October is the month of dressing up in costumes, especially zombie consumes, and “Trick or treating” from house to house for candy and other treats. It is a fun and festive time especially enjoyed by children. I am speaking here of Halloween, a celebration that has its roots in the European Celtic culture, known as Samhain. In its original form, Halloween marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Halloween, of course, is not celebrated in the Caribbean, as far as I remember. Certainly not in Grenada! However, the zombie aspect of Halloween do relates to two aspect of Grenada’s culture. Its African past and its Christian present.
The Caribbean is filled with the presence of Africa. This presence is shown through its people and what became known as the Caribbean culture. Although Grenada is virtually 100% religious, with Christians making up about 95 – 99% of the population, the Afro-Grenadian cultural aspect of the culture is always on display, but often goes unnoticed by the people. In fact, the superstitious aspects of the African culture once dominated our parents and grandparents minds, dominates the country’s collective minds to this very day. Among some segments of the population, the many creatures of the country’s folklore are still believed to be true.
Growing up in Grenada, I witnessed how these superstitious beliefs literally shaped and dictated the lives of people in my neighborhood. I witnessed, for example, people being afraid to pass next to cemeteries for fear that spirits – the deceased/zombies – would emerge from their graves and cause harm to them. What was interesting, however, is that these fears were built upon the knowledge that someone before them were taken by these spirits. Of course, there were no facts or evidence to support these stories. The fear was built purely on hearsay, and propagated down the line.
The fear of walking where little or no light shines griped most Grenadians during those days, and like in the vampire movies, in which the cross is portrayed as the kryptonite to the vampire, which repels and/or vanquishes them when placed in front of these creatures, Grenadians developed prayers, adopted biblical psalms and used curse words, which they repeated in hopes that these mantras would vanquish away these terrifying imaginary beings that lurked in these dark places – under large trees, for instances – awaiting your arrival.
One such being that dominated the imagination of Grenadians was the Lougawou (Lugbawoo). This was a being believed to have been human. However, these Laugawous are believe to be “humans of questionable character accused of becoming vampires at night, entering locked doors and assaulting victims while they sleep”- (Murrell, 2010; p.81). At night these “questionable” humans are accused of removing their skin and take to the sky looking to feast on the blood of other humans; blood drinking skinless flying humans. Of course, back in the old days these beings were believed to be real. Everybody was certain that they existed, but no one ever really laid eyes on one. Today, however, one may be inclined to believe that these beliefs were left behind. Not so fast. Just last week I was in conversation with some of my people who insisted that Lougawou, not only existed then, but still does today; and who are the human beings accused of being Lougawou. The elderly who is most often living by his or herself with no family support? I was surprised when one young lady ensured me that she was certain that her father was one of these peculiar beings.
Indeed, Lougawou haunted the living in Grenada. However, this is so because Laugawou has always been an integral part of our African religious past, Obeah. It was an aspect of our ancestors’ faith that speaks to the belief in “Zombies”, part of their mythic story. Most of us have come to understand that fact. However, for many Grenadians, this fact matters not. Although many Grenadians today believe that these creatures do exist, they certainly do not accept Lougawou as a benevolent being. Indeed, Laugawou may have been an inhabitant of the malevolent African spirit world. These sprites, however, were not view as evil in the same context we have come to learn through Christianity. The dread that Lougawous visited upon the collective minds of Grenadians was planted by the colonial masters, making “the practice (of Vodou/Obeah) a primary target for legal regulations and control” (Murrell, 2010; p.233). They did not simply try to control Obeah, but they sought to eradicate its practice because, like the use of the Black church to facilitate the Civil Rights struggle in the United States, “Obeah facilitated resistance and revolt among the slaves (in the Caribbean). It provoked an ideological rallying point in sanctioning rebellion, afforded meeting places and leaders, and formed a repository for the collective of the slave by preserving African traditions which could be opposed to the dominant colonial culture” (Murrell, 2010; p.233). Thus, the European branded the African religion evil, and, of course, planted another zombie myth in its place; the myth of Jesus. And as we did with our African belief, our parents and grandparents accepted the Jesus mythic story without asking for any evidence. In fact, they digested the European’s Jesus story so strong that even today some Grenadians will negatively brand you an Obeah worker if you are seen with a book that has black images in it.
I remember, for example, being amused by a friend who humorously informed me that if he did not want any Grenadians to go close to his house, all he has to do is attach a black doll to a pole and place it at the front of his house. They will not dare enter his yard. Obeah exists there, they are certain. This certainly sounds funny, but it is true. Sadly!
In addition, most, if not all, Grenadians were obsessed with capturing a Laugawo, so they will employ their time in a weird exercise in hopes to do so. Thus, like praying to Jesus in hopes that he literally assists in changing their conditions, these Grenadians littered their steeps with sand, believing that this was a legitimate way to capture these blood sucking skinless flying humans. The belief claims that as a Lougawou approached your house, placing sand on your steeps, distracted him/her from entering and instead become preoccupied in trying to count every single grain of sand. As a result of the Lougawou’s compulsive disorder, its insistence to count every grain of sand, allows daylight to come upon the creature and thus the homeowner or a passerby to capture and expose the creature’s identity to the community. This, however, never happen. The Laugawou eludes us to this day. Why, because it’s a myth, and so too is the Jesus character. We have merely traded the position of two superstitions; replaced one zombie story for another. And as we enter into “All Hallows’ Eve” or “Hallows’ Evening” (Halloween), which is derived from the Christian’s “All Hallows” or “All Saints Day” (Hallowmass) celebration, remember that anyone that supposedly comes back from the dead/grave (Acts: 2:24) is a zombie. However, since this also has never happened and most likely will not, it is safe to brand these stories as mythical stories. Indeed, both Lougawou and Jesus are mythic creatures of the imagination.
Remember that, not only has Jesus came back from the dead, but he also “…said unto them (his followers), verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” – (KJV John: 6:53) – is this zombie behavior? You decide.
Happy Hallows’ Eve….