A Guide to Caribbean Folklore

Having grown up in the Caribbean, I was not used to the common fairytales of Hanzel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Rumplestiltskin. Instead, I grew up fearing the jungle, where grotesque and demonic creatures waited to lure me to my death.

However, Caribbean folk stories are not just a parent’s way to get children to behave and go to bed. In this part of the world, folk stories are thought to be real. Almost everyone in the Caribbean has a story about the time they encountered one of these mythical creatures. 


Caribbean culture is a mix of religion, ethnicity, traditions, and cuisine. Oral traditions are no different. The folk tales of these islands came from interactions between many groups over centuries: African, Creole, Asians, Indigenous Amerindians, Europeans, and Indians. Perhaps the most prominent group to influence Caribbean folk tradition is the West Africans, who brought their culture here during the Slave Trade.

Caribbean folklore also tends to reflect the complex physical landscape. Most islands are mountainous with dense rainforests that are hard to access without a guide. Amid this rugged isolation, amid so many real tropical creatures, the mythic ones dwell freely. Every so often, they encounter passersby.

The names of folklore characters are distinctly Patois (French Creole). Patois combines French, English, and various African dialects. It was the lingua franca in Trinidad and Tobago for many years before English became the official language.

Douens or Dwen

Never let your children wander off in the jungle unsupervised, for they might run into a ghostly creature called a douen. A douen is the soul of an unchristened child. It has no eyes, wears a pointy straw hat, and has backward-facing feet. Its goal is to lure other unbaptized children deep into the jungle and make them into a douens. Such a threat still prompts new parents to christen their child very soon after birth. 

ghost children

Douens. Screenshot: sarahnali/YouTube


La Diablesse or La Jablesse 

If you see a beautiful, elegantly dressed, and charismatic woman by the side of the road, run. La Diablesse is a seductive beauty, looking to cause trouble and often death to any naive man who crosses her path.

She wears a big hat and a poofy dress with several layers of petticoats which hide her most disturbing feature, a cloven foot. This, along with her fire-red eyes, is why she is known as the Devil Woman. When she captivates a man, she leads him into the forest to his death.

demon woman

La Diablesse. Screenshot: sarahnali/YouTube


Papa Bois

Papa Bois is a more benevolent presence. Essentially the keeper or father of the forest, he cares for all living things in his domain. Bearing some resemblance to the Greek god Pan, Papa Bois is half man, half goat. He is an old African fellow with a long beard, horns protruding from his head, hairy legs, and cloven feet.

He carries a bamboo horn and can shapeshift into an animal. Papa Bois tends to dislike hunters or those wishing to harm animals and will cast a nasty spell on them. Tales of Papa Bois occur mostly in Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia.

keeper of the forest

Papa Bois. Screenshot: sarahnali/YouTube



On the more terrifying side, the soucouyant is akin to a female vampire or succubus. During the day, she appears as an old hag. At night, she sheds her skin and turns into a ball of fire, hoping to gain entry into someone’s home.

Here, she drinks the blood of babies to sustain herself. However, she must get back into her skin by dawn, or else she will die. A famous test to see if someone is a soucouyant is to spill rice on the ground at a crossroads. The soucouyant is forced to pick up every grain, one by one. 

Other variations of the name include Ole Higue or Ole Haig. The legend persists in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, Guadeloupe, and other islands. 

fireball and tree

A soucouyant at night. Screenshot: sarahnali/YouTube


Loup Garou

The Loup Garou is a Caribbean werewolf. During the day, he is a normal man. At night, he transforms into a half man, half animal (mostly dog). He drags around chains and carries a bunch of sticks in his hand.

If you wish to see one, you have to take mucus from a dog’s eye, put it in yours, and peep through a keyhole at the stroke of midnight. If you want to kill it, you have to beat the Loup Garou with a stick anointed in holy water or oil.


Loup Garou. Illustration: GSoul/Shutterstock


Mama Dlo or Mama Glow

Mama Dlo is Papa Bois’s wife. She lurks in pools high in the mountains and will punish those who disturb her water or harm animals. The upper half of her body is that of a beautiful woman with long flowing hair, which she always combs. The bottom half is that of an anaconda. When a sharp crack echos through the forest, it means she is whipping her tail on the water. 

The West African equivalent is Mami Wata, a revered water deity. 

snake woman

Mama Dlo. Screenshot: sarahnali/YouTube



In Trinidad and Guyana, a buck is a magical being who can grant success and prosperity…for a price. He is a short, grotesque man with sharp teeth and long nails or claws. In order to get riches from him or have him harm your enemies, you must keep him in a room in your house and feed him ripe bananas and milk. This keeps him in check. If you refuse to fulfill his requirements, he causes all kinds of chaos. 

short demon man

A buck. Screenshot: Trinbago Stories/YouTube


Silk Cotton Tree

Myths around the silk cotton tree go back to the time of the Tainos and Kalinagos, who inhabited the region before Columbus’s arrival. To them, the silk cotton tree housed the spirits of the dead.

This sentiment continued centuries later when the enslaved Africans came to the islands. They too believed that the spirits or “duppies” lived in these giant trees, which is why people rarely cut them down. If you fell a silk cotton tree, the spirits will be released. 

silk cotton tree

Giant Silk Cotton Tree in Tobago. Photo: Anne Coatesy/Shutterstock



In primary schools in the Caribbean, children learn about Anansi, a famous Akan character. He is the god of folk stories and is famous for his trickery, knowledge, and wisdom. Depicted as a large spider with the face of a man, Anansi is selfish. He likes to hoard information and trick people into doing what he wants. However, Anansi stories always have a moral lesson behind them, to teach children valuable life lessons. 

anansi spider

Anansi. Illustration: Madam Mythos


Gang Gang Sarah

This tale is specific to the island of Tobago. It tells of a witch and slave from Africa who arrived in Tobago on a strong wind. She came to serve her fellow slaves spiritually. After their emancipation, she decided to go home. She climbed to the top of a silk cotton tree in the hope of catching that same wind to blow her back to the continent. However, she fell from the tree and died. 

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.