricky spiderman
and his loveable antics found root in the
Caribbean soil alongside other folk spirits
of a decidedly more sinister nature.
Lost somewhere in our mythical past, the
European vampire---Nosferatu, like Bram
Stoker s Count Dracula---came to these
islands with the French planters and cop-
ulated with the inyanga (witches) of West
Africa, who came from the Rada strongholds
deep in the Belmont valley, and thus the
soucouyant was born.
In nearly every village of rural T&T there
is a timtim of an aged crone who lived alone
in a remote hut (very much like the witches
of European origin) and when night fell, shed
her skin, which was placed in a wooden mor-
tar, while she burst into a ball of flame and
flew off to suck the blood of the living.
To banish the soucouyant would mean
finding her mortar and rubbing salt and
pepper in the skin so that she would not
be able to put it on again, sending her into
shrieks of "Skin, skin, you nah know me?"
In our haste to pursue what we term
development, we have lost our ancestral
spirits and the art of the timtim. Never-
theless, if you journey deep into the coun-
tryside, you will find the belief in the super-
natural alive and well.
In the Irois Forest they tell of douens that
have been seen. Many a hunter will weave
a story of having been led astray by the
kindly woodman, Papa Bois. I myself have
wandered alone in these high woods and
have never managed to shake the feeling of
being closely watched at every step.
A friend jokingly said that electric lights
have banished the douen, Papa Bois and la
diablesse, but if you go into the primal
woodland where silence closes in on one
like prison walls, you will soon realise that
the belief in the denizens of the forest cannot
be easily forgotten.
Folklore characters live deep in the indeli-
ble subconscious of our people. From the
artistic expressions of LeRoy Clarke s Douen-
dom to yarns told around a dim kerosene
lamp on a dark night, we explore the surreal realm
of what lies just outside the pale of reality.
These are the stories handed down through gen-
erations like cherished heirlooms wherein the echoes
of Africa emerge with flitting, shadowy figures in
the indigo blue of the Caribbean twilight.
Douens and other folklore
Douens and the lost child. SKETCH BY RUDOLPH BISSESSARSINGH
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