Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
Ghosts, spirits, shadows, poltergeists, phantoms, duppies. Call them whatever you may, but they are all regarded as metaphysical manifestations of dead people. Many people, the world over, believe they do exist, and many are convinced they are figments of hallucination, schizophrenia and psychosis, thus their elusiveness.
When His Story broached the issue of the existence or non-existence of duppies in a two-part feature last year, the reactions were swift and varied, not surprisingly. Reboe Rallins, a deacon from St Thomas, was featured in the first instalment. He claimed to have seen duppies and know how they operate.
In the second part, Cyrus Grant, a Jamaican-born reader in the United Kingdom, attempted to answer some of the questions raised, using his own experiences to underscore his belief in these 'paranormal beings'.
Grant said, inter alia, "My crude spiritual awakening to the effects of ghosts unfolded in two separate locations. The first was in Ocho Rios, in October 2003 to be precise. Facing what I thought was perhaps my slow, eminent demise, I sought refuge in St Elizabeth, where it started all over again within a matter of weeks, only this time it appeared more perilous."
He is completing a book about his experiences with these strange elements but, while we are waiting to be bowled over and enthralled, here is a taste of what is to come, in his own words: "Following my encounter with Booth (a duppy), some eight weeks later, a spirit walked in on me as I sat on my bed reading a book. It hopped up on to the bed and sat beside me, brushing against my legs as it did so. This was a non-visual materialisation, but I felt the sensations all the same.
"All that was strange enough, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next, a week or so later. However, due to the graphic nature of this occurrence, I will not go into details at this time. But I can assure you, it was the most gratuitous violence I had ever experienced. From that point, the attacks started to occur frequently."
DRIVING FEAR INTO PEOPLE
This claim is one of millions. There are books, movies, documentaries, television shows and lectures of people relating their paranormal experiences. Our own folklore is replete with duppy stories, in which even animals have come back from the dead. The three-foot horse, the rolling calf and the duppy puss are popular characters in these stories, which have driven fear into the hearts of the toughest man and woman.
Duppy storytelling through the oral tradition was rife throughout the land, before the proliferation of electronic media technologies in Jamaica. It was part of the nightly entertainment in the absence of radio, television, telephone and the Internet. In parts of rural Jamaica, the elderly are still telling these stories to a reluctant young generation, but it is a fast-dying tradition.
However, there might soon be a revival, a resurrection if you will, of duppy storytelling. It is part of the idea of duppy tourism, now being tossed around by Countrystyle Community Tourism Network in Mandeville. Ghost-hunters are to be lured to Jamaica. Diana McIntyre-Pike, community tourism consultant and trainer, said, "Our Countrystyle Community Tourism Village programme blends well with this niche market as every community has potential with the many old churches, houses and exciting duppy stories. For example, there is an abandoned St Barnabas Anglican church (known as Way Pen Duppy Church) near to Mile Gully en route to Balaclava, in a village called Green Hill, which is supposed to be so haunted that it scared away the congregation who have some amazing stories to relate of their experiences!
"Communicate this to the many passionate ghost-hunters and see how intrigued they will be to visit Jamaica, to experience and talk to the community ... which will result in income generation for accommodation, food and tours businesses. In Jamaica, we can pursue this lucrative market by researching the haunted places and areas with the assistance of the communities and develop an exciting marketing programme highlighting a 'duppy trail' throughout the country, which will take visitors to many diverse villages."
Charles town maroon village
A good place to go, maybe, is the historic Maroon village of Charles Town, Portland. Last year, some male residents demonstrated their belief in duppies, or ancestors as some prefer to call them.
In a spirited (pun intended) discussion, not far from the Maroon cemetery, where some of the tombs were being unearthed by a seasonal river, many of them, including Paul Atkinson and Colonel Frank Lumsden, related their encounters with duppies and/or gave their views on whether they existed or not.
Atkinson said he was not hungry and hallucinating the night when he came face to face with a woman who had been buried some months prior to her 'sighting', sitting under a guango tree. Nor was he "under any whites'' when, in the presence of his girlfriend, he saw the "spirit" of a man sprint past a truck and disappear. He is of the view that duppies can be harmful, but said he is not afraid of seeing them, and thinks that when he dies he will come back as a duppy.
Colonel Lumsden warned against taking pictures in the cemetery without the requisite "clearance" and permission from the ancestors. He said yes, there are "spirits", which he does not regard as being dead. They are just existing in another form of energy, thus there is communication between the living and 'the living'. They, the spirits, he said, can be seen and experienced. According to him, when a person dies, that is not the end of his story.
The colonel is not alone with this philosophy, since the story of man is invariably about his search for answers to the mystery of his existence and what happens to him after his physical form expires. The possibility of a hereafter is part of the mystic of life. So, this belief in these non-physical beings is not going to disappear as a phantom. Duppies and their stories are here to stay, whether in your minds, in the air, or even in books. Don't look, but there is one behind you, nodding with approval.