The Darker Side of Rice Lore

A couple of posts ago, I looked at some of the folklore surrounding Rice (Oryza in Jamaica. In this post I’m going to be examining the darker side of that lore.

It turns out that as well as protecting you from duppies, Rice can also be used to get them to do your bidding. This could be through your own endeavours or via the services of an Obeah practitioner.

In Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life, Martha Warren Beckwith included the instructions she was told about how to get a duppy to work for you:

Accompanied by a member of your family, visit a cemetery at night, taking with you Rice, rum and an egg. Mash the egg and place it on your chosen grave along with the Rice and rum. The duppy of the grave’s occupant will rise up to consume the egg (Beckwith doesn’t mention what happens to the other items) which is the payment for his or her services (Beckwith, p. 136).

A slightly different version of duppy-raising was given by Mercilla Hopkins from Brownstown, one of Beckwith’s African-Jamaican interviewees. In this case only boiled Rice was given to the duppy accompanied by a special song. Once the duppy had risen from its grave to eat the Rice, it could then be caught in a bottle (Beckwith, “Some Religious Cults of Jamaica”, p. 37).

As duppies were also believed to live among the roots of cotton trees, the offering of Rice was sometimes placed there instead. In the account given by American folklorist MacEdward Leach, Rice, rum and graveyard earth are utilised but he made no mention of trapping the duppy. Instead, you have to return to the tree the following night and tell the duppy your wishes. It will then obey you (Leach, p. 76).    

A duppy will work harder for you if given its favourite foods. According to anthropologist George Eaton Simpson, these included unsalted Rice, coffee, rum, sugar and rote – a flat fried wheat dumpling (Simpson, p. 391).

6 Rice 001
Like 3, 6 was one of the numbers that duppies were unable to count beyond. Scatter 5 or more grains of rice and they would stop following you in an attempt to count them

Once an offering has been received by a duppy it cannot refuse to serve you. However, there are some exceptions. In “Religious Change Among the Accompong Maroons”, Barbara Kopytoff notes that “the Old People”, spirits of Maroons who were around at the time of the treaties with the British in the 18th century, are not easily manipulated. This is because they are among the most powerful of the Maroon ancestor spirits and therefore act either independently or only when they want to (Kopytoff, p. 475).

Rice could also be used in a particularly sinister ritual to cause injury to an enemy. Writing In the 1950s, Simpson detailed how an Obeah practitioner and other participants would go to a crossroads. There, prayers would be said, burial hymns sung, and the 71st, 35th and 109th Psalms read. The enemy’s name, written on a piece of paper was then put into a drum. The drum rhythm used in funeral marches was played while the name was shouted. When the group returned home, Rice would be eaten and rum drunk. Following this, red, blue and black candles were burned for a number of days until death or injury occurred (Ibid., p. 394).


 Next time…. a look at rituals which may stop the dead from rising in the first place



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).

Martha Warren Beckwith, “Some Religious Cults in Jamaica”, The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 3, no. 1 (Jan. 1923), pp. 32-45.

Barbara K. Kopytoff, “Religious Change among the Jamaican Maroons: The Ascendance of the Christian God within a Traditional Cosmology”, Journal of Social History, vol. 20, no. 3 (Spring, 1987), pp. 463-484.

MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81.

George Eaton Simpson, “Jamaican Revivalist Cults”, Social and Economic Studies, vol. 5, no. 4 (December 1956).

Image credits: 6 Rice by H.R. Sparkes


2 thoughts on “The Darker Side of Rice Lore

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased that you found the post interesting. I’m fascinated how something basic, like rice, is used for the spiritual or magical.


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