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INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE
INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE
INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE
INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE
INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE

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INDIAN CARIBBEAN FOLKLORE SPIRITS

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  • THE RAAKHAS (PRONOUNCED RAH-KHAS)
  • THE CHURILE (PRONOUNCED CHOO-RYLE)
  • SAAPIN: THE SNAKE WOMAN (PRONOUNCED SAH-PIN)
  • DEE BABA (PRONOUNCED DEE BAH-BAH)
  • THE JINN, SHEIK SADIQ (PRONOUNCED JIN SHAKE SAH-DIK)

A raakhas is an evil newborn baby that may resemble a young rat, a monkey or a frog. The creature’s complexion is black. It has a high, sloping forehead, two protruding teeth on the upper jaw and two on the lower jaw, as well as long fingernails, toenails, and long hair. It may have a tail. Upon birth, the raakhas tries to escape by jumping through the window and climbing to the roof of the house. It squeals the names of its mother and father as a threat of impending attack.

The chaamine (midwife) has to kill the raakhas by strangling it or placing a sil (grinding stone) on its chest as soon as it is born. If it survives, it will try to claim the lives of its parents, and then those of others by clawing its victims and puncturing their necks with its sharp teeth. A raakhas never survives beyond a few days; it may die naturally or may be destroyed by humans. A child becomes a raakhas due to its mother’s bad karma (deeds).

A churile is the spirit of a pregnant woman who died during childbirth, or committed suicide during pregnancy. She is depicted by long, unbound, disheveled hair streaming over her face. Dressed in white, she carries her fetus in her arms. In the dead of the night, she wails sorrowfully as her unborn child cries for milk like a cat.

A churile is in eternal grief since she lost her child. A churile’s victim is a pregnant woman, who she follows and possesses out of envy. Her attacks on women take the form of miscarriages, even among those in her former household. A churile also attacks her former husband through the onset of sickness. She would seek revenge if he had abused her during their marriage, and if he had neglected or neglects the children she had borne for him when she was human.

A saapin is a very beautiful woman who bears the image of a cobra along her spinal column. Some people claim that this image may also be on her thigh, like a varicose vein. At a certain time of the year, when the moon is full at midnight, the shape comes alive and becomes a real snake. It bites her husband on the tip of his tongue when he is in bed with her. The snake then returns to its resting place in the mark on her body. A saapin is strikingly beautiful and attracts many men. All her partners (about seven of them), die prematurely one day after having been bitten. A saapin, therefore, is sad because she cannot enjoy the pleasure of having a husband for long.

Neither the woman nor her victim is conscious of this mysterious incarnation and fatal tragedy. The victim never sees the snake nor feels its venomous bite. In fact, he never really dies from a snake-bite, but rather from some kind of accident or sudden illness which happens afterwards. Some men may be driven to take their own lives by either hanging themselves or drinking poison. All these deaths occur outside of the house when their wives are not present. If a man suspects that his wife is saapin, he can perform a naag pooja (snake worship ceremony) to placate the serpentine spirit.

A man can also be a saapin. Like a woman, he would also have the shape of a snake along his spine, or have a serpentine pattern of hair-growth on his back.

Dee Baba is perceived as the protector of the land from dangerous forces. Some sources state that he takes the form of a white man on a black horse. This man resembles a colonial slave master who rides on a horse through a sugarcane plantation. He has a whip in one hand and a chain in the other. Other sources claim that Dee Baba takes the form of either a black rooster or a black dog.

The spirit of Dee Baba is fed once a year (usually in January) or periodically. He is given biscuits (salted crackers), salted butter, white rum, lit cigarettes and a burning deya (clay lamp) or candle on asohari leaf (similar to a banana leaf) in the bushes. This type of offering is called sadaa (vegetarian). Non-vegetarian devotees offer canned sardines or a black cock (rooster), or a goat or a hog (pig). This type of offering is called satwick (non-vegetarian).

These offerings are made mainly by farmers who would pray to reap an abundant harvest and prevent thieves from stealing their crops. Property owners also make offerings to Dee Baba to protect their house and land from envious neighbours and competing relatives. Others make sacrifices to Dee Baba to obtain health and happiness.

Jinns are supernatural spirits which originated in the Middle East. It is believed that they were created from smokeless fire. Nearly all these spirits are invisible to mankind. The Arabic word “jinn” comes from the root “janna," which means, to hide or conceal.” Invisible jinns can move at the speed of the wind.

Jinns may take the form of humans or animals. However, that makes them vulnerable to injury, sickness or death, yet they live longer than human beings. There are good and bad jinns. Evil jinns appear as black dogs, black cats, poisonous snakes and hideous monsters or demons. Jinns can be either male or female.

Jinns can see humans, but humans can only see them by accident or invocation. Jinns can only be invoked or captured in the form of a spirit. Humans can invoke, capture and compel jinns to do either good or evil deeds. Jinns also have their free will to possess mortals to do good or bad. Evil jinns sometimes torment people who sleep in total darkness by giving them nightmares. Some holy men become the medium of good jinns. Through them, people with problems are comforted, counselled and healed. In order to release the jinn, Sheik Sadiq, from someone possessed by it, one has to pluck seven hairs from the tail of a black cat and burn them in an enclosed room with the victim. The scent of burning hair would chase Sheik Sadiq away. Other healers would beat the person who is possessed with a broom in order to cast out the jinn.

Source: Mahabir, Kumar. Indian Caribbean Folklore Spirits. Illustrations by Aneesa Khan. San Juan: Chakra Publishing House, 2010. Print.