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The Douen is a mythological entity from Trinidad and Tobago folklore. It is believed that they are the lost souls of children who have not yet been baptized or christened. Their most recognized characteristic is their feet are said to be backwards, with the heel facing the front and the knees are backwards, too. If they hear a child's name, then they will call to the child in a parent's voice and try to lure the child into the forest. They wear a big, floppy straw hat to hide the fact that they have no face except for a small mouth to speak with. Largely mischievous, they play pranks on people, raid gardens, and seem to enjoy leading children astray until they are thoroughly lost in the woods.
Douen (pronounced Dwen) are considered to be the ‘lost souls’ of children that were not baptized or christened before death. It is said that they are destined to wander the earth eternally while practicing their collection of pranks. Neither male nor female, douens live in the forest, swamps and near rivers in Trinidad and Tobago. Their manifestation is that of a naked child never growing more than two or three feet in height. They wear a large floppy straw hat and have an entirely undistinguished face with the exception of a small mouth. The one characteristic that allows them to be recognized as douens are their feet, which are turned backwards with the heel facing forward. Douens roam the land in the pursuit of children that are not yet baptized, or christened in anticipation of luring them away deep into the woods until they are lost. They charm the children when the moon is full and have a mesmerizing whooping sound. A child who plays with a douen may consider it to be a regular child while the douen slowly but surely leads the child further and further away from the protection of home. Some children may be found the next morning in a precarious arrangement if they are found at all. Douens also have been known to come to people’s houses crying and whimpering for the love of a mother. They feed off cultivated gardens and seem to have a bizarre fondness for water crabs. Often thought to be evil spirits and malevolent creatures, douens do have a good natured side. They have been known to be of assistance to Papa Bois in the forest when an animal is trapped and injured by imitating animal calls to throw hunters off track. To avert the douens from calling your children into the forest it is said that you should never call a child’s name in open places for the douens will then in turn call the child’s name to attract them away into the forest never to return. There have been actual reports of douen encounters from children in rural areas of Trinidad such as Piparo, Penal and Barrackpore. These spirits have been reported to manifest themselves in the homes of people who have been talking about either the Douen or similar creatures. Reports suggest that open talk summons the creatures or creates a positive pull towards those who look for them. Manifestation in one's home could either be by seeing images of a child or by childish-seeming "pranks" being played on individuals. These creatures once called upon, can be very tricky to get rid of as they tend to be very clingy like real children would be. Natives report that religious intervention is typically called upon to remove the creatures from one's home.
Trinidad and Tobago folklore is primarily of African foundation, with French, Spanish and English influences. Religious or semi-religious cults of African origin have undeniably contributed much to the Island's folklore. Many of the supernatural folklore characters are identical with those of African deities. It is exceedingly complicated to draw a line between the stern religious elements and what may be described as traditions. Nevertheless, in the African tradition, stories were meant to instill values in the children.
Based on the description of Trinidadian douen, it seems that this folklore may have originated from the Mayan folklore Tata Duende or the Latin-American folklore of duende.
In popular culture
- Douen feature heavily in Lost and Found, a season 4 episode of the Syfy television show Haven.
- Douen are mentioned 12 times in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse's novel Mycroft Holmes.
- Douen are mentioned several times in Wayne Gerard Trotman's novel Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest.
- "Douen" is used to describe a sentient species on another planet in Nalo Hopkinson's novel Midnight Robber (Warner Aspect, 2000). The human characters explain that, on foreign planets, douen is used as a threat to frighten children: that these creatures are dead children arisen from the grave.
- Williams, Eric (1993). History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago,A&b Publishers Group
- Caribbean Folklore: A Handbook (Greenwood Folklore Handbooks ) 2007
DONALD R. HILL is Professor of Anthropology and Africana and Latino Studies at State University College at Oneonta.
- History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago(Trade Paperback)
by Williams, Eric. A&b Publishers Group, 1993
- Folklore & Legends of Trinidad and Tobago(Trade Paperback) by Besson, Gerard. Paria Publishing Company Ltd., 2007
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