BY RHIANNA LACHHMAN
Folklore can be defined as stories or beliefs of certain cultural groups. Folklore helps keep culture alive throughout generations. These stories help many cultures feel connected to one another and can teach people valuable lessons. Since June is Caribbean heritage month, I decided to dive into three traditional Caribbean folklore characters and some of their stories.
Anansi The Spider-Man:
Anansi is a spider man who originates from Ghana and is a popular character amongst folklore in Africa and The Caribbean. He is described as a keeper of knowledge and stories. Anansi is also often portrayed as a cunning trickster. He had six sons, each of which possessing a unique ability that added to a lot of the Anansi stories. His stories often have a comedic flare and were meant to teach young children that their actions have consequences and the importance of intelligence.
Anansi the spider’s legacy is one that has been carried on throughout the years in a variety of different folktales and he is a notable figure in Caribbean Culture. Here is a retelling one of the most traditional stories of Anansi the spider and his six sons;
One day, Anansi went on a long journey far from his home, then got lost and found himself in deep trouble, as he fell into a lake and was swallowed by a fish. Back home, his son “See Trouble” had the ability to sense that his father was in great danger, so he passed this message along to his five brothers, and they all went to save him. One of the brothers, “Road Builder,” made a road to help the six sons have a faster journey to rescue their father. Once they made it to the river that their father was deep within, “River Drinker” took big gulps of the body of water until only one fish was left. “Fishcutter” skinned this fish until it was nothing but bones, allowing his father to successfully escape. However, trouble still lay ahead. As soon as Anansi was back on his eight legs, a falcon came down from the sky, scooped him up and flew away. Anansi’s son, “Stone Thrower” acted quickly and threw a stone high up into the sky, knocking his father out of the bird's beak. As Anansi was descending from the sky, “Cushion” used his soft body to ease his father’s landing. Finally, as Anansi was on the ground, reunited with his loving sons, the spider family happily made their way home.
If you would like to learn more about this story, Click on this link to see it animated: https://youtu.be/hvb5EsITzoM
Papa Bois & Mami Wata
These characters originate from St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago. Mami Wata is a mermaid who protects the rivers in West Africa and Haiti. Papa Bois is an older man with a beard who was the counterpart to Mami Wata, he guards forests and land animals.
Mami Wata Description & Story:
Mami Wata is a multifaceted being with many personalities. In one moment, she could be charming and seductive, in another she could be jealous and vengeful. It is safe to describe Mami Wata as vanity-obsessed, since her beauty was an important quality of hers and worth admiring. So much so, that she brings a mirror with her wherever she goes to keep her appearance perfect. Mami Wata uses her looks to her advantage, as they lure in serpents of the earth and sea so that she can tame and conquer them. In some stories, Mami Wata has the ability to shapeshift into the body of a regular woman. Here is a retelling of one of the more positive and hopeful stories of Mami Wata;
A group of fishermen were at the rough sea, when they spotted a woman, who was washed up and laying on a slab of wood. They rescued the woman and took her to their boat, where they comforted her with warmth. As she was on the boat, they were amazed by her beauty and took her back to their island. While on the island, the fisherman each prepared meals for her, in an attempt to impress her and make sure she was fed. That night, something strange began to happen to the woman. She began to transform into an unrecognizable being and went back into the depths of the water. That morning, as the men awoke, they saw a grand treasure chest before them, filled with money and gold. Confused as to how this chest had arrived on their land, they looked out into the ocean only to see the woman they had rescued, Mami Wata , joyfully waving to them from the sea, in mermaid form. Mami Wata had blessed the fisherman for saving her and treating her so kindly, then disappeared back into the water to guard the ocean once again.
Papa Bois Description & Story:
Papa Bois is a wise elderly man, who uses his gifts of shapeshifting to protect the killing of fellow land animals and the degradation of forests. Papa Bois has the upper half of a muscular and older man with a long bearded face, while his lower half has deer legs and hooves. He usually carried around a staff and guarded the forests with passion and bravery. He has the fascinating ability to shapeshift into a deer, and he uses this power to lead hunters deep into the forest, then reveal his true form and demand that they no longer create destruction. He even sounds a cow horn to warn nearby animals if there is a hunter approaching. Papa Bois is a noble being that teaches strength and integrity. Here is a retelling of a story where Papa Bois captures a naughty child and turns him into a “duenne” which is a childlike spirit;
There once was a young boy named Kai, who lived by the forest. He was up to no good, to say the least, killing animals and destroying the nature around him. One day, he heard an eerie and mysterious voice call his name, until suddenly he was knocked unconscious by a strange figure. Kai woke up, laying in the middle of the forest, in the dead of the nightime. Before he could move, he heard the sound of hooves in the distance and saw a strange figure running about. The figure came closer and closer until it blew a loud and alarming cow horn. Then, the figure stepped into the moonlight, revealing his half deer and half human body. It said to the petrified child before him, ‘ there is no more hiding, you can not escape, you are a child of the forest’. From then on, the night transformed into daytime, the fall gave way into winter and years passed, yet Kai did not come home. He was now a being of the forest, no longer a mischievous child, but a duenne.
For more information, click here to watch the story: https://youtu.be/8HhQipESd0U
Bacoos originate from Guyana and Barbados. The word ”Bacoo” means “little brother” or “short man,” which pretty much describes these creatures. They are small, bearded men that can appear in houses and have the ability to grant wishes if treated well. They are said to be found in large rum bottles floating in the Caribbean sea and are most active at night. They resemble leprechauns from Celtic mythology. They also have the fascinating power to shapeshift into other forms to trick their owners. While they may seem like amusing companions to have, the legend of the Bacoos can take an extremely frightening turn. If they are treated with disrespect, they will no longer act as wish granting companions. Instead, they will torture you until you do whatever it asks, and they will continue to live in a home until the owner of that residence is dead. “So, how do you treat a Bacoo well?” you may ask. Well, you must feed them bananas and milk daily and prevent them from causing chaos. The legend of Bacoos teaches you to be careful for what you wish for and to always treat others in a respectful manner.
Learning about folklore from all different kinds of cultures is always a joyous experience and a brilliant way to enrich your cultural education and learn new valuable lessons to guide you in life. If you would like to look more into books focusing on Caribbean folklore, check out books like West Indian Folk tales (Retold by Phillip Sherlock), and Caribbean Folktales and Fantasies, (Retold by Michael Anthony).