Guyana/West Indian Folklore

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Those were the days of yore when the older generation would recount stories handed down to them through the ages that held mystique and, in some ways, passed on hidden messages discerned only by a few. As children some of the stories made us fearful, and the ones that made us happy or tickled our fancy we begged to hear more.  Do you remember being told as a child, if you passed a burial ground (cemetery) and pointed your hands, you had to bite all your fingers lest they rot?

What about the insistence of covering the wardrobe or vanity mirrors at nights for fear that if you awaken during the night some jumbie would be looking at you? Or the rigid adherence on returning from a funeral to take shoes off at the door, only enter through the doorway back first, and having to immediately take a bath lest the spirit of the dead enters the house and remains? How many could recall the tales of cunning Brer Anancy, always up to mischief but always finding a way to escape?

Who could remember as children hearing adults whispering about somebody having in their house/yard a bacco who lives in a bottle and is responsible for their wealth, but they must keep feeding the bacco with bananas or they will get poor? Or claiming to know someone who went to Suriname and brought back a bacco to avenge their grievance with their ‘enemy’? And legends such as Makunaima (Macunaima) who killed monsters.

There exists a repertoire of stories, tales, folklore, myths that both feared and fascinated us as children, all together helping to shape the Guyanese culture.

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The Massaccura Man (as told by Dmitri Allicock for the Guyaneseonline blog)

The Massacurra Man is another devil of Upper Demerara and Guyana. This is a water monster that is generally active in the late evening as the sun sets. The only ambition of this devil is to drag you from the riverbank, drowning and breaking your neck. I was told many times as I fished on the riverside at old England, that the Massacurra man would get me if I continued. There is no inland and most coastal Guyanese who has not heard of the Massacura man. I am unsure of its origin but a very brave relative who dare to challenge this old belief said that the Massacura man actually originated out of Slavery.

Apparently, there were expert trackers of runaway slaves that were called the Curaban who came out of Africa also. When Slaves ran away from the plantations, they used the vast water ways of Guyana to escape deeper into the interior. The plantation owner would let loose his slave trackers to hunt and capture them. Hence MASSA-the plantation owner and CURABAN- the tracker, legend was born. Somewhere along the line in the phonically Guyanese creoles mispronunciation of words, BAN from Curaban was switched for MAN.

The association of this devil to water must have been from the fact that the only access through Guyana’s dense jungle was by the many rivers, creeks and waterways which the Curaban trackers would have used. The fears of the poor runaway slaves must have been so powerful that the belief of the Massacurra Man became legend, and it still survives in the depth of Guyana’s rivers and minds of so many hundreds of years after.



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