The soucouyant is a shape-shifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enters the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes.
Soucouyants suck people's blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims' blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.
To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Suriname and Trinidad.
The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic.
Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans.
In the French West Indies, specifically the island of Guadeloupe, and also in Suriname, the Soukougnan or Soukounian is a person able to shed his or her skin to turn into a vampiric fireball. In general these figures can be anyone, not only old women, although some affirm that only women could become Soukounian, because only female breasts could disguise the creature's wings.
The term "Loogaroo" also used to describe the soucouyant, possibly comes from the French mythological creature called the Loup-garou, a type of werewolf, and is common in the Culture of Mauritius. In Suriname this creature is called "Asema".
In popular culture
- In Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark a soucouyant is one of Anna Morgan's daydreaming fears before she undergoes an abortion that leaves her bleeding to death. It is worth noting that before the ending was edited, Anna Morgan dies of the abortion.
- Also used in Rhys's short story "The Day They Burned the Books", in a servant's description of Mrs. Sawyer, a main character in the story: "...Mildred told the other servants in the town that her eyes had gone wicked, like a soucriant's eyes, and that afterwards she had picked up some of the hair he pulled out and put it in an envelope, and that Mr. Sawyer ought to look out (hair is obeah as well as hands)".
- Also used in a third Jean Rhys book, Wide Sargasso Sea, when the former slave, Christophine, describes Antoinette's eyes as "red like soucriant".
- In "Greedy Choke Puppy", a short story by Nalo Hopkinson, a soucouyant narrates part of the story. Hopkinson's book Brown Girl in the Ring also features a soucouyant, who is delayed from her purpose of consuming blood by another character who drops rice grains on the floor, forcing the soucouyant to pick them up before proceeding.
- Appears in the novel White is for Witching: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi.
- Soucouyant is the title and one of the primary plot devices of a novel by David Chariandy.
- A soucouyant is the title creature in the book "Nightwitch" by author Ken Douglas, which was also published under a previous pseudonym, Jack Priest.
- In Timothy Williams's Guadeloupe novel, "Un autre soleil", "Another Sun" the spelling soucougnan is adopted in both French and English.
- A Soucouyant appears in The Night Piece, a collection of short-stories written by André Alexis.
- In Byzantium, a Neil Jordan film, one of the protagonists, Eleanor Webb, refers to vampires in her story as "soucriants". On the other hand, there isn't any reference to Caribbean mythology in the movie itself and the vampires' origin is hinted as pre-Christian European.
- Welland, Michael (January 2009). Sand: The Never-Ending Story. University of California Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-520-25437-6.
- Courtesy The Heritage Library via the Trinidad Guardian
- Maberry, Jonathan (September 1, 2006). Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt ... Citadel. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-8065-2813-7.
- The Night Piece
- Myths and Maxims: A Catalog of Superstitions, Spirits and Sayings of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean by Josanne Leid