Folktales are stories relating to the traditional culture of a people, usually handed down from generation to generation, by word of mouth (oral tradition). Tobago has a very rich oral tradition as well as legends that have been passed down from our African ancestors.
Superstitions are beliefs in or fears of the unknown, mysterious or supernatural. Common superstitious characters commonly heard of in Tobago include Mermaids, fairy-maids, Soucouyants, La Diablesse, Duennes and Spirits or ‘Jumbies’.
Tobago ‘Mermaids’ referred to Mermen (half man, half fish) who lived in the deep sea. They were handsome men, like kings of old or warriors of long ago, beplummed and richly garbed. They were known to grant a wish, transform mediocrity into genius and confer wealth and power.
‘Fairy-maids’ were maidens of the Rivers and Waterwheels. They mated with the Mermen. They were also known to be attracted to smooth skinned men. Fairy-maids pursued men on land but fortunately could not turn corners.
‘Duennes’ are spirits of children who died before they were baptized. They were sexless, their feet were turned backwards and they had no faces. On their rather large heads they wore huge mushroom-shaped straw hats. To prevent the Duennes from calling your children into the forest at dusk, never shout their names in open places, as the Duennes will remember their names and call them later and lure them away.
‘Soucouyants’, also known as Old Hags, would turn into a ball of fire, enter houses at night and suck human blood, leaving a black or blue mark on the skin. They turned into a ball of fire after they shed their skin. Evil spirits or ‘Jumbies’ are said to be the souls of those who died in sin and are now used by the devil, to haunt and do evil to others.
‘La Diablesse’, the devil woman, with one cloven hoof would appear from behind a tree on a lonely road and catch the eye of a man who would then proceed to follow her, and never being able to catch up to her, will find himself lost, bewildered, far from home and he was never going to find himself again. Some were said to disappear into the forests.
Local Legends also play a great part in the oral traditions of Tobago. There was the story of Sandy, who led the first slave rebellion in Tobago. This is known as the Belmana Riots that took place in the village of Roxborough. Another legend is Fisherman Brush, who claimed to have gone to jail ninety nine (99) times for stick fighting.
Other Legends include:
Believed to possess Supernatural powers.
When beaten by the Slave Master, he transferred all the lashes to the Slave Master’s wife.
Gang Gang Sara
The most famous Tobago legend, however, is of Gang Gang Sara, the African witch of Golden Lane. One version is that in the latter half of the 18th Century, on a stormy night, she was blown from her home in Africa across the sea to Tobago and landed quite safely at the village of Les Coteaux. From there she journeyed to Golden Lane in search of her family who had long been transported there. She lived to a ripe old age. Gang Gang Sarah was the loving wife of Long Tom, whom legend says she had known as a child in her native Africa. After Tom died, wishing to return to her native land, she tried to fly, not knowing she had lost the art of flight as a result of eating salt. To this day, the names of Tom and Sara can be seen inscribed upon two headstones in Golden Lane where some claim they lie side by side for over two hundred (200) years. There are many interesting versions told, of the legend of Gang Gang Sarah.