Folklore exists in many cultures throughout the world. Folklore in the form of tales, myths and legends is passed from generation to generation through the oral tradition. Folklore in the Caribbean has been drawn from the rich and diverse backgrounds of our ancestors who came from various parts of the world. Our ancestors brought with them their language, culture, religious beliefs and practices, and their tradition of storytelling. The tales of demons, ghosts, zombies and spirits have been fascinating for the young and old alike, and variations of these stories have been told again and again. Though there are a few books published on Caribbean folklore, they mainly provide information on material originating from French-Creole culture.
Until now, no one has ever attempted to document folklore figures associated with the East Indian tradition. Indian Caribbean Folklore Spirits by Kumar Mahabir is, therefore, a pioneering work. This 32-page book features five supernatural creatures that some of us would have heard about, or even seen, while growing up. These include the raakhas, churile, saapin, Dee Baba, and the jinn, Sheik Sadiq.?This long-awaited milestone publication is well-structured with a clear and easy format. Each colourful, glossy page contains physical descriptions and traits of each folklore spirit, supported by testimonies of elderly people recalling their childhood or adult encounters.
The author was careful to retain the language and dialect of the narrators for authenticity, with the names, ages and location of the narrators preceding the testimonies. Readers will appreciate the inclusion of information on similar spirits in other parts of the Caribbean and the rest of the world, as well as useful notes to readers. The book is delightfully illustrated with colourful images jumping out of each page, bringing to life various scenes and figures mentioned in the text. A lot of time and dedication must have gone into the research required to put together this great compilation. The author is a known anthropologist with special interest in Indian culture, and should be commended for his efforts in preserving this aspect of the culture, dating back to the time when immigrants were first brought to the Caribbean during indentureship in 1838.
Indian Caribbean Folklore Spirits is filled with valuable information on five creatures. This information could have easily disappeared from our memories in the next few years. In a fast-changing world where our children are being swept away by the latest technology and the internet, it is even more important to preserve this aspect of our oral tradition. The book seems to be written mainly for the academically-inclined because of the way the material is presented. But it also holds great potential to be used in reading sessions in classrooms of primary and secondary students. It can also be a useful reference resource at university level for those doing research on local culture, or simply interested in learning about these spirits.
Given the nature of the subject, the author could have included a fictional story to complement each of the five spirits and increase the entertainment value. This approach would have broadened its appeal. There is no doubt, however, that this book can be enjoyed by readers of all ages who love to read a charming story. It is an entertaining book that serves to educate, enlighten and provide valuable information on the subject of Indian Folklore Spirits. We all love old tales or good bedtime stories, and the fascination of folklore has its own appeal. I highly recommend that you read this book and be captivated by these creatures of the supernatural world.
Ed note: Vashti Bowlah is an award-winning Trinidadian?writer?whose work has appeared in local, regional and international publications.