Is it just me or do all Caribbean ghosts seem to suffer from OCD? One of the common symptoms of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the need to count – whether it be fingers, or cars that drive by, or tiles that we walk on, or the number of old women that we see in a day. (I confess that these very obsessions force me to occasionally confront the fact that I might not be completely normal.) But Caribbean ghosts seem to also suffer, and in fact be debilitated, by this need to count.
Think about it: in order to catch an Old Higue, that vampire figure from Guyana or Jamaica who comes in at night to suck the blood of babies, you are supposed to leave a heap of rice grains near the crib of the child. The Old Higue will be distracted from the baby and feel an overwhelming need to count each rice grain. If she loses count, she will start all over again, and so it will go until the morning catches her still huddled over the grains of rice. The community will find her then and give her a proper beating.
To catch a Soucouyant – the Trinidadian version of the same ghost – the trick is very much the same, to distract her with rice grains or with salt.
In Jamaica to prevent a duppy or ghost from following you home, you must throw salt behind you. The theory is this – that the duppy will become obsessed with the grains of salt and will leave you alone in order to count each crystal. By the time the duppy is done, you would have made your way home safely.
Another way to protect sleeping children from duppies or jumbies is to leave a bible open on a bedside table. You might think this was the holy power of the scriptures acting as a charm against malevolent ghosts – but no. It is because the duppy will feel the urge to count each word, from cover to cover. By the time morning comes, the poor duppy would surely only have reached to the Book of Isaiah – not even the New Testament to offer him a bit of salvation. Poor Duppy – if only he had the bible on kindle or as a Word Document on his computer he could get do a word count easily and come up with the figure that I have come up with: 823,175. This trick of the open book is also supposed to work with dictionaries.
And I also wonder what it means that my image of the ‘duppy conqueror’ or the ‘mother woman’ who has a special ability to chase or catch ghosts, is a person, slightly deranged who walks around mumbling an incantation of numbers. She might go around saying “One plus one plus one” or “Fifty and fifty”. And what does it mean that to delve in Jamaica’s supernatural world is called ‘higher science’?
Strange when you think about it – the world of the supernatural, ordered not by the rules of metaphysics, but by the rules of mathematics.