Superstitions permeate many aspects of Jamaican life, with cultural influence from Africa. Most of these beliefs are born out of fear of the unknown; fear of what happens after death and how it can affect the living. And Jamaicans generally fear the wrath of the spirit, colloquially in Jamaica as the “duppy”.
Some say the duppy rises on the third day after the burial and returns to the house to wander around his/her possessions, finally leaving on the ninth night. Relatives and friends gather at the house of the dead to welcome his return and send him back to the grave. Often cause for celebration, “nine-nights” are held and on the ninth night; an all-night vigil is sometimes held.
Omens of death include: the unusual crying of animals, birds or insects; the crowing of a cock inside the house. The sudden occurrence and abrupt end of a rain shower on a clear day and a loud knock on the door or roof for no apparent reason. If you add to a house or cut down an old tree, you must kill a goat or a chicken and shed the blood to prevent the death of someone in the house.
To rid the house of the ghost of the dead person, you can also burn rosemary and scatter rice. Place 10 coffee beans in the ‘dead’ room and no duppies can enter – they can only count to nine. The husband or wife of the deceased must put on a piece of black cloth with a white cross made of chalk. This is to be worn for the next four to five months.
If you leave a wake, simply touch a person who is to leave with you – do not announce it – so that the duppy does not follow you home. You should also walk backwards and turn around three times since duppies walk in a straight line.
Duppies can take on the shape of humans or animals and are also able to change themselves into different forms. They can talk, laugh, sing, cook, smoke, ride horses and generally do anything a human can. If a duppy is dressed in black, he is friendly. If he is dressed in white, he is dangerous.
As generations come and go one wonders if this heritage of Jamaica will vanish with changing times. Superstition or not, the countless symbolisms and stories that are a part of this heritage give the Jamaican way of life meaning and an identity. In another 100 years when tbe face of Jamaica will undoubtedly change, our heritage will stand untouched and win the test of time.
We are who we are, our ancestors arrived on this island not by choice but by necessity and brought with them rituals and customs that were planted with deep roots. Jamaicans may change their face, the color of their skin, their technology and even their hair, but Jamaicans we will always be, anchored by those roots planted centuries ago by our African forefathers.
A people’s relationship with their heritage is the same as a child to its mother and roots to a tree.