Continuing the equine theme of my last post, this month I look at the lore surrounding the Three-foot Horse. Three-foot Horse is a duppy which, as its name suggests, appears in the form of a horse with one fore leg and two back legs (Cassidy & Le Page, p. 422). In the 1920s, anthropologist Martha Warren Beckwith was told by George Parkes, one of her African-Jamaican interviewees that:
“Three-foot horse gallops through the moonlight faster than any living steed, and its breath is fatal to anyone upon whom it falls, but on dark nights or under the shadow of a tree one is safe from attack.” (Beckwith, p. 98).
Parkes also said that if you did manage to scare Three-foot Horse away but returned to the same spot where you had first encountered it and it sees you, it will “blow bad breath upon you”. However, Beckwith wondered if Parkes was describing “a composite of Three-foot Horse and Rolling-calf”, as in his description both seemed to share the quality of toxic breath (Ibid., p. 100. See my post on the Rolling Calf for a comparison).
One big difference between Three-foot Horse and Rolling Calf is that the Horse isn’t afraid of moonlight (Ibid., p. 100). Not going out on moonlit nights was one of the tips given to Beckwith for avoiding an encounter with Three-foot Horse. Other advice includes hiding in the shadows or climbing a tree (Cundall, p. 91). An alternate method mentioned by Thomas Banbury, who collected Jamaican folk beliefs in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, was to ‘flog it with a whip held in the right hand or a tarred whip” (cited in Beckwith, p. 100).
Another illustration of the sinister nature of Three-foot Horse can be found in the tale of “Mr Bluebeard” in Walter Jekyll’s collection of Jamaican folk stories from the early twentieth century. The eponymous villain of the tale rides a three-legged horse (Jekyll, p. 35).
American folklorist MacEdward Leach found that in the Orange Valley area in Trelawney, the Three-foot Horse was believed to be heard every November and also at Christmas time (Leach, p. 71).
Three–foot Horse is also associated with Christmas in Zora Neale Hurston’s account of the duppy. Hurston was told by Maroons in Accompong that it would appear around that time to join in the Jonkonnu festivities (Hurston, p. 26). Jonkonnu is a Christmas parade of dancers wearing animal masks, horned headdresses, and dressed as characters from English mummers’ plays such as Jack-in-the-Green and the Doctor. It also contains contained elements believed to be African like animal masks and headdresses as well as the house/houseboat headdress worn by the lead dancer.
Hurston gave an alternate name for the creature, “Three-leg Horse”, and thought its origins lay in a “sex symbol” associated with a West African male coming-of-age ritual. The Maroons informed her that although Three-leg Horse was harmless women were afraid of it (Ibid, p. 26).
Next time… Halloween will be lurking in the wings so there’s a return to plant lore with Dead Man Bones
Rev. Thomas Banbury, Jamaica Superstitions; or the Obeah Book: A Complete Treatise of the Absurdities Believed in by the People of the Island (Kingston: Mortimer Co. De Souza, 1894) cited in Beckwith, Black Roadways (1929).
Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929).
F.G. Cassidy and R.B. Le Page (eds), Dictionary of Jamaican English (2nd ed., Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2002).
Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (reprint, with anew foreword by Ishmael Reed, New York: Harper & Row, 1990, of orig. edn, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincourt Inc., 1938).
Walter Jekyll (collected by and ed.), Jamaica Song and Story: Annancy Stories, Digging Sings, Dancing Tunes and Ring Tunes (reprint, with new introductory essays by Philip Sherlock, Louise Bennett, and Rex Nettleford, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1966, of 1907 edn, London: David Nutt).
MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81.
Image credits: horse shoes by H.R. Sparkes