Outdoor life in the Caribbean is a dream come true. A walk at night is especially welcoming after the heat of the day is gone and the temperature plunges eight degrees to a balmy 77 degrees.
But night is also a time when ghosts lurk in the shadows. Jamaican ghosts are called duppies, and nightime in Jamaica is duppy time.
ROLLING CALF DUPPY STORY
There once was a Mom and her children who were walking home from their cousins’ house. It was a country road and the kids were gathering sticks as they walked, so it took awhile. Night suddenly came upon them. Darkness, the great motivator, caused the children to stop picking up sticks and to pick up their pace instead. As they approached the railway line, they raised up their hands to wave at the gatehouse watchman. But then they remembered that he died just a few week before. They felt sad, he was a friendly man.
They had only just passed the gatehouse when they heard rattling chains.
“Run!” cried the mother. And they did. They didn’t have to be told twice.
The rattling got louder and the ground behind felt like it was shaking. The kids turned to look, screamed, and ran faster. They had only heard the stories, they had never seen a Rolling Calf.
It was hot on their heels, and I mean literally. The cow was twice the size of any cow in Jamaica. Its eyes were burning red and flames flared from its nostrils. Although it was wrapped in chains, it still gained on them.
“Quick,” cried their mother, “drop those sticks on the ground!”
The children did exactly as their mother said. One by one they dropped the sticks. And the Rolling Calf stopped to count them.
Afflicted with supernatural OCD, it is said that duppies are compelled to count objects. When the creature finished counting, the family was almost home.
Safe in their kitchen, the oldest daughter cried, “Wait! The man at the crossing! Wasn’t he a butcher?”
Everyone shuddered. It was true. The man was a butcher, and it is the butcher who is likely to come back as a Rolling Calf. The family’s harmless greeting was returned, in spades.
When they woke up the next day, there was donkey out in the yard wearing a chain around its neck.
But that wasn’t what chased them. No way.
OTHER ROLLING CALF LORE
Stories like this have been told in Jamaica, but the Rolling Calf is not confined to that island. In Barbados, a similar duppy is the Steel Donkey. And in the Cayman Islands, the Rolling Calf haunts the night. But so does the May Cow.
Cayman Brac (one of the three Cayman Islands) is where the May Cow legend is strong. My friend Lorna Bush remembers hearing about the May Cow when she was growing up. Everyone on the Brac was terrified of running into the May Cow.
But thankfully the May Cow only comes out to torture people in May.
Still, one of Lorna’s neighbors had a special grove of mangoes, and the May Cow was often hanging around there. Was it protecting the grove? Or did the produce farmer produce the tale way to keep people from raiding the grove?
Anything is possible.
I only tellin yu what I hear,
So don’t go an’ say I say. – Paul Keens-Douglas
What beliefs do you have in your culture about creatures or other scary things that show up in the dark?
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.
Keens-Douglas, Paul. Jumbie, Duppy, and’ Spirit, in Talk that Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling, Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes, eds.1989, Simon and Schuster.
Tanna, Laura (1984). Jamaican Folk Tale and Oral Histories. Institue of Jamaca Publications Limited.
PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons