Jumbie in Town – searching for the spirits of Trinidad

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Have you been bitten by a soucouyant? Did you meet a largahoo while coming home late one night? Does Papa Bois spoil your shot every time you go hunting in the forest?

Whether or not you have narrowly escaped being fatally seduced by La Diablesse, with her one cloven hoof and alluring perfume, David Kalloo’s latest book, Jumbie in Town, is sure to keep you amused. The folklore of Trinidad is rich and mysterious and David is our knowledgeable guide to the creatures of the night that lurk in old houses or wait for their next victim to cross a bridge.

David’s childhood fascination with these exotic spirits led him to search them out on jumbie-hunting expeditions, resulting in plenty of real-life scrapes but – perhaps fortunately – rather less luck in tracking down douens or getting blood from a silk cotton tree. This wannabe David Attenborough of the inexplicable ventured out into the forest, armed only with his trusty penknife (surely no match for a werewolfish largahoo) and determined to set eyes on at least one of these creatures. Soaked by rain, maddened by mosquitoes and occasionally distracted by the strange antics of an Indian girl who’d claimed to have been bitten by the dreaded soucouyant, you have to admire his persistence as he searched for Trinidad’s cryptozoological wildlife.

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The fact that he survived to tell these tales (he claims they’re all true) gives you a clue to his success or otherwise. It seems you have to be either blind drunk or teetering on the edge of disaster to be sure of meeting the supernatural. But as well as making for a very entertaining read, Jumbie in Town also beautifully evokes an almost-vanished way of life in which the supernatural was as real as the world of men. It was a world of grandparents’ stories told by the light of a kerosene lamp, of pitch-black night-times unrelieved by street lamps, of collecting firewood for the chulha

While unquestioning belief in folklore may have evaporated like the morning mist, David reminds us that the characters live on in popular culture, from YouTube to Carnival. So you never know, you might just meet a jumbie in town one day. Just make sure you have your penknife in your pocket…

  • Jumbie in Town, by David Kalloo, self-published, ISBN 979 8 529425 07 7
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