You may recall I wrote post a few days ago about the enduring legend of Anansi and the African culture’s love of oral history and storytelling. I also said in that post that as we are also marking the month of Halloween, I would try to find some creepy myths and legends that I have been told or read about to share with you all. Well, it seems that Caribbean & African culture has no shortage of creepy stories & malevolent forces to have you double checking under your bed before you go to sleep! One such legend is that of the Jumbee. ‘What is a Jumbee?’ I hear you ask. Well dear reader, take a seat and grab a blanket to hide under, as I share with you all a tale of cursed men and evil spirits..
Back when I was a young whippersnapper, my Mum and I would go to visit my old Tanti (auntie) Ena at her house in Shepherd’s Bush. Ena came to England from Grenada in 1952 as a young woman, having been born and raised on the islands. In her time, she had heard many stories about the ancient myths and legends that the region specialises in, and she enjoyed nothing more than scaring me and my cousin with this stories, much to my mum’s annoyance. Everytime we went to her home, we would have to leave our shoes outside. I had always just assumed that the reason for this was that Tanti Ena didnt want us bring any dirt into her immaculately cleaned home, but eventually curiosity got the better of me on one visit, so I asked her why we had to do this. She looked at me over the glasses she would wear on the end of her nose and said “well, to keep the Jumbee out, why else?!” My mum shook her head as if to say ‘here we go again!’.
The Jumbee goes by many names. In Jamaica it’s know as a ‘Duppy’, in Trinidad they would refer to a type of Jumbee as a ‘Moko Jumbie’. According to historians, it’s possible the myth was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people of this part of Africa were often trafficked to the Caribbean as slaves, and they brought many of their customs with them. The were known to use the word ‘Vumbi’ to describe ancestral ghosts and spirits so it’s possible there may be some relation. Anyway, Tanti Ena explained why we had to follow this odd custom. She explained that when she was a girl in Grenada, she knew of a man who the whole village feared. He was known to be a spiteful soul, many suspected he was a thief and he he had even assaulted one local who owed him money. When a elder lady who it was claimed practiced Obeah (an ancient form of African witchcraft) ran into this man, she cursed him, claiming that he would die suddenly and that his spirit would be forced to do the Devil’s work for all time, no rest no peace. The man scoffed at her curse, for he was fit and healthy, nothing could take him down! Or so he thought..Just 1 week later, the man suffered a mysterious heart attack and died. He was buried on a hillside just behind the village in a shallow grave, and every evening after his death, the residents would complain of hearing scratching noises in the middle of the night on their front doors and windows. Tanti Ena swore that when she was coming home from church one evening with her father, she could feel an evil presence around her and that a shadowy figure was following them home. Apparently they became so afraid, they ran the rest of the way home. When the residents couldn’t take the uneasy feelings anymore, the elder woman recommended that everyone leave their shoes outside the door. Apparently, for a Jumbee, the desire to try and put on shoes found outside a front door was too much for them to resist, and by they time they figured out that they couldn’t, the sun would rise and permanently destroy it. Everyone followed the elder ladies instructions, and soon after that, the disturbances ceased. Tanti Ena however, was convinced that the Jumbee had never truly been destroyed and had followed her across the Atlantic Ocean to the UK. She would often complain that at night she could feel that same evil presence again, that someone or something was stalking her, so just to make sure, whenever anyone came to visit her, she made them leave their shoes outside to confuse the evil spirit once and for all.
I never did find out if the spirits that tormented Tanti ever left her, but I remember vividly ensuring that I always left a pair of shoes outside my bedroom door before I would go to sleep, as the knocking and scratching I would hear on my bedroom window would have me cowering under my quilt..
Should you ever find yourself stalked by the Jumbee, as well as leaving your shoes outside your door, there are other things you can do. You can baffle them by leaving salt, rice or sand outside your door. The curious Jumbee will have no choice but to count every single grain, thus trapping them outside until the sun rises to destroy them. If you are coming home after midnight from an evening of entertainment, you can avoid a Jumbee from following you into your house by entering backwards, and should you have the misfortune to be chased by a Jumbee in open space, you can evade them by crossing a lake or river, as Jumbees cannot cross water.
I hope that this post serves as a wake up call to all of you reading, because the Jumbees are out there, and if you don’t stop ignoring that scratching noise you can hear at your window at night, you might be allowing one to bide its time until it can strike..