Jumbie deh bout
June 18, 2004
IT was full moon on a tropical night. The moonlight caused the buildings to glisten and cast eerie shadows. The place was quiet and a cool breeze fanned the coastline.
This was just the sort of night to sit outside with the family, to enjoy the cool night and to do what we used to do long time ago. Full moon night is the right time to talk about jumbie story.
The older folks will know what I am talking about. They will recall the nights when their fathers and mothers used to relate to them tales from the afterworld, about encounters with spirits of the dead who like to roam the villages at nights.
Yes, full moon announced the time to sit with the children and tell jumbie stories. Not like these days when full moon or no full moon, everyone is sitting in his or her living rooms, Kleenex at hand, watching Oprah.
So on the last full moon, I decided to invite a few neighbours over to sit in my yard with only the sky for a roof and rekindle the spirit of folklore. It was time to pull out a few jumbie stories from my memory. Everyone agreed to sit and listen to the jumbie stories.
Before Peeping Tom could begin, I looked around to make sure we were not being observed. As I opened my mouth to begin, I thought I heard a rusting in the trees. One of my guests pounced on my delay and said he wanted to say something before he forgot. We all agreed for him to take first shot.
He began: One time, two men were walking home after a party and decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery. As they were proceeding through the dark burial ground, they heard a faint but distinct tap-tap-tapping noise coming from where the tombs were. Trembling with fear, they found an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at one of the headstones.
“Holy cow, Mister,” one of them said after catching his breath, “You scared us half to death, we thought you were a ghost! What are you doing working here so late at night?”
“Those fools!” the old man grumbled. “They misspelled my name!”
Everyone laughed. But I was disappointed. That was no jumbie story. That was not the scary tales that we used to listen to in the old days. That was no jumbie story like the ones that caused all the children to wet their beds because of fear of going to the outhouse in the dark. That was no jumbie story like the ones which sounded real and which were passed on in folklore from generation to generation.
That was a joke, which would hardly cause the hairs on your hand to stand on end. Long ago, jumbie story used to cause many a strapping man to tremble in his boots at the thought of having to pass by a cemetery. They had some men who would prefer to walk miles rather than taking a short cut, which passed through a burial ground.
Nowadays, there is no fear of jumbie and no respect for the dead. The things that does happen pun tombstones would make you cry. These days, man and woman making out in burial ground. In fact, man and man does make out in burial ground. They even have people living in burial ground these days. Long time, that would never happen.
Long time children used to frighten to point at a grave for fear that their fingers would rotten off. These days the children are doing more than pointing. No wonder we have so many problems.
Folklore is dying. How many of the younger generation have ever had the experience of sitting on their stairways with their parents and listen to jumbie story. Folklore is surely dying, slowly becoming a victim of television. Rather than preserving the folk culture of jumbie stories, we are instead watching ‘Tales from the Crypt’ on Home Box Office. Where families used to interact at nights, they now huddle in front of the TV to watch the nightly soaps, and stress themselves out with the talk show menu of politicians cussing each other out.
Jumbie story in the backyard is not even a country thing these days. For with the crime wave even rural folks are fearful of sitting in their yards and telling a good story to their friends and neighbours. Our homes have become prisons, where interaction is mostly in front of the television. This is robbing us of sharing and spreading the rich tradition of folklore that I should tell you was participated in by people of all races.
Do you believe in jumbies? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in spirits? . I know many persons who drive on the East Coast highway late at nights would see figures dressed in white crossing the road. I know of many a watchman who would tell you that they would see a woman with child in hand walking down the road and when they looked, the women had no feet. I know of many persons who claimed that at one time or the other they met persons and had conversations with these persons who would disappear in thin air, just as quickly as they came.
Guyana has jumbies and they are not only to be seen near the cemeteries. In Guyana, spirit does walk, especially when there is full moon and they stray all over the place.
The younger generation may laugh. They will say that we gat phantom not spirit. But ketch them on windy, tropical night, under a tree when the moon is full and tell them a jumbie story.
Then ask them to go down the road and buy a packet of cigarettes. Bet they want company fuh walk with. Jumbie deh bout.