Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Soucouyant - A Caribbean Vampire

The first time I ever heard of soucouyants was when I was in high school and some friends from Trinidad expalined that soucouyants were dangerous creatures, generally old women who took off their skins, left them safely in a mortar or under a special tree and turned into balls of fire.  As a ball of fire, the soucouyant then floated around on the air looking for houses with open windows.  When she found one, she darted in to look for an unwary sleeper and began to suck his or her blood.  Soucouyants preferred the blood of babies or infants but would make do with that of adults, if desperate.  Soucouyants had to be back in their skins by daybreak or risk being caught and beaten to death or covered with salt by outraged soucouyant hunters.

I'd never heard of such a creature and was intrigued, as any fan of the great Stephen King would be.  Did the soucouyant become a human again in order to suck?  My informants couldn't tell me but it seemed obvious to me that the soucouyant must turn back into its human form or risk burning its victim before it was able to feed.  Yet, the skin was needed in order for it to turn back and it had left the skin behind when it turned into a ball of fire so how could it have turned back without returning for the skin?  It was all very confusing. 

This is a production by a UWI student of an entertaining soucouyant story -

The one thing that could stop a soucouyant was to scatter salt or grains of rice around the beds of sleepers or around the house, itself, as Phyllis did in my novel, Jessamine.  Soucouyants are also known as Ol' Higue and Loogaroo and stories of them are common in the islands that were once, or still are, French such as Trinidad, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Saint Lucia. 

A perennial favourite for children, this poem by Wordsworth A. McAndrew, "Ol' Higue", is full of creepy drama.  Try saying it in a cackly voice and see how great it is!

"Ol' woman wid de wrinkled skin,
Leh de ol' higue wuk begin.
Put on you fiery disguise,
Ol' woman wid de weary eyes.   
              Shed you swizzly skin."

"Ball o' fire, raise up high.
Raise up till you touch de sky.
Land 'pon top somebody roof.
Tri'pse in through de keyhold - poof,
            Open you ol' higue eye."

For the rest of the poem, found in West Indian Poetry, you can see here.

Mc Andrew's is a traditional treatment but Trinidad's LeRoy Clarke situates the soucouyant in modern times as a sort of deity presiding over the rot of a city in "Soucouyant", taken from The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry.

"...the soucouyant, her eyes
a million flies, wide and sharp...

among broken knives and smoking pistols
among stain and glitter of costumes
of clouds, of armies and police,
among salutes and commendations....

the soucouyant perched, her eyes
a million flies wide and sharp overlooking...

...licking her gums over bones of school,
of church, of prison, of star, entering
a pore, turning turning
each skin to bone to skin..."

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