Folklore can be defined as the preservation of stories, practices and beliefs that have been passed down orally from the previous generations. Further, it is what separates cultures from others and contributes to what defines us as a people.
One who is familiar with Guyana, its people and its rich diversity, can assume that it is loaded with culture and folklore indeed, this assumption is true however, to some extent, as Guyanese folklore has been fading into the sunset.
One can say that the clueless expressions on the faces of some when the word“Baccoo” or “Moongazer” is mentioned, is evidence of this.
For those clueless faces, the Baccoo, according to some, is a very short and stout man. There is a long association with our early Dutch history with this Baccoo tale.
Some curious minded Guyanese have drawn a link to a Nigerian’s belief. This little devil may be green or have a beard like the leprechaun we see in movies. He is kept by the evil dwellers to use when necessary to hurt or to harm.
A Baccoo is expensive to keep. They say he requires gallons of milk and bananas on a daily basis. Failure by its masters to satisfy his greedy needs, results in catastrophic ends. Once well- maintained, he grants his keepers riches.
Meanwhile, the Moongazer, is the giant that roams mostly about the shorelines staring at the moon as he walks. It is said that should he step on someone, they will be damned into madness until they die. Many believe that the Moongazer story was birthed to keep island children away from the shorelines.
While Guyana might top the list when it comes to a nation with intriguing folklore, Guyanese over the years have adapted to foreign folklores and beliefs as the costumes we buy, anxiously awaiting Halloween or the many stockings we hang up the night before Christmas eagerly awaiting Kris Kringle, can attest to this.
However, many folklorists see nothing wrong with this since learning other cultures and folklores aids in our ability to fraternise, adapt and understand other nations and their people.
Many nations have been keeping their folklore alive through cinematic productions. Guyana on the other hand, has begun to raise its curtains once again adapting to this new medium.
With the launching of the ‘Ole Higue’ Movie last February in Georgetown, local folklorists and the elderly societies can now breathe a sigh of relief. It seems like Guyana’s folklore is bouncing back through cinema.
For those who may not know what an Ole Higue is, the elders of the Caribbean sometimes refer to it as ‘Soucouyant’, a shape-shifting character who appears mostly as a reclusive old woman by day but when the sun sets, that’s when she gets into creepy-mode and she strips off her wrinkled skin and places it into a mortar away from wandering eyes.
Then, in her true form, as a fireball (sometimes called a “Fire-Rass”),flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. She can enter the home of her victim through cracks, crevices or keyholes and sucks the blood from her victims, preferably new-borns, while they sleep, leaving behind blue-black marks.
She then trades her victims’ blood for evil powers with the demon whom the elders say, nestles within the silk-cotton tree.
This story of the Ole Higue has managed to instil a few habits into some Guyanese children who are aware of the Ole Higue, that is to remember to close their windows before they go to bed; the Ole Higue tale has mothers rushing to calm their babies when they cry so as to not attract its attention; and as commonly practiced in various parts of the rural areas, the placing of a coconut broom in close proximity of new-borns to repel the blood-sucking creature.
While there are many ways listed by Guyanese to capture an Ole Higue, there are two methods that the elders would advise; to find the skin of the Ole Higue and lace it with pepper. When it tries to wear its skin again it is trouble! A song is then sung, “Skin, skin, yuh nah know me? Why yuh a bite up me so?”
Elders would describe this other method as the easiest way to catch an Ole Higue: to spill rice grains on the floor infront of your front door. As the Ole-Higue enters your house she will be forced to count every rice grain.
A smart Guyanese will therefore ensure there is a large heap of rice on the floor and no bags in sight. As a result the Ole-Higue will have to pick up the grains with her right hand and place counted grains in her left hand.
Since her hands can only hold so many rice grains, it is only a matter of time before the grains begin to fall back to the ground and the process begins again. When the home owner awakes the next morning he/she should find very tired and incredibly distressed Ole-Higue counting rice. At this point in time a smart Guyanese will beat the woman to death with a special anti-Ole-Higue broom.
Encapsulating this phenomenon is the movie “Ole Higue. Produced by SSignal productions, it was cited as a refreshing, ground-breaking local film”. The movie also managed to achieve additional positive reviews as the production crew is currently travelling the country giving Guyanese a sneak peek of the bone tingling thriller.
It was written and directed by veteran music creator, Bonny Alves, and was produced by his wife, the multi-talented, Charmaine Blackman-Alves, both of SSignal Productions.
The setting for the movie is a little community along the Eastern Bank of the Demerara River, called Agricola, and the movie opens with a little girl and her brother heading home from school when they heard an old woman’s cry for help.
Despite her brother’s caution of their mother’s warning that one should not speak to strangers, she flashed back to her mother’s words to always be kind towards the elderly. So she proceeded. Our Good Samaritan was rewarded with a dark and repulsive boon: the curse of the “Ole Higue”.
The torment subsequently began, the urge to seek and consume the blood of the children residing in the community began to raise to uncontrollable heights. She wreaked havoc left, right and centre.
In addition to enlivening the Ole Higue, Alves also incorporated elements of another character in Guyanese Folklore- the Obeah Man/ Shaman with dark powers. This character adds fuel to the fire and makes this movie an engrossing must-see Guyanese film.
It would also be interesting to see the Baccoo and Moongazer come to life on the big screen, but for now baby steps, we will get there, eventually.
It is also the hope of many Guyanese that this resurgence of Guyanese films centered on Guyanese folklore leaves a mark and becomes sustainable. Per chance, these features will encourage the current and new generation of Guyanese to delve deeper into the origins of this truly amazing and mystical culture that Guyanese share, before folklore becomes a remnant of generations past.