The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

By Giselle Liza Anatol | Go to book overview

1
Conventional Versions: The Soucouyant Story
in Folktales, Fiction, and Calypso

For it was indeed all about fear that this old man, as others had done
before him, thought it his duty to teach the adolescent I was so that the
adult I would later become would continue to carry it within him and use
it in his turn against other adults and other children
.

—YANICK LAHENS, “THE SURVIVORS”

The soucouyant story is quite old; there are a number of references to these diabolical creatures in narratives by eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury English and French plantation owners and visitors to the region who penned tales that had been repeated to them by African Caribbean locals. However, traditional African cultures were oral, and the prohibition against literacy for enslaved peoples compounds the problem of having a lack of early primary materials with which to work that were recorded by the same group who generated them. Caribbean musicologist J. D. Elder notes that many U.S. and British folklorists showed interest in African Caribbean lore from the period 1895 to 1930, but their efforts concentrated on collecting Anansi (trickster spider) stories, proverbs, riddles, and children’s rhymes and games, including a few songgames. And as Roger Abrahams observes, tale gathering was typically performed by outsiders to the community who recorded according to their own projects and/or only the items that locals allowed them to hear. Not only was there an obvious racial boundary that might have influenced storytellers throughout the African diaspora, but the fact that the collectors did not actually live in the communities that maintained the tales might have caused details to shift. (In Afro-American Folktales, Abrahams cites Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men as an important exception to this trend.) Despite these factors, the figure of the soucouyant (or whatever name she is called, depending on the region)1—the frightening old hag, skin-shedder, bloodsucker, fly-by-night—remained persistent in the cultural imagination. The renaissance of folk literature

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