Caribbean Lore: Duppies

Mack Little
6 min readMar 14, 2023


Writing my Love & Peace series, I set out to foreground the history and traditions of as many African cultures as possible. So much of the richness and beauty of the customs and beliefs from that continent have been overlooked, purposely hidden, or spun in a negative light. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of spirituality. One element of Bantu folklore that made its way into Afro-Caribbean culture is the idea of vengeful malevolent spirits. A couple of bad actors at the end of Daughter of Hades needed to be brought to justice. So, out came the Duppies to begin the story in Shelter in a Hostile World.

What is a Duppy?

A duppy can be either the manifestation of the souls of men and women who are left behind. It can take either human or animal form. In the Obeah religion, the belief is that people have two souls. In death, one passes on to the afterlife. The other is coffin bound. It emerges after three days and becomes a duppy.

It is believed to be a malevolent supernatural being, but it does take the physical form of the human as it was in life. There is nothing ghostly or insubstantial about it. They appear in the clothes they were buried in. Having substance, duppies eat and drink like living beings. Sometimes the superstitious leave food out for duppies.

A duppy can come in different animal forms, such as a snake or lizard. One notable form is the rollin calf (rollin means roaring). It is a calf-like creature that drags a long chain and breathes fire. Another interesting manifestation is that of a three-legged or three-foot horse that runs faster than a regular horse that also breathes fire.

There is also a mermaid-like creature called the sea mahmy. She is good-natured, enjoys playing in water, and sitting on the bank, combing her gorgeous hair. There is a story of a sea mahmy in the great blue hole near Port Antonio in Jamaica.

There was a sea mahmy near Mandeville who lived in a lake. Each day she came out and sat on the shore holding an umbrella over herself. A bold young man succeeded in stealing the um- brella. The sea mahmy begged him to return it. When he would not she disappeared, and the lake dried up.

Whatever form the duppy takes, it emerges from and disappears into shadows at will or when summon/banished by an Obeah man.

Bantu folklore contains myths about the dead that return in human or animal form. However, the word duppy likely comes from the Ashanti derived from Adope and/ or Daapaa.

Other names for duppies are: Duffy or Jumbie

There is this story. An it is not happening again. When it come to Christmas time there is this drove of cows come up a Rock Riber. This man a drivin and him ridin on a tree foot horse and you hear dis cow man a whoopin and a lashin him whip. Always just afore Christmas. After lamp you could no send de pickney out; it was de whoopin boy.

Significance in Caribbean Spirituality

Duppies are an element of the Obeah belief system. Obeah is the creolization of African religions in the diasporic communities in the British Caribbean colonies following the Atlantic slave trade. It adapts the religious practices of the peoples taken from the West coast of Africa. It invokes supernatural agents to hex the living or protect the living from devious or mischievous spirits. Eventually, Obeah absorbed Christian European influences.

The Obeah religion was an instrument of resistance and protection that the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean used against cruel plantation owners and their overseers. Obeah was a source of political power as well. The leaders, called Obeah man or Obeah woman, was often the principal in slave rebellions, particularly in Jamaica.

Obeah men and women are often called upon to protect their followers from any number of the spirits that inhabit the living world. Fetishes, for example, are inanimate objects that are supposed to have special powers and are carried for protection or are intended to be revered. They are often made of parts of the human body or parts of an animal body, objects of clothing, and dirt, with hair being a particularly powerful material for a fetish. Fetishes and other materials are used to ward off duppies.

Once there was two duppies warming themselves over the fire. So one said to the other, “Cubba gwine tomarried.” The other one said, “Cubba gwine to married? She don’ have frock, she don’ have coat. Shove fire, gi’me story!”

Duppies: where to find them

An Obeah man or woman can summon a duppy through dance, incantation, and/or offering a potion. A typical method is mixing graveyard dirt with unsalted rice and rum and putting it at the root of the cotton tree (Kapok Tree) where the duppies congregate.

Duppies are also said to reside in bamboo thickets. During the day and night, they emerge from their hiding places and torment their victims by physically attacking them or possessing a home.

If you feel any of the following, beware, a duppy may be near:

  • Smelling food when none is around
  • Hearing twigs snapping at night
  • A spider web falling on your face at night
  • Hearing a barking dog when there are no dogs nearby

Once some duppies were in a house. A man was outside; the duppies didn’t see him. So they peeped all throughthe window to look at the moon. They said, “The moon is pretty pretty!” Another one said it was wrong, so hesaid, “Norra you norra me can’t talk it prop-prop!”

How to protect against

If all this information about duppies alarms you, there are ways to keep duppies at bay.

The best way to protect against duppies is to stop them at the source. Common belief holds that when a body is buried, a shovel full of parched peas should be thrown into the grave to “plant down” or render a duppy powerless. If the peas do not grow, the duppy cannot escape.

Another effective way to make duppies stay put is to plant a shrub upside down on the grave with the roots out. One more method of planting a duppy down is to place a cotton tree (kapok tree) limb on the coffin.

An attacking duppy can be stopped by throwing peas, rice, or sand to the ground because the duppy is compelled to count the grains. Additionally, if Sweet Basil is planted by the front or back door of a house, it can stop duppies and other malevolent spirits from entering the property. To expel duppies from a house, burning cow dung mixed with pieces of horn and hoof should do the trick.


I loved researching duppies while writing Shelter in a Hostile World. What I learned invoked childhood memories and gave them some context. I grew up in a small rural town in Georgia and had never heard of duppies before. But I did live with the threat of Low Booty, who accosted wayward children who stayed out past dark. Every Halloween, Low Booty would chase us kids as we went out trick or treating. It was deliciously terrifying!

Also, I recognized duppies as the malevolent entities in His House. It is a 2020 horror thriller film written and directed by Remi Weekes from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables. It stars Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu and Matt Smith. The film tells the story of a refugee couple from South Sudan struggling to adjust to their new life in an English town that has evil lurking beneath the surface.

If there are other duppy-like creatures in popular culture today that I have missed, I would love to hear about it. Let me know.



Mack Little

Mack Little was born in Conyers, GA and studied Intern'l Politics in Seville, Spain, and lived in Germany. Currently she lives and writes in Houston, Texas.