Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Ain't 'Fraid ah no Jumbie

Last night was the annual Jumbie talk, and Max and I – who went last year – brought Tori along.

I've covered the event twice for the Source. This is the link to this year's story, which was affected by some heavy rain a couple of hours before it was scheduled to start. It's a good story, but last years (linked here) was better, I thought.

A Jumbie is, essentially, a ghost. Or as one guy – a Catholic priest who wrote a book on Jumbie tales – said "Ghost is Yank and jumbie done be Crucian. We got no ghosts in the Virgin Islands."

Anyway, the event is held at a camp up in the rain forest. There's a hike right down the middle of the road, in the dark, where the guide points out haunted spots on the road. There's a dinner of local food, performance by a quelbe band, and, when its good and dark, jumbie stories. Anyone can tell one, but the best are from the old timers. Jumbie stories were a big art of island lore before television and smart phones and the Internet, and the event is a chance to recapture some of that oral tradition.

Tori noticed this first, but when the old timers told a story, it was almost always about a jumbie as a malevolent spirit. "Jumbie gonna get you!" Being chased by jumbies, running away from jumbies, or advice on how to avoid or fool jumbies. Jumbies are apparently kind of stupid. Wear your clothes inside out or backwards and that fools 'em.

Jumbies were something parents used to make their children behave or teach them lessons about what's expected of them in Crucian culture.

But when younger people, especially people who moved here recently from the states, tell about them, it's always a warm fuzzy, very new agey story about spirits. Not nearly as entertaining.

Anyway, we had fun. The rain cut the crowd from about 200 last year to about 60, 70 this year, so there was more than enough food to go around. The organizers made people take extra plates home. And of course it made everything wet, but since there were so few people, there was plenty of space at the picnic tables for everyone, and no need to spread out a blanket on the soggy ground.

And, by the way, jumbie is not to be confused with his benevolent cousin, the moko jumbie, portrayed by stilt dancers in parades and at festivals. The moko jumbie is originally a Trinidad tradition, I believe, a guardian of the village. Because he's so tall, he can see danger coming a long way off.

Just remember that if a jumbie is following you, go into your house and leave 99 grains of rice on the porch. The jumbie, who is apparently also an obsessive-compulsive, will have to count them, and spend so much time trying to find the 100th grain that he'll forget all about you. They also don't like lime, garlic or salt.

Just in case, you know?

No comments: