Whooping Boy

As it’s Halloweentide this month’s post features Whooping Boy, a spirit who has the reputation of being one of Jamaica’s most malignant duppies (Beckwith, p. 98).

Whooping Boy as his name suggests, makes a whooping sound and is often seen riding another duppy, Three-foot Horse. He may also be witnessed dancing on twigs in dense woodland where he is reputed to be at his most “dangerous” (Cundall, p. 91). He has been described as having long hair and red eyes and is most likely to be encountered on a moonlit night (Leach, p. 71).

During her Jamaican fieldwork in the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was told that Whooping Boy was the ghost of a “penner” or cow herd, and only appeared in August. Then he can be heard “penning” phantom cows. Real cows are frightened of the sound of his whip cracking (Hurston, TMH, p. 25).

whooping boy moon 005


Writing in the early 1960s, folklorist MacEdward Leach noted that tales of Whooping Boy had become rare and the only one he had been able to obtain was from the Accompong Maroons where Whooping Boy is described as riding Three-legged Horse at night, whooping and cracking his whip. Children were kept in after dark if Whooping Boy was believed to be roaming. Unlike Hurston’s account, in this tale he always appears just before Christmas (Leach, p. 71).


Next time… a look at the use of roses in Jamaican Revival divinatory practices.


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).

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).

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

Image credits: photograph by H.R. Sparkes


The Stretching Trees of Polynesia

In a previous post I examined Polynesian trees of the dead. This month I’ll be looking at another aspect of Polynesian tree lore; the concept of ‘stretching trees’ – trees which stretch to provide a pathway between the earth and the skies or between this world and the world of spirits.

The American anthropologist Martha Warren Beckwith cited a number of South Sea islands which have such beliefs. For example, in a Samoan story, a boy climbed up a tree to reach the moon and in a tale from Tonga, a child visits his father in the sky via a stretching tree. In Mangaia, the god Tane climbs a tree to the sky, “from which he shakes down nuts upon his own homeland” (Beckwith, (a), p. 486). Kupuas, supernatural beings or demigods, could take the form of trees. Myths from Hawaii, the Marquesa islands, Rarotonga and the Tuamotus mention a kupua tree called Niu-ola-hiki or Niu-loa-hiki which acted as a pathway between earth and the land of the gods or between children and their ancestors (Ibid., p. 484).

In Rarotongan, Marquesean, and Tuamotuan myth, a stretching tree provides the route for “a divine child” to travel from earth to heaven or to faraway lands (Beckwith, (b), p. 27).


Types of tree

The species of tree which stretches skywards is mentioned in some Polynesian myths and stories. In San Cristobal, Areca (Areca catechu) trees appear as stretching trees (Beckwith, (a), p. 484). In the Hawaiian story of the demigod Maui, Maui’s uncle transforms himself into a coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) which reaches to the heavens so that Maui can visit Makali’i, his father, who resides there (Ibid., p. 478). In tales from the Banks Islands and Tonga, Casuarina trees (Casuarina equisetifolia) stretch to save the god Qat and his brothers from Qasavara, a giant intent on eating them.


Next time… it’s back to West Africa to meet a spirit who teaches the lore of the forest.


Martha Warren Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology (reprint, with a new introduction by Katherine Luomala, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1970, of orig. edn, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1940).

Martha Beckwith, “POLYNESIAN MYTHOLOGY”, The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 49, no. 1 (193), (1940), pp. 19–35. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20702789. <accessed 6 Jun. 2022>

 Image credits: Betel nut tree by Ridip, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Love-weed (Cuscuta ..?)

As we’re not long past St Valentine’s Day, I’m looking at Love-weed, a plant connected in African-Jamaican plant lore to matters of the heart. Love-weed has many alternate names including Love-bush, Dodder, Hell Weed and Devil’s Guts – my favourite is Wizard’s Net. It belongs to the Cuscuta family of parasitic plants which in turn is part of the wider genus of Convolvulaceae. Cuscuta survive by wrapping themselves around other plants which they then impale with haustoria, root-like structures which absorb nutrients from the host plant.


The lore I’m focussing on comes principally from Martha Warren Beckwith’s collection of African-Jamaican ethnobotany in the 1920s. Beckwith didn’t mention which variety of Love-weed she was referring to beyond calling it Cuscuta. She was told by her African-Jamaican interviewees, Wilfred Bonito and James White, that if you are in love with someone who can’t stand you, you should rub Love-weed on your body, particular focussing on the back of your neck. The next time you see that person you should clap your hands and, holding your palms upwards, recite “By Saint Peter, James & Paul”. The object of your affection’s mind will be changed (Beckwith, (a), p. 21).


Beckwith also cited an example of Love-weed lore from a collection of African-Jamaican folklore from trainee teachers at Mico College, Jamaica:

“If a branch of a certain yellow weed [which Beckwith believed to be love-weed] grows when thrown upon a bush, it shows that the person whose mind you are seeking is getting to love you more and more” (Beckwith, (b), p. 65).

Frederic Cassidy and Robert Le Page give another example of Love-weed’s use which again exploits the parasitic nature of the plant:

“Folklore has it that one will succeed in love it a piece one puts on another plant grows…” (Cassidy & Le Page, p. 282).

A botanical multi- tasker

If Love-weed is mashed up with Death-weed (Solanum nigrum), Dead-weed (Erigeron canadensis), laundry blue “asafoetida, vinegar, a little fine salt”, and put in a bottle you should then “Rub it… over your body if you think there is a duppy (spirit) about” (Beckwith, (a), p. 16).

Next time… I look at how eggs have been used in Obeah practice


Martha Warren Beckwith, “Notes on Jamaican Ethnobotany” in Martha Warren Beckwith, with music recorded in the field by Helen H. Roberts, Jamaica Folklore (New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, 1928). (a)

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). (b)

F.G. Cassidy and R.B. Le Page (eds), Dictionary of Jamaican English (2nd ed., Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2002).

Frank Cundall, “Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica”, Folklore, Vol. 15, p. 456, cited in Beckwith, Black Roadways, (1929).

“Haustorium” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haustorium#In_plants> (accessed 20.2.22).

Image credits: J. Descourtilz & M.E. Descourtilz via Wikimedia Commons

Golden dodder by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons