“bamboo root, ‘fig’ leaves, and the gourd-like fruit of a vine called ‘duppy pumpkin’ .”
Jamaica has a variety of fig trees. However, in the context of duppy lore, Beckwith only referred to the parasitic type which frequently grow around the trunks of cottonwood trees (Ceiba). An article from the Natural History Society of Jamaica describes how such “strangler figs” find a host plant:
“Strangler figs which can be seen in woodlands across the island, start growth from a seed blown or dropped by a bird which has lodged in a crevice in another tree. If there is sufficient moisture and organic matter the seedling puts out roots and the shoot which produces green leaves to nourish it. The roots spread down over the trunk of the supporting tree and in time form a network over the trunk and reach the ground.”
The roots of fig trees also provide a home for duppies. Again, these seem to be the parasitic type of fig as Beckwith mentions them when writing on cottonwood trees being abodes of duppies.
Because of their tendency to live in trees, the American folklorist MacEdward Leach described duppies as being “parasitical”. Therefore, there is a certain appropriateness that such spirits choose to inhabit the strangler fig, a plant which itself is a parasite.
Next time…. The somewhat charmingly named Old Woman Bitter Bush
Sources (in order of appearance in the text)
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), p. 89.
Eric Garraway (ed.), “Some Common Trees of Jamaica”, The Natural History Society of Jamaica, pp., p. 30: http://naturalhistorysocietyjamaica.org/Some%20Common%20Trees%20of%20Jamaica.pdf
MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81, p. 77.
Image credits: Photograph of strangler fig on tree by Vinayara – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strangler_fig_on_a_tree.jpg [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0]