Jamaican Folklore


This week I went to PDM (Project Design and Management) conference with the secretary of my farm group.  I have traveled this route several times but always on public transit.  It is a beautiful route of travel.  First you go from the North Coast over the mountains and down towards the South Coast.  We drove this time and she told me some interesting folklore about the route we traveled.

First off, no matter how religious some Jamaicans are they do believe in duppies.  Duppies are what we might call a ghost or a spirit.  Typically they are up to mischief.  The travel route is amazingly beautiful.  First you leave Ocho Rios and head through Fern Gully.  This is a windy twisty road that big rigs are not allowed on because they often breakdown and people have been in serious if not deadly accidents due to this.  This beautiful windy road is built right through a forest.  The canopy is so thick that it looks like nightfall during the middle of the day in sections.

Image thanks to ochoriosfuntours.com
Image thanks to ochoriosfuntours.com
The mountainous sections are often windy narrow roads that feel like you will just slide off of and if you do not take the by-pass you can see a bird’s-eye view of the bauxite mining.  Yes they mine the bauxite and leave huge holes all over the island.  Sadly there is a toxic sludge that is left behind so the land is no good for any future use.  Once you cross the mountains and head down you end up following the river.  This section is called Bog Walk Gorge and it is gorgeous as well. Here is where the folklore unfolds.

As we get to the section of the river where we cross it on a single lane rickety bridge, referred to as flat bridge, my counterpart reached over and undid my seatbelt and told me to roll my window down, even though it was raining.  I was very confused by this.  She informed me ever since she was a child her mother always insisted when they crossed this bridge that all seatbelts are off and windows are down in case the car falls into the water you can just swim out.  If the window is up you cannot get out and the belt will cause panic.  “Uhh ok.  but why is this bridge unsafe?”  Well it is not the best design but some Jamaicans believe that the duppies will push the car into the river if they are up to mischief.  “Wait, What?”

image thanks to jamaicaobserver.com
image thanks to jamaicaobserver.com
After we cross the bridge the windows go up and the belts go back on and she explains that a long time ago there was a very rich slave owner.  He had a good amount of gold and he did not want anyone else to have it.  So he had it melted down into a table and put the table on a cart and transported along that route.  The table was so heavy that it caused the cart to tip and drag all the slaves down the gorge into the river.  On certain days at around noon time this table surfaces in the river.  Another man saw this and demanded the slaves get this table and bring it to him.

Several attempts were made and finally he demanded that they rope the table and drag it up the gorge.  Sadly many slaves died that day since they were not allowed to let go of the ropes when the table went back down under the water.  This is the beauty and the tragedy of a verbal history.  Too many tales with too many voices in them.  Whatever the true story is, the Jamaicans believe that the duppies are in the river and they will randomly come to pull vehicles into the river and drown you.

This is a dangerous stretch of road and the bridge has been modernized by adding lights at both sides to prevent both lanes of traffic from traveling on the bridge at the same time.  Many Jamaicans will never travel across the bridge and there have been numerous accidents and deaths over the years.  At least once a year this bridge is closed due to flooding and on Good Friday it is believed that all the duppies who lost their life to the river are loose along the river.

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Farther from the bridge is what Jamaicans will call the wonder of Jamaica.  There is a section of the hillside opposite the road that the water has carved out that looks very much like female genitalia.  This is called the pum pum rock. Apparently across the river on the road side was a rock structure that looked like a penis.  It was eventually removed to prevent collisions, it had been the cause of many.  Folklore tells that the penis rock when it was released from the mountainside slide down into the pum pum rock.  Jamaicans believe this is the natural course of things.

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9 thoughts on “Jamaican Folklore

  1. Interesting post, but don’t compare all Jamaicans to a suspicious handful that you met.

    Many Jamaicans do not believe in ghosts or duppies. It’s usually people from rural Jamaica that believe that.

    I have traveled across Flat Bridge numerous times in college and again as an adult. I was there just this July not once, but twice, and I have never seen any rituals of unbuckling seat belts or heard anyone say a ghost will pull us over there. Never heard that story about a gold table either, but we all heard that the bridge itself was built with slave labour. Plausible tale considering that this was a slave colony.

    But yes, use the terms “Jamaicans say” and “Jamaicans do” sparingly. I know very few Jamaicans like the ones you’ve described. I am a Jamaican, in case you didn’t guess it. Born and raised. Lived there for 25 years. I just turned 26 last month.

    Hope you had a good time anyway and that the duppies didn’t scare you too much.

    • You are right and I should not use generalizations. I tried to fix this to show that it is not every Jamaican. I was so into the story I did not consider how it sounded to a Jamaican who does not see things this way. My Apologies, and thank you for your insight,

      • Well for a good story generalizations can be fun. We all do it! But I think we expect a little more authenticity for the written word so it’s a good thing to be more objective.

        How long have you been in Jamaica?

      • Haha. Nice. You’ll know them better but the culture varies from place to place so it really depends on where you go. I had a Peace Corps friend who learned Creole inside out in about a year and knew the culture like the back of his hand. But I wouldnt say that’s normal.

      • Haha. Well try visiting Montego Bay. That’s the better of the only two cities on the island. Kingston has no beaches and I think the people there are less used to interacting with foreigners because it’s so segregated.

        And if you love water sports like snorkeling, don’t miss out on Negril. 🙂

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