Jamaican Folklore

Folklore is the traditional stories and beliefs that are passed down in a society from generation to generation, mostly through word of mouth. Jamaican folklore involves many spirits or mythical creatures that haunt people for various reasons.

Folklore is extremely important to our society, because of the diverse functions that these tales serve. Folk tales offer an exciting escape from reality and allow new generations to learn and adapt to the beliefs and culture of those before them. Another function of some Jamaican folklore, is to discipline children, and the secret enjoyment that is gained from scaring them with exciting creatures.

Folklore like the Anansi stories, originated in Ghana, West Africa, and were brought to Jamaica by the Ashanti slaves. From these early beginnings, various stories have been passed down from generation to generation and have established themselves as an integral part of Jamaican culture. Children learn about them in schools and families continue to pass them down through oral traditions.

Believe it or not however, Jamaican folktales are slowly becoming forgotten in today’s society. This is as a result of the rise in multitudes of new entertainment, including television and the internet. In the past, folktales were used by our ancestors for entertainment and a leader or “storyteller”, often the eldest in the village, would describe these interesting legends to his listeners.

Jamaica has a culture rich with folktales that you might or might not know about. Very prominent figures include:

  • The Rolling Calf – A story about a menacing bull haunting the countryside at nights.
  • Ol’ Higue – The story of an old witch that feeds on the blood of children.
  • Duppies – Restless spirits that were once alive like you and me.
  • The River Mumma – A female spirit lurking at the source of Jamaican rivers.
  • The Golden Table – The mesmerizing golden table that lures innocent victims to the bottom of the river.
  • Anansi stories – Stories surrounding Jamaica’s resident man or rather spider of mischief.
  • Annie Palmer (The White Witch of Rose Hall) – The woman haunting the Rose Hall Great house – that can still be visited to this day – she was accused of murdering her black slave lovers among many other heinous crimes.

There are many Jamaican writers that use their craft and talent to preserve these Jamaican legends including:

  • Martha Warren Beckwith – Who wrote a book entitled “Jamaica Anansi Stories”.
  • Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley affectionately known as ‘Miss Lou’ – A Jamaican folklorist, writer, and educator who was also Jamaica’s Cultural Ambassador. She appeared in the pantomime production of “The Witch” surrounding the legend Annie Palmer and wrote “Anancy & Pandora” in 1949.
  • Joan Andrea Hutchinson – Also wrote Anancy stories like ‘Anancy and Aunty Joan (Anancy stories)’

Now that you have a background knowledge on Jamaica and its folklore, there will be more articles with specific focus on each folktale listed above. The next article in fact, will be featuring the raging, roaming, Rolling Calf.

Written by Nyameche Jones, student of Campion College.  Edited by Kaeonna Walters.  This post appears courtesy of the Do Good Jamaica Professional Pathways high school internship program.