Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Duppy Lizard


None of us are quite sure where it originated, this nationwide fear of the Croaking Lizard, what is it that causes us to flee the room at the sight of one? And why, for heaven's sake does my dog throw a fit at the sound of its croak?
As a 'country-girl' I was ever so often privy to various stories of the "Duppy Lizard"; It is an indigenous belief that has been passed on from generation to generation, and when I eventually left the ‘country’ I found that said belief was not restricted to that area...

The "Duppy" is a popular character within the realm of Jamaican fantasy (though many claim to have actually seen one), it is just like the "ghost" of any other culture. But in the mystic realm of the spirits the "duppy" is the least threatening to the Jamaican who knows his(/her) spirits. Accompanying the "duppy" are, among others:
The "Rolling Calf", "River Mumma", "Blackheart Man", "Jumbie Bird" (Owl) and the most vile of all..."Ol' Higue"/ "Old Suck".

Now, "Ol' Higue" also exists within the Folklore of other Caribbean Islands; it is believed that this spirit takes the form of an old woman during the day, but during the night she sheds her skin and hangs it on the branch of a cotton tree (cotton trees are revered in Jamaican culture)and then assumes one of a number of forms; ranging from an owl to a lizard, to a ball of fire, to suck the blood of her prey (she is rumored to prey particularly on infants). To defeat "Ol' Higue" one must, before sunrise, find her hanging skin and sprinkle salt all over it, so that it will burn her when she tries to put it back on, she dies if she cannot replace her skin by sunrise.

Similar to this legend, there is the belief that if a croaking lizard is left in a room alone with an infant it will travel up its nose and stop its breathing, this and its amazing ability to attach itself to ones skin draws a connection between "Old Suck" and the croaking lizard, one which in my opinion somewhat explains the birth of this phenomenal fear of the reptile.

Also, the lizard's physical appearance does not aid its popularity, its ghostly white exterior could also have influenced the myth. Not to mention its 'brazenness', despite ones attempts to get it off the wall (shoes, broomstick, bugspray, hot water etc.), it does not move, but looks you straight in the eye and dares you to come closer. One other thing, even after successfully getting it off the wall, the biggest challenge is to actually KILL the thing (I swear i've had many croakers return from the dead for revenge), the most assuring end is to cut it up into pieces, burn it, or both....it MUST be a duppy

1 comment:

longbench said...

The croaker is actually a kind of gecko, and has sticky pads on its feet, hence the inability to brush it off the wall with a broom. Apart from the noise it makes which can be annoying, its better to just accept it as another night creature, since it does no harm, and can help rid the house of the mosquitoes. If its a duppy, its a good duppy.