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Jamaican Ghosts - The Duppy

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Halloween is a major American holiday and a huge part of American culture. To celebrate Halloween this year, the team at Anticipation wants to share some information about traditional Jamaican folklore. This lore has been an integral part of Jamaican culture for centuries. While Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in Jamaica, Jamaican folklore contains many myths similar to Anglo-American ghost stories, such as the duppy. Duppies are the spirits of the dead who walk the earth, often as malevolent and dangerous forces. An enormous amount of lore surrounds the particular nature of duppies including how to keep them from rising, various ways to evade them, and details about several particularly nasty types.

What are Duppies?

According to Jamaican lore, people have two souls: a spiritual, good soul planted by God, and an earthly, secular soul.[1] Upon death, the person’s spiritual soul leaves this world to await judgment, while the earthy soul remains in the body for three (3) days. After three (3) days pass, the earthy soul will rise out of the grave in a cloud of smoke and will become a duppy unless certain precautions are taken to “plant down” the duppy. A bush buried upside down with its roots exposed in the grave can stop a duppy from rising.[2] Additionally, a shovelful of parched peas can be thrown on the coffin which, provided that they do not sprout, will suffice to keep the duppy trapped inside.[3] The branch of a silk cotton tree can also be placed on top of the coffin before it is buried to keep the duppy inside.[4]

The word “duppy” is thought to have originated in Africa. The concept of the omnipotent duppy is reminiscent of the African belief that the ancestors of the living are omnipresent, watching to ensure that the living adhere to traditional customs.[5]

According to lore, duppies behave very similarly to the living. They live around us, often without our knowing. They can talk, sing, laugh, eat, smoke, and whistle and are said to even perform similar activities to that of the living, such as attending church or going to the market.[6] They often congregate in the branches or roots of silk cotton trees[7]. Duppies can take many forms, including that of the deceased person, various animals or even shadows. Usually, duppies take the form of humanoid creatures.[8]

Silk Cotton Tree

Duppies often are a threatening presence in Jamaican lore. Duppies can hurt or kill people, set fires, and steal things. People can ask duppies to harm others by mixing sod from a grave with rum and rice, leaving it at the roots of a silk cotton tree overnight and returning the next evening to tell the duppy what to do. Sometimes, people will plan to turn into a duppy so that they can exact their revenge on their enemies after their death. Obeah-men, practitioners of an allegedly evil kind of magic called Obeah, can control duppies and often use them to hurt others.[9] Obeah-men can set duppies on people using sod from the duppy’s grave or shavings from the duppy’s coffin.[10] Obeah-men can catch duppies in bottles, which may be kept until they set the duppy upon someone[11]. They can also be paid by laypeople to expel or create duppies.

An attacking duppy can be stopped by throwing peas, rice or sand to the ground because the duppy is compelled to count the grains. Additionally, certain herbs in teas are thought to repel duppies. Duppies can be expelled from houses by burning cow dung mixed with pieces of horn and hoof.[12]

There are several recurring types of malicious duppies in Jamaican folklore. These duppies include the Rollin’ Calf, the three-foot horse, the whooping boy, the Bubbly Susan, and the Sea Mahmy.

Graveyard in Newcastle, Kingston

The Rollin’ Calf

The Rollin’ Calf is a type malicious duppy. The soul of a person too wicked for hell or the soul of a butcher may turn into Rollin’ Calf after it rises from the grave.[13] The word “rollin” means “roaring” as opposed to “roaming.”[14] These duppies are said to resemble calves and have three legs and fiery eyes. A long chain hangs from around their neck and drags along the ground. They prowl at night, chasing people and killing them by breathing hot air or fire on them.[15]

According to myth, there are several ways to escape a Rollin’ Calf. They are afraid of the moon and can be evaded by staying in the moonlight. However, they are not afraid of the moon when it is directly overhead, so one must also stay out from under the moon[16] Like all duppies, Rollin’ Calves also have the compulsion to count. If rice or sticks are dropped in front the calf, it will have to stop to count, allowing the victim to escape.[17] Additionally, if one “cuts ten (10),” or makes the sign of the cross ten (10) times, in front of it, it will be compelled to run in a circle ten (10) times, giving its victim time to escape. [18]

The Rollin' Calf

The Three-Foot Horse

The three-foot horse is a kind of duppy which takes the shape of a horse with three legs. This duppy can run faster than a horse and also kills its victims by blowing hot air on them. It can be evaded by climbing a tree.[19] Additionally, the three-foot horse is said to never attack in the dark, so it can also be avoided by staying out of the moonlight.[20]

The Whooping Boy

The whooping boy is another type of duppy which takes the shape of a boy with long hair and red eyes.[21] This type of duppy also comes out at night and kills people by breathing hot air on them. The whooping boy is named for the wild whooping sounds he cries while wandering at night. It is said that he may ride the three-foot horse and carries a whip.[22] The whooping boy is most dangerous in the woods and can be found there dancing on twigs.[23]

Bubbly Susan

The Bubbly Susan, sometimes referred to as the “long-bubbly Susan,” is widely regarded as a very grotesque duppy.[24] This type of duppy takes the form of a very tall women with large breasts that are said to reach the ground. She throws her large breasts over her shoulders when she chases her victims, blowing hot air on them and killing them.[25] The Bubbly Susan can be kept away from houses by writing the roman numeral X (10) on the door in chalk.[26]

The Sea Mahmy

The Sea Mahmy is an unusual type of duppy. She resembles the mermaid of English folklore and is surprisingly benevolent in comparison to other duppies. The Sea Mahmy may live in various bodies of water or rivers. They seem to care more for water sporting or combing their hair than hunting humans.[27]

Watch Out for Duppies!

The Jamaican concept of the duppy is fascinating and often terrifying. Imagine the fear you might feel if you walked alone on dark and empty Jamaican roads and remembered these stories of malicious duppies! These stories are certainly reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon ghost stories, perfect for sharing during Halloween. If you are celebrating Halloween this year, we hope you have a fun-filled, safe, and spooky holiday! Be sure to watch out for duppies during your next stay with us at Anticipation!

A dark country road, where one may encounter a duppy

Nota Bene: It is important to remember that cultural generalizations, as found in this discussion of Jamaican folklore, are not representative of individuals within a given culture. Anticipation is not attempting to suggest all that persons of Jamaican decent believe the previously discussed folklore. Further, it is important to note that many of the historical sources cited here contain racially insensitive material which was considered normal and non-offensive at the time of publication. Anticipation does not endorse the racially offensive terms and sentiments used in these historical sources. We are using these sources simply for their otherwise accurate accounts of Jamaican folklore. Anticipation would like to apologize for any unintended offense our readers may have taken due to this post.



[1] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[2] "Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica." Folklore 15.1 (1904): 87-94. Web.

[3] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[4] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[5] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[6] "Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica." Folklore 15.1 (1904): 87-94. Web.

[7] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[8] Leach, MacEdward. “Jamaican Duppy Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, 74.293 (1961): 207-215. Web.

[9] "Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica." Folklore 15.1 (1904): 87-94. Web.

[10] Leach, MacEdward.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] "Folklore."

[21] Leach, MacEdward.

[22] Ibid.

[23] "Folklore"

[24] Ibid.

[25] Leach, MacEdward.

[26] "Folklore".

[27] Leach, MacEdward.


Rollin’ Calf

Silk Cotton Tree

Graves at Newcastle, Kingston

Dark country road at night

#Culture #Jamaica #Duppies #Folklore #Halloween #TheRollinCalf

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