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September 30, 2014



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Guyanese Folklore

Bacoo 'Bacoo with Bananas' © Wayne Moses 2000

A spirit of small stature that pelts stones at houses and moves objects within a house. He is supposed to live on banana and milk. Stories abound of the existence of bacoos in Georgetown and other areas in Guyana. Could have come from Surinam and are said to be trapped in a corked bottle unless released. Active mainly at night, it is said that a satisfied bacoo will answer the wishes of its owner.

'Baku' in many West African languages means 'little brother' or 'short man'. It also is related to the word the word 'bacucu' meaning 'banana'. In West Africa, the short races (such as the pygmies) were believed to have magical powers. This seemed to have been brought to Guyana, where the short races, or 'bakus', were still regarded as having magical powers.


"FREEDOM! Freedom ma brethren! Thanks Thanks! Thanks! Is who you!?"

The voice had started in the bottle, then it was coming from outside the bottle; and it was part of a body standing directly in front of Claude. Involuntarily, he dropped the bottle.

Staring up at Claude in the twilight with eyes expressive in their glassy lifelessness, the owner of the very deep, very powerful voice had very stubby, very powerful legs holding up a very short torso. A very big, very ugly head rested awkwardly on top of the short torso -- a head now separated horizontally in two by a very wide, very amused, very evil -- smile.

Excerpt from Caribbean Stories, by Andrew A. Munroe



Churail

Churail (or Churile) is supposed to be the evil spirit of a woman who had died in childbirth. She haunts pregnant women and attacks women and and newborn children.

It is also a vampire-like creature of East Indian origin.

Cumfa

A possession dance of West African origin; a dance characterized by the possession of spirits summoned by the drumming known among the Ndjukas of Surinam.

In the 1930's in Charlestown, Georgetown, the Cumfa Dance as practiced there (La Penitence, Albouystown and Charlestown) was characterized by 4 main features - (1) the dancers danced barefoot on broken bottles scattered on the ground (2) they lighted a piece of wood and pushed the lighted fire into their mouths (3) plunging into the trench water under a high tension of elation (4) some of the spectators would often be possessed by spirits and stagger, like the mentally insane, and butt their heads on the ground.

It is said that the Cumfa ceremony grew out a dance of praise to King O'Cumfa on the Congo River. The African ancestors of the slaves used to worship him for days and nights by the river.

Dai Dai

Amerindian spirit of the forests who protects the gold and diamond treasure - short, squat, resembles a moving tree.

Fairmaid

Female water spirit - fed by food without salt - left on foreshore, edge of trenches.

Jumbie

Generic term given to a spirit, ghost or any sort of supernatural being.

Kanaima

The spirit of vengeance or justice believed in by Amerindians. Death is caused by a knot in the intestines or in some mysterious fashion. Also a person who carries out acts of vengeance.

Makonaima

The Great Spirit of many Amerindian tribes.

The Amerindian legend of the Patamona tribe has it that Kaie, one of the tribe's great old Chieftains, after whom Kaieteur is named, committed self-sacrifice by canoeing himself over the falls in order that Makonaima, the great spirit, would save the tribe from being destroyed by the savage Caribisi.

Masacouraman

Powerful spirit of rivers - he pulls down into the water at rapids, the boats carrying pork knockers into the bush.

Moongazer 'Moongazer' © Wayne Moses 2000

Tall, white and misty figure in legend, habitually gazing at the moon. May kill children. Unusually tall person.

As he roasted his bird, turning his makeshift wooden skewer now and then to cook all sides, Lennox noticed what he thought was a wild animal on a hill in the distance at the edge of the clearing. It was staring at the moon. He built up his fire larger as a precaution. But, too late, he realized that the effect of the larger fire was not more safety as he had expected. Staring at the moon changed to staring at his fire, and then to a sudden dash in his direction. It started to move closer, fast. Lennox realized then that it was very large, that it was running upright, and that it was running straight at him. He started to run. The chase had begun.

Excerpt from Caribbean Stories, by Andrew A. Munroe



Obeah

In Guyana the practice emerges as (1) the religious rites of certain traditional African mysteries brought to South America and the Caribbean by the slaves and frowned upon by slave owners as devil-worship and calling up spirits from the dead. (2) The rites attached to poisoning, administered in secret by slaves on their European masters, in a deeply motivated urge to freedom or (3) spells against other slaves for money, or to gain love, or in revenge for wrong, real or imagined.

Obeah men or women were often individuals with powerful personalities and with a desire to dominate, who used a paraphernalia of materials for the purpose of harming others e.g. a compound of dirt from a human grave and the blood of a black cat mixed with a paste and kept in a goat's horn, a dried frog, the tail of a pig, feathers from a white sensa fowl, various herbs to induce trances, etc.

In Guyana legal history, many murder cases involving obeah have been tried to the amazement and terror of a partly superstitious populace. In recent times, the Prime Minister of Guyana stirred regional emotion by removing certain laws involving obeah from the statute books.

In the course of her life since she had been dragged back to communing with the spirits, May vacillated between seeing herself as cursed and as blessed. When she felt blessed, May helped people as much as she could with their day to day trials. Her help was promoted as being free of charge, but those who wanted could "leave something". Almost everyone left something. At other times when she felt cursed, May exacted sweet revenge on those trusting enough to beg her help in coping with their troubles. She wreaked mischief and havoc on vulnerable patrons without compassion, and suffered not a shred of guilt regardless of the outcome of what she did.

Excerpt from Caribbean Stories, by Andrew A. Munroe.
See also The Obeah Woman May, by Andrew A. Munroe.

Obeah and Amerindian Practices
Inquice Web

Old Higue 'Old Higue Counting Rice' © Wayne Moses 2000

The story is that the ole higue, the Guyanese form of a human vampire, capable of discarding her skin takes the form of an old woman living in a community. At night she transforms herself into a ball of fire, flies from her own house up into the sky and then lands on the roof of another house where there is a baby in a cradle underneath a sheet whose blood she will suck dry and then go home. The suspicions of the community are soon aroused and the school children cry "ole higue" at her; they make chalk marks, on the bridge to her house, the door, the jalousie window. But the legend goes that she crosses these marks bravely.

Then the community sets a trap. When the ole higue flies abroad another night she finds that the baby in the cradle is clothed in a blue night gown. There is a heap of rice grains near to the cot and the smell of asfoetida. These cast a spell on the ole higue who has to count the grains of rice, and if she loses her way, she has to start counting again. The light of morning comes and the ole higue still has not finished counting the grains of rice. People burst into the room pick up cabbage broom and begin to belabour the ole higue. They beat her to death, with great emotion "You gwine pay for your sins before you die" they say.

The Old Higue waits until the early hours of the morning and when everyone is asleep; then the Old Higue sheds its human skin; then the Old Higue travels in a ball of fire searching for victims; then the Old Higue slips through the keyhole of the house of its chosen victim; then the Old Higue sucks the blood of a child dry, dry, dry! Oh, the deep fear of it is enough to cause a child to remain awake all night, every night.

Excerpt from Caribbean Stories, by Andrew A. Munroe



Queh Queh

Pre-nuptial dances and songs bordering on the sensuous from West Africa rehearse the bride's part and a help to prepare her for the future -'Lend me our mortar" is one of the queh queh songs. Some of the songs inclued "Oman a Heavy Load", "Gal you glorious marnin come", "Buy me lova wan shut, Me go wash am." These dances and songs often end in sessions of wild abandon.

Tocouyaha

Monster in river opposite Timehri Airport. It is supposed to be found in the deeps of the Waratilla Creek opposite Timehri. In an answer to a signal from a macaw this monster rises from below to attack the occupants of any boat which happens to be passing. This is an Amerindian belief and they say bubbling water can be seen over the spot where the monster is located.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Norman Gonsalves, Ramnauth Sookraj, and other members of Wayne's Guyana Mailing List (WGML) for their input and contributions to this page.

I would like to thank Caribbean Folklore and Andrew A. Munroe for letting me use excerpts from Caribbean Stories by Andrew A. Munroe on this page. Also by Andrew A. Munroe is The Obeah Woman May.

The Dictionary of Guyanese Folklore (National History and Arts Council, Georgetown, Guyana; 1975) was also used as a reference in this work.

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Last Updated on : Saturday, January 29, 2011
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