What Is A Jumbie?


Susan Cooper (b. 1935)
Jethro and the Jumbie
Illustrations by Ashley Bryan (1923–2022)
New York: Atheneum, 1979
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased On The Edwin V. Erbe Jr. Acquisitions Fund, 2022; PML 198770

© 2022 The Ashley Bryan Center. Used with Permission.


Sandy Campbell: Do you know what a jumbie is? Listen as Tracey Baptiste, author of the young adult series The Jumbies, describes what she learned about these figures from Caribbean mythology when she was growing up.

Tracey Baptiste: Jumbies are not good. They're not good creatures, for the most part. Or at least this is how it was explained to me or told to me, the stories that were told to me. Jumbies are creatures who will eat you, given half the chance to eat you and so growing up, you had to know all the different ways that you could protect yourself from a jumbie so that you wouldn't get dragged off. Of course, we know what that's about – as adults, you tell these stories to children so that they stay where they're supposed to stay, you know, that's really the whole purpose behind them. But of course, as a little kid, you're thinking, your eyes are giant, you know, you're looking around, you're like, ready with all of your, you know, various accoutrements to make sure that, you know, no jumbie gets you tonight, you know? And I was fairly certain that there were people in my life who I really thought were jumbies. Ms. Evelyn, who lived next door to my grandmother. I was sure she was a soucouyant. I mean, and I still, you know, I'm fairly certain that she was, actually. So there's all of these different kinds of creatures, and so jumbies are sort of a catch-all name for a bunch of different creatures: there’s soucouyant, lagahoo, douen, La Diabless, there’s Papa Bois, there's Mama D’Leau, and those are just the ones that we talk about mostly in Trinidad and Tobago. Now throughout the Caribbean and South America, there are other types of jumbies, they may not be called jumbies, they might be called duppies. They might be called other things, but they're all part of the same type of story. And they are all fairly menacing, some to less degrees than others. Some are helpful. I actually recently found out that some of the ones that they talk about in Haiti are really quite benevolent. That's not my experience. As far as I know, they're just gonna eat you.