Sun | Dec 11, 2016

The spirits of Trinidad

Published:Saturday | January 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal

Recently, on a windless day, while looking at a house in Trinidad that we were thinking of renting, my wife and children found a chair rocking merrily by itself. The windows in the room were closed. My son ran out and told me if we rented that house, he would never stay in it. This reminded me of the ghost in the rural community of Cumuto in Trinidad about 18 years ago. This is the story:

A ghost walked into a shop in Cumuto, Trinidad, and asked for a bottle of rum. "Sorry," the proprietor said. "We don't serve spirits here." This seems to characterise the spirit of hostility to ghosts, goblins and gremlins that now distinguishes the inhabitants of this normally friendly and peaceful agricultural community noted for its many farms and cultivations, some hidden from public view, since a large female phantasm of Spanish descent beset and bedevilled poor Mr Habib Mohammed as he returned from work. Since one of its hands was as large as Mr Mohammed's two hands, the contest was decidedly unequal. Mr Mohammed did not have a ghost of a chance.

Since the Mohammed incident, residents of Cumuto are said to be walking around with a foul-smelling substance, asafoetida (from which the word 'fetid' comes), locally known as 'hing', pinned to their clothing. Visitors claim they cannot tell the difference.

However, there is a difference, if only in the mood and behaviour of the villagers.

It is claimed that the same 'spirit' has attacked six other villagers of different religious denominations, and since the attack on Mr Mohammed, church attendance, contributions, donations and offerings have risen. Church officials, as well as the vendors of 'hing', are said to be in very high spirits.

Wives are in even higher spirits. Villagers have a self-imposed curfew that keeps them at home. At night, Cumuto has literally become a ghost town. Babies, however, are quite rattled and speechless since it was reported that a ghost had possessed a mother and had driven her to attempting to strangle her child. "Cheeky," one of them lisped. "Dis-ghosting," murmured another.

Since the Cumuto incident, women, purveyors of 'hing' and religious organisations in many other villages have been considering the benefits to themselves of having an epidemic of phantoms, phantasms and other denizens of the spirit world.

It is reported that many have already consulted psychics, obeah men and Ouija boards, hoping to entice some enterprising spectre into their village. While some specify that they would like a less aggressive 'jumbie' than the one who attacked Mr Mohammed, many say they don't care since such a community spirit will help to ensure a happier, holier and healthier Trinidad and Tobago.

This move is, of course, not universally accepted and is being resisted by rum shop, snackette, recreation club, cinema and 'hotel' owners, politicians, the police and a group called 'ROW', or Representatives of Outside Women.

The police, appreciating the threat to their continued existence posed by a peaceful society, have sent out sketches of the 'Spanish' woman, but so far, have failed to catch the spirit. Politicians, fearing a loss of power, have decided to put back the dragon that was taken from the top of the Red House in the hope that it will cause the spirits to return to their old and accustomed haunt in Parliament and leave the rest of the country to them.

Outside women, or 'deputies', long considered essential in Trinidad and Tobago, have been adding to the burdens of the police and politicians, normally their strongest supporters and sources of income, by demanding action. They are making quite a row.

In the meantime, those of us who grew up in Trinidad in the days before television, when ghost stories told by our elders were a major form of entertainment, know that the village of Cumuto has got it all wrong. A ghost is an invisible object usually seen at night. Since Mr Mohammed was not attacked at night, it is obviously not a ghost. Spirits, while known to attack, are also invisible. The claim by Mr Mohammed's neighbours that "he got real licks, his whole body had to hurt with licks" could lead one to assume that he was the victim of a vampire or 'soucouyant'. Soucouyants, like the members of ROW, while known to lick, bite and suck, are, however, night creatures.

The only option left is that Mr Mohammed was attacked by a 'la diablesse', or female devil. Since 'la diablesses' are supposed to have long hair and cloven hooves, and Mr Mohammed himself claimed that his attacker had long, blonde hair, with which she was trying to strangle him, the answer is obvious. Mr Mohammed was attacked by a 'la diablesse'.

It is a pity that Mr Mohammed was so preoccupied with her hands and hair and did not have the time or opportunity to look at her feet to see if they were cloven hooves. Then he would have known exactly what to do - give her some good Cumuto grass and put an end to the terror once and for all.

Tony Deyal was last seen looking for a spirited, red, Spanish woman with long, blonde hair to put some real licks on him.