My folklore story

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mask used in masquerading (photo: courtesy of Pixababy)

When I was a child, my parents told stories of strange creatures doing strange things and even making strange and unusual sounds. I listened intently to my mother’s tales, eagerly absorbing every scary detail of the mythical creatures and enchanted beings that roamed the islands. I was captivated by the rich folklore that filled my beloved homeland of Trinidad and Tobago.

My mother told stories that would make your blood “crawl” as we say in T&T. One such story describes the setting of a hot summer afternoon, as she sat beneath the shade of a majestic mango tree, filled with all the biggest and juiciest mangoes. Something caught her eyes as she looked at the spotted tiny sparkling creature flitting about the colourful blossoms. It was a beautiful hummingbird, but something about it seemed different. Mom said “my eyes turned big” meaning she widened it with wonder as she realized it was no ordinary bird but a dazzling “Pierrot Grenade” a magical creature from ancient time possessed with the power to grant wishes to those who treated it kindness and respect.

She cautiously approached the graceful creature with gentle steps, her heart beating with excitement. She extended her hand, and to her astonishment, the Pierrot Grenade perched delicately on her finger. Even as children we were intelligent enough to know that the story was not true but enjoyed the excitement anyway. Today, the “Pierrot Grenade” is portrayed as a finely dressed masquerader and learned scholar as a supreme jester in the Trinidad Carnival. This folklore was used as a tactic to prevent children from wandering alone in forested areas.

Before long, mom was telling another story that her mother had told her that she believed to be factual. According to grandma’s story, her youthful son stumbled upon a trickster known as the “La Diablesse”. La Diablesse was a beautiful woman who appeared in the guise of an enchanting temptress but had one leg that ended in a hoof like a horse. She led men astray, leading them into dark, tangled paths from which they could never escape. With a mischievous glint in her eyes, La Diablesse beckoned the young lad closer to her. But the young lad, guided by the wisdom he had gained from his mother’s stories recognized the danger. He bravely turned away, resisting the seductive lure of the deceptive spirit. To break the spell of La Diablesse, one must turn their clothing inside out and walk home backward, away from the area she was spotted in. I remember walking home backwards many a time out of fear of being followed by some “she demon”. It was not a pleasant walk.

As mom delved deeper into the folklore story list, she talked about her encounter with the “Douens”. “Douens” are mischievous spirits of children who died before being baptized. Their tiny feet pointed backward, and they wore wide-brimmed straw hats to hide their faces. Douens were known to play tricks on those who wandered into their domain, luring them into an endless chase through the forest. She explained that there was an entire family who lived as outcasts because all of the children were born with deformities in their legs. Because of this, the community believed them to be “douens” and excluded them from the town. They lived near the river as it was their only source of food. In actuality, the children had most likely contracted polio, causing their deformity. I guess the lack of education played a significant role in their ostracization. People often fear what they don’t understand.

Folklore is more than just captivating stories; it is a vibrant tapestry woven into the very fabric of Trinbago culture. It represents the collective wisdom, beliefs, and experiences of generations past. It also serves as a bridge between the past and the present, connecting us to our ancestors and their enduring legacy. It nurtures a sense of belonging and identity, reminding us of the unique traditions and values that shape our community. Through folklore, we learned about resilience, respect for nature, the power of storytelling, and the consequences of human actions.

Sure enough, I remain terrified!!!!

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.

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