Soucouyant – folklore

The soucouyant or soucriant in Dominica, Trinidadian and Guadeloupean folklore (also known as Ole-Higue or Loogaroo elsewhere in the Caribbean), is a kind of witch or vampire, possibly dating back to early European visitors settling in the region.

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The soucouyant is a shape-shifting Caribbean folklore character who appears by day as a reclusive old woman, typically living at the edge of the village in a shack surrounded by tall trees, who has made a secret pact with the devil.

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Having visited her local graveyard, she scours the graves looking for a suitable corpse’s liver, with which she makes an oil, allowing her to strip off her wrinkled skin, which she puts in a mortar or hollowed-out tree trunk to keep it protected. In her true form, as a vampiric fireball, she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. Her new form allows her entry into the homes of her victims through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes.

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Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. Tales tell of horrendously bruised bodies staring a thousand-yard stare from now dead sunken eyes. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices witchcraft, voodoo, and black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.

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To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, individually (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt or hot pepper must be placed in the receptacle containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. In this exposed state, she can be assailed by the locals, some accounts describing them covering her in boiling pitch. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Suriname and Trinidad. The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic.

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The origin of the tale would seem to a combination of African legends and beliefs and those relating to existing French vampire myths; the latter would account for the dedication to counting grains of rice, very similar to the folkloric habit of European vampires being kept at bay by scattering seeds or sand at their graves. Although technically a soucouyant could be either male or female, the latter is far more common, French West Indian logic explaining that only female breasts could disguise the flaming vampire wings. In more realistic terms, females tended to live longer, having avoided war and many of the industrial-type accidents which befell many menfolk, thus allowing for certain local old ladies to be viewed with some suspicion. The term “Loogaroo” also used to describe the soucouyant, possibly comes from the French mythological creature called the Loup-garou, a type of werewolf, and is common in the Culture of Mauritius. In Suriname this creature is called “Asema”.

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  • In Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark a soucouyant is one of Anna Morgan’s daydreaming fears before she undergoes an abortion that leaves her bleeding to death. It is worth noting that before the ending was edited, Anna Morgan dies of the abortion.
  • Also used in Rhys’s short story “The Day They Burned the Books”, in a servant’s description of Mrs. Sawyer, a main character in the story: “…Mildred told the other servants in the town that her eyes had gone wicked, like a soucriant’s eyes, and that afterwards she had picked up some of the hair he pulled out and put it in an envelope, and that Mr. Sawyer ought to look out (hair is obeah as well as hands)”.
  • Also used in a third Jean Rhys book, Wide Sargasso Sea, when the former slave, Christophine, describes Antoinette’s eyes as “red like soucriant”.
  • In “Greedy Choke Puppy”, a short story by Nalo Hopkinson, a soucouyant narrates part of the story. Hopkinson’s book Brown Girl in the Ring also features a soucouyant, who is delayed from her purpose of consuming blood by another character who drops rice grains on the floor, forcing the soucouyant to pick them up before proceeding.
  • Appears in the novel White is for Witching: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi.
  • Soucouyant is the title and one of the primary plot devices of a novel by David Chariandy.
  • A soucouyant is the title creature in the book “Nightwitch” by author Ken Douglas, which was also published under a previous pseudonym, Jack Priest.
  • In Timothy Williams’s Guadeloupe novel, “Un autre soleil”, “Another Sun” the spelling soucougnan is adopted in both French and English.
  • A Soucouyant appears in The Night Piece, a collection of short-stories written by André Alexis.
  • In Byzantium, a Neil Jordan film, one of the protagonists, Eleanor Webb, refers to vampires in her story as “soucriants”. On the other hand, there isn’t any reference to Caribbean mythology in the movie itself and the vampires’ origin is hinted as pre-Christian European.

Daz Lawrence

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