Look Mama I see a Jumbie
No tale from Trinidad would ever be complete without the exploration of the weird and wicked world of Trinidad folklore and the visitations by the Soucouyant, Douens, jumbie or la diablesse. You are not a Trinidadian, until you encounter this surreal world.
As the story unfolds it will challenge your belief, as for some of us, that other world is very close and for others denial and sheer disbelief prevail. My parents would from time from time have to leave Trinidad and it was then we four kids would have to stay with my father’s brother, Uncle Herman and his wife Aunt Nellie.
The four in my family, met the four cousins and pandemonium reigned. Their house was more like a compound, a main house with a courtyard of other smaller interconnected houses. The staff stayed in some of the houses. No respectable Trinidad upper middle class family was without a stable of cooks, ironers, grounds keepers and chauffeurs. Some staff doubled up on duties but still staff was always around and with eight screaming kids you needed help.
My uncle had a knack for scaring us. Naturally we did not know it was our uncle and a couple of his staff who traumatized us. We learned this years later. We were aware of haunted houses and Jumbies and Jab-jabs. Trinidad Carnival had celebrated these folk lore characters via its costumes and we were raised on some spectacular ghost stories.
Uncle Herman tried to get us to bed and we refused. That was when the Jumbies and Jab- jabs would arrive. Our bedrooms faced into an inner court yard garden. It was thick with trees and hanging baskets and tropical plants. By eight o’clock it was pitch dark and the street lamps cast more shadows than they illuminated. It was perfect for the jumbie show to begin.
Suddenly there was a loud thud against our bedroom windows, both bedrooms and all the kids started to scream. Another thud and we fearfully peaked out the window to see a red stained face or what could have been a face. There were red streaks on the window and devil pitch forks were raised.
The screaming and tears of the young girls, my sisters and cousins now seemed funny but back then it was horrible. As they lay huddled and cowering in their beds, the boys went under the beds or into the closets. My uncle and aunt finally arrived to calm us and sure enough that scare sent us to bed.
In today’s mores this macabre bed time antic would be seen as a cause for some emotional or psychiatric care later in life. But that was then, in Trinidad circa 1968 and maybe these practices are still happening, in 2016 . I know,I did something very similar to my own kids, who were babes, on Halloween thirty years later and in Canada.
I would have thought that all this was just make believe except in Trinidad that spiritual realm was always in play and very real. Trinidad may be a Catholic country, or of Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh and Allah. But there was the world of demons, devils, witchcraft, Obeah and Santorini. This devilish world was real to many, as curses were placed on certain families based on their wealth or their wickedness. A Vatican priest on a visit to Trinidad called it the devil’s playground.
Peter Minshall the grand-master of the theater that is Trinidad Carnival often used the sinister aspects of Trinidad’s folklore as themes in his costumes. The Macabre was elevated into a world befitting the court of Louis the 14th,France’s sun king. Taking the myth, the dark into outrageous splendor worthy of Hades itself.
In Trinidad Carnival, the characters were either good, bad, light or dark. The light characters were Clowns, Pierrot Fancy Sailors , fairies and the ilk. The dark characters the Bat, the Midnight Robber, Jab Molassi, and Blue devils. Minshall, the Mas Man explored both good and bad characters in his carnival bands.
That archetypal world of good and evil lay side by side and with a culture that worshiped gods, demigods and creatures of the dark, a foundation was laid for the bizarre to occur.
Our servants told us, horror stories and our parents would talk in hushed tones of some weird illness or misfortune that would fall upon their affluent friends and family. Curses were real and had the ability to manifest in Trinidad. One such event that created a sense of fear and awe was an appearance via Ouija which my older cousins were playing with, one lazy Sunday afternoon.
The cliffs of San Fernando, Trinidad were a natural playground for us kids. When the matriarch of the family, Granny, called us to Sunday luncheon all 4 aunts descended on the grandparents home with their husbands and the grandchildren. Combine that with the other cousins of cousins from the north and south and you had 60 people for lunch.
Off to the hills and cliffs we went to play. There was a tree close to the edge of this 600 foot cliff that other hooligans had tied a tire with a rope and as you spun out, for one brief moment you were suspended over the 600 foot drop. It was a death defying leap of foolishness. One day, it snapped and it took cousin Keith to his death.
It was only 3 weeks later that we were visiting Keith’s parents that the older kids were playing with the Ouija. They contacted a spirit and that spirit spelt out Keith’s name.His entire name first and last.
I only remember the screaming and the yelling which ensued and the absolute fear that gripped the family. I have never played with the Ouija but that is how close the spirit world is in Trinidad.
In my teens I witnessed strange events that defied logic or explanation. My sport was swimming and I had to be up at 4.30 am every morning to get ready to swim my 6 miles per day. I lived across from a Catholic church and on that morning I saw something that had me, pinching myself to ensure I was awake.
A La Diabesse, a woman dressed in what I perceived as clothes only seen in pictures or paintings from the late 18th or early 19th century was dancing outside the church and she was spinning fire in her hands. Time stood still as I watched this feat. My ride came and I was regaling my friends with this bizarre tale.
As time passed, I became aware that something in me was different, I could see things, feel things that were not of this time and space. I told my mother and she shared that we have had gypsies in the family from Portugal and they had the gifts of fore-sight.
My earliest memory of what the fuck is this shit was on a visit to Chacachacare. Chacachacare was a leper colony in the 1800’s. It was abandoned but people came to visit as it was haunted. My father and his cronies wanted to go and check it out. We docked at the abandoned jetty, and they all got out. As they reached for me, I screamed and pulled away, shaking like a leaf. My father alarmed got back to carry me and I pulled away, again screaming and pointing , ” Dad no , no , no there is man standing there and his face, is nasty!”
No one saw the man, but I and I never went ashore. The image haunted me and years later confirmation came via Ghost Hunters International who went to Chacachacare to investigate the phenomenon. In the episode you can clearly hear GET OUT, from a disembodied voice.
Chacachacare’s history, goes back to another famous Maderian, Christopher Columbus who discovered the island in 1498. In the 1800’s, Chacachacare was a health spa retreat for Trinidadians. Dominican nuns in 1880, built St. Catherine’s Church, a school, and a convent on the island. In 1896, a a still functioning lighthouse once the highest lighthouse in the world was built.It was in the nuns house the apparitions manifested.
The Trinidad Coast Guard acquired the estate for living quarters and administrative offices until the late 1990’s, but abandoned it six months later due to its haunted reputation.The nun who committed suicide in the chapel did not welcome their intrusion .
My ten year old self knew all this, in a flash. The world as you know it in Trinidad, bends and arcs in ways where the paranormal, supernatural and the plain hoodoo connect.
This was one gift I did not want, but it drove me to learn more of what a spiritual life could be. Should I enter the priesthood or devote myself to a deeper spiritual world. Maybe become a Buddhist monk and just spend time chanting. I did see things and forecasted events that later came through. Family members passing – I would forecast it, months before it happened to the day I said it would occur. Pregnancies that would arrive before the people involved got together. Sudden changes in lives and dramatic events. I moved to Canada and my life was different. The minute I arrived back in Trinidad – I sniffed the air and this vision appeared – Guns, violence bloodshed. An uprising a coalition of death was about to descend on this relatively peaceful land.
I had lived through the years of Black Power and we the family to run and hide when our home was surrounded and Molotov cocktails were being tossed onto our walls. But this vision of an uprising, seen in August 1988 which would manifest in July 1990 came out of the blue. I told my family.
My aunt, says, “Boy what wrong with you? You know these damn people too lazy to up rise about anything and these Trini people too stupid. Yuh have to care about your life and these people- they don’t care.”It does not matter what class your family is, some of them speak rank Trini.
On July 27th 1990, I watched the news of the Trinidad upraising and I phoned my aunt. “I told you so!” She, said “Yes, boy and tell me more, they killing people right, left and center.”
The Jamaat Al Muslimeen coup was an attempt to overthrow the government of Trinidad and Tobago. It was enough that I had foreseen it and Trinidad at that time was a lifetime away. I spoke with my sister. “Lord, boy, we watching Panorama and these men with guns, appear and take over the studio, with the PM. I told Arthur, (her husband) come quick, a new TTT show on. It looks real good.” The coup was seen as not real, until it was real.
I was dealing with so much at the time. A new baby girl arrived one month later. My second daughter and my marriage was failing. I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia far enough away from my now ex-wife in Toronto. I always put distance between me and the shit that was in my life.
In Vancouver, I ran into weird trouble. I had to stay at a friend’s house as my flat was being renovated. I was there for 2 days and I realized the place was a little too funky for me. There was stuff going on, movements in parts of the room that were empty and strange noises. On Saturday morning my girlfriend, Roz, phones me.With the strangest of messages. “Look, Cristoph, you better run for your life, you are in great danger.” I said, “What are you talking about.” I was lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling and I saw this giant eye.
The eyes, said, “Good morning, Big Boy” I started to tell Roz what I seen and then suddenly I was yelling. “What the fuck, what the fuck ‘I grabbed the phone that had fallen and screamed “OMG, its attacking me.” I dropped the phone again as I was thrown against the wall. I fell to the floor, screaming. “Come get me, hurry” I somehow got dressed and ran for my life”
It took a team of my friends to come back in and get my stuff, days later. I was bruised from this encounter with a poltergeist. Weeks after I did research to find out that this character Victorian home once was a brothel and many a drug addict had died from overdoses. So the Trinidad hoodoo was very alive in me and the tales will continue. I could never watch American Horror the TV series and I could not as a fledgling actor portray any being that was evil.
The tales of such horror followed me to Fatima Portugal. I had through my film work earned enough money to fly to Portugal for New Year’s 2000 – 2001. I stayed in the castelo de ourem.
Castelo de Ourem is a haunted castle, built in the 12th century, according to Portuguese history. And on the 29th of December I was awoken by – the sound of the roof tearing off- It had not – but Visions are visions and the next thing I saw – was this large demonic form towering into the sky – flames shooting everywhere. I jumped out of bed and ran to get Carlos, who had placed me, in the rooms, in the Castelo de Ourem. Carlos talked about the metaphysical life of Fatima and as he talked I wrote. After he finished, I showed him what I had written. It outlined a strange history of witchcraft in the area and referenced a book written by a priest on the black mass in the 16th century, readily available today in the town of Fatima.. I wanted to leave. I was on a charter flight and I had to wait until January 3rd. 2001 to depart. When asked what did it , this vision mean? I responded, “Events that are about to take place will change the way we do life or see life, forever” I don’t understand why people are jumping to their deaths.” To punctuate the incredible, upon my arrival back in Vancouver, my agent sent me on audition. I was to play a CGI character set in the fictional country of OUREM.
My daughter Alana was supposed to come to stay with me in Vancouver for the summer, but my older daughter Lauren came instead. The summer sped by and as Lauren was getting ready to leave, my ex-wife called to say Alana was missing. I quickly dumped my Vancouver life and hit the road for Toronto. I drove like a bat out of hell. The day I left was September 7th 2001. As I drove across the US, the forests were burning and a full moon rose. The flames superimposed themselves on the moon. I gasped as that image included people falling to their death.
It was a 4 day trip and I arrived in Toronto at 9.30 am on September 11th. I got out of the car to see the news of the Twin Towers falling and people jumping to their death. The US -Canadian border was shut behind me and now the Images were of the Fatima vision.
Maybe Trinidad is responsible for all of this. I had seen and experienced that world and it never left me. The elemental life of Trinidad culturally rich in many ways had imprinted not only on my psyche but it seems into my soul.
So deep is my connection to Ourem that my works of Art, Paintings, jewelry, books and clothing are on display in the Relic Museum in Ourem and Fatima. It seems that being a Trinidadian and having these “trini-experiences” which border on the occult lead to gifts of artistic expression.In the year 2000, I buried my manuscripts for my movies, short-stories and jewelry in the cemetery on the castelo grounds. Why, to bury my work so that it could take seed in the world. Soon after I was living all over the world, teaching, writing, acting and now my work is being showcased in The Relic Museum in Ourem. Believe it or Not!
As I end this tall tale, I have to add an incredible coincidence. I painted a tribute to Basquiat and you will see definite similarities to Peter Minshall, costumes, unbeknownst to me. But I say its not Minshall, its TRINIDAD we pay homage to.
Cristoph De Caermichael
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