[00:00:00] Dev Ramsawakh: You’re going to want to hit that subscribe button
[00:00:24] Clif Knight: With your hosts, myself, Clif Knight and Dev Ramsawakh
[00:00:28] Dev Ramsawakh: On Jumbie, we’re going to hear dark and haunting stories from local storytellers that are inspired or about the spirits, monsters and other cryptids from colonized places.
[00:00:38] Clif Knight: These are stories that don’t often get to be told on larger stages.
Not everybody grows up with stories of vampires and werewolves, or at least like the ones you can buy books about.
[00:00:48] Dev Ramsawakh: Then we’ll sit in conversation with our storyteller to explore their relationship with their story with horror and how colonization ties into any of that.
[00:00:56] Clif Knight: For our inaugural episode, we’re going to be doing something a little different.
[00:01:01] Dev Ramsawakh: To set the stage for the next 11 episodes, I’m going to flip the script a little bit and put Clif in our storyteller seat.
[00:01:07] Clif Knight: This is so you can get to know a little bit more about us and why we’re interested in not just talking about monsters, but why it matters to talk about monsters from colonized places.
[00:01:18] Dev Ramsawakh: Clif Knight is a Guyanese born comedian, musician, storyteller, and producer based in Toronto, performing internationally, both live and virtually. He has spent over five years crafting a style and comfort to tell stories that make people laugh, think, and come together for a great time.
[00:01:35] Clif Knight: This is my Jumbie story.
By Clif Knight. One day, some boys were playing hide and seek in the bush behind their yards. While the biggest boy counted all the younger ones, scurried away, looking for somewhere to hide. The youngest of them Akeem ran deep into the forest, looking for somewhere that would be a suitable hiding spot. After sometime he came upon a huge mango tree in a clearing, which towered over him.
“Eh bai, they got Mango in there or whuh?
He peered among the branches and while there was no fruit hiding between the leaves, it looked easily climbable and would be an ideal hiding spot. So up he went! Once he had gotten to a suitable vantage point, he sat and waited for the other boys to come find him. After some time the sun began to set, but the other boys had not yet come to look for him.
So he started to climb down. He needed to get home before dark. If you wanted to avoid having his mother holler for him. On his way down the tree, he noticed that the sunlight hit this clearing a little strange, giving it an eerie and almost magical feel. He was marveling at this when his foot slipped on a mossy branch and he fell into open space.
“Oh gosh, mi go dead right ,” he thought flashing through his mind, Akeem tumbled through the branches, a scream jumping from his throat, but just as he was about to hit the ground face first… He stopped. It felt as though something had caught him, he checked to see if maybe he was snagged on a branch or landed in a bush, but no, there, he was floating out in the middle of the sun lit clearing.
Whatever was holding him, cradled his body swung him upright and put him down gently.
“Dis gah be obeah bai!” he said to himself and ran all the way back through the bush, straight to his back door and slammed it shut.
“Trow salt behind you. Make sure jumbie nuh follow yuh!” he heard his mother’s voice scream in his head. So he stuck his hand in a big jar of salt on the kitchen counter and threw an entire handful back out behind him, into the yard and ran up into his bed, terrified.
The next day Akeem was talking to his two friends about what had happened when the oldest boy Joseph walked up to them.
“I hear you’re telling people lies about what dey in the bush back there!”
“Mi ain’t lyin’,” exclaimed Akeem. “Something invisible dey back there! Come! Mi guh show yuh!”
And so they set off through the dense bush and before long, they were at the clearing with the big mango tree.
The sun was just starting to set when the light shifted into that strange, almost magical glow. Akeem climbed part way up the tree, closed his eyes and let go, falling backwards to the earth. Just like before, something strong yet unseen caught him and floated him gently back down to the earth.
“Wuh? I wan try,” said one boy. “Me too, me too!” said another excitedly.
“No! Mi first!” yelled, Joseph pushing his way past them and clambering up the tree. He decided to turn around, then jumped down into the clearing. But no such luck for him though, as he landed on the ground hard and twisted his ankle. The other boys started laughing at him, but were stopped when he jumped to his feet and rushed over to Akeem.
“I know you did lyin’,” he snarled grabbing Akeem by the shirt and raising his fist. “Now ah got buss yuh head!”
Time seemed to slow as Joseph swung his hand down for the punch. Akeem closed his eyes and braced for impact, but it never came. He looked up only to see Joseph suspended, 10 feet above the ground, slowly rotating in the golden light. For a moment, joseph seemed to be enjoying the ride.
“Wuh bai dis bad for days!” Then suddenly his face contorted as his entire left leg was ripped from his body and disappeared. Blood spurted out of the spot in his hip, where his leg had been while he emitted a blood curdling scream. The other boys had been staring with their jaws hanging open up until this point, not a sound coming out of their mouths.
Joseph was still gasping and crying while his body twisted around and ripped him in half, like an old dish towel, silencing his voice. At this time, the other boys started their own screaming, turned tail and ran back in the direction of their respective homes. Akeem stumbled back, not believing what he was seeing as parts of Joseph’s body kept disappearing off his frame. The sounds and sick pops and crunches as his bones twisted and broke, reverberating off the leafy walls of the clearing.
Then the invisible footsteps started coming closer to him. This jolted him to his feet. He spun around and began to run crashing through the trees and bushes, enduring scratches and twigs slapping his face, ignoring the bugs and frogs that wanted to cling to his clothes, tripping over roots and stones.
He just never stopped until he made it back home, grabbed another handful of salt and threw it fiercely out the back window, turned around and froze. His family was at the dinner table in the middle of eating dinner, staring at him. His mother jumped up to tend to his scratched face and arms while his father took a more serious tone.
“Is where you been bai? All this time you cyan hear your mudder callin’ fuh you? Like you want to stay home til yuh get ole like mi?” The sharp rapt tones always hit Akeem in the heart and made him panic. He decided it was best to not tell them about what had happened.
“No, sir, I be jus out playing,” Akeem stammered. “I lose track of de time and–”
“An you lose track of de sun too,” his father cut him off. “You know wuh? Go to your room right now. You cyan be disrespecting people and still expect fuh eat!”
Akeem was stunned. Not only did he just have a harrowing experience, but he would have to go to bed and think about it with an empty stomach. He wasn’t sure he could eat anyway.
He lay in bed thinking, why did it only attack Joseph? Was it because he was older or because he was being mean? He couldn’t bear not knowing and couldn’t sleep anyway. So he decided to borrow his father’s flashlight and he slipped out of his room, snuck across the large living room to the table where he knew his father kept his flashlight, grabbed it and was about to slide the lock on the back door when suddenly someone grabbed his hand and the light flipped on.
“Is where yuh goin’ wit me good, good, expensive torch light boy,” his father roared into his face.
“Um, um, nutting.” Akeem was still shocked and truly had no explanation for what he was doing.
“Well, now ah got to see is wuh going on.” His father grabbed his shoes and put them on. “Yuh gon tek me wherever it is you be goin’.”
Akeem had no words as his father pulled him by the hand out the back door, his mother and sister awake now, anxiously watching them leave. Going into the bush, he heard his father grumbling about being out and about this late at night and it made Akeem realize he had no idea whether or not the thing would even still be there at this time. He’d only visited during sunset.
At night, the bush was different. The air was still and heavy. The ambient tree and animal noises were foreboding and unfamiliar and seemed a lot closer than they did during the daytime. Coming upon the clearing, Akeem immediately knew this was a mistake. He turned around and started begging his father to turn back.
“Daddy, daddy, please, no!” Akeem threw his arms around his father to slow him down, but in doing so he fumbled the flashlight and it smashed on a nearby tree and went out.
“Boy! It’s just so you go an break me brand new torchlight!” His father was in a wild rage now and Akeem knew nothing could stop him. “You want to put two hot lash in yuh tail right now?”
“I, sorry, daddy. I going to pay for the torchlight, just lewwe go now. Please!” Akeem was desperate to now leave the clearing. The moonlight was starting to shift. Akeem stumbled through the bush going back in the general direction of his house. He was going as fast as he could, but there was no light save for the thin beams of moonlight that penetrated the foliage. He couldn’t catch his breath. His stuttered sobs kept coming uncontrollably as he fumbled his way through the dark pathway and he carried his load. Slowly, he crawled all the way back to the house and collapsed once he was inside the back door. His mother heard the commotion and came out of the room.
” Akeem? Errol? Is where y’all been?” she asked in the darkness. Then she turned on the light and screamed. For on the floor, covered in dirt and blood and slime, lay Akeem, crying whilst gripping an arm that bore only a watch and a wedding ring.
Wails and moans emanated from the house as the jar of salt sat forgotten on the kitchen counter. The door slowly creeped open as though pushed by something unseen.
[00:11:08] Sound: Transition sound by Zee Thompson.
[00:11:10] Dev Ramsawakh: So that was De Jumbie by Clif Knight, who is with me right now.
[00:11:15] Clif Knight: Hey everybody. What’s up. It’s me Clif Knight. You just heard me reading my, uh, short story, De Jumbie, uh, hope you liked it. I hope you liked it.
[00:11:25] Dev Ramsawakh: So let’s talk a little bit about the word Jumbie. Can you for our listeners explain what the word Jumbie means?
[00:11:33] Clif Knight: So it’s typically, uh, you know, it’s, it’s kind of a patois, a little bit of a Creole word that we use in Guyana to kind of describe any sort of spirits, uh, you know, in greater parts of the Caribbean, they’ll say duppy, you know, uh, it’s about the same kind of idea, any sort of ghost or dark spirit or demon. It kind of all gets lumped into this general term, “that’s a jumbie, that’s a jumbie ting.” You know, so here in Toronto, people talk about the Toronto Ghost, like that would be a, be a white jumbie, I don’t know. But, uh, yeah, that’s basically what jumbie, you know, means colloquially.
[00:12:10] Dev Ramsawakh: So for your story jumbie is just like a catch all name for the mysterious creature in your, in your story. It’s not based on anything specific?
[00:12:21] Clif Knight: Not really. Just because like any story, any jumbie story specifically. Uh, a lot of times there’ll be names that are particularly attached to a type of creature. You know, you have Ole Higue, you have the Dutchman, you have the Moongazer, all these different stories.
Those are all, I would say, large category of jumbie, but when you have some sort of unexplained spirit or demon people kind of just go with, “that’s a jumbie, that’s obeah.” You know, and they kind of like lump it all together. And, uh, who knows at this point? So that’s why I was just like, you know, I have this sort of monster that occurs basically in like the back dam, the bush in Guyana. And it’s not really explored as, you know, its motivations, what it does or anything. So I decided to just label it, the Jumbie.
[00:13:13] Dev Ramsawakh: You mentioned obeah back there, which I think is a term people might be more familiar with, but you also mentioned like the term, like duppy, is like obeah and jumbie like a similar thing, or is it… different?
[00:13:33] Clif Knight: Uh, is not really similar at all. This just comes down to once again, just a lot of people lumping some of these terms together to basically mean that this sort of version of, of the occult, you know, it’s this holistic dark magic, you know, is kind of how it’s branded this sort of sister to voodoo. Uh, even though they’re not very related, you know, according to my research, it’s just, you know, once again, colloquially people kind of just say, “this unexplained thing”, you know, you, you have this weird pain in your stomach, das obeah, somebody wuk obeah upon you. You know, you have an unexpected breakup, ooh somebody doin obeah, dey black tongue, dey black eye you, you know, all these kinds of little things. I don’t think, you know, intellectually that they’re related is just that sort of thing. You know, kids playing on the playground, it’s like, “this jumbie, das obeah, dis is…” you know, it’s all related, but it’s not actually related.
[00:14:30] Dev Ramsawakh: So this podcast kind of came out of our shared interest in well, kind of in our shared Guyanese background, as well as this, you know, from my background, producing Sick Sad World, that I am a big true crime and horror fan. Uh, I know you’re not as into the genre, but you’ve been like kind of getting into it a bit more lately. Do you wanna explain for our listeners a little bit more about why you wanted to dive into Caribbean horror stories specifically.
[00:15:06] Clif Knight: Well, yes, you’re right. I’m not so huge into the, you know, the scary genre so much. I think part of the reason why it kind of came to me, I spent, uh, a little bit of time on the set of American Gods. I read the book, I watched the whole show and it was very much like all of these mythological cultures were represented so well, you know, and these are the stories that people have heard over and over again. They’ve been told in the media, they’d been put into books, they’ve been put into cartoons, into comic books and things like that. And I realized that the representation of Anansi, that is a trickster God from Africa, which we also have, you know, our own Anansi stories in the Caribbean. You know, it’s one of the more famous African gods pan-African gods, I would say.
But a lot of the other stories from the Caribbean and Africa are strictly oral tradition. You know, they’re not really written anywhere. There’s no media created around it, you know, that isn’t campy and, and, and isn’t restricted to like children, you know, and I just really remember having some good, exciting, scary stories.
Like with my grandfather, my mom would sit down. You know, in Guyana, like expect to get blackout around sunset, around six o’clock or whatever, the lights are gonna go out. You’re gonna have to turn on your candles. You’re going to have to turn on your lamps and, uh, you can’t do anything. You can’t watch TV. You can’t cook. There’s not really any light. You can’t do your homework. You can’t even think, it’s so hot. The most you can do is sit outside and tell some scary stories, you know? And, uh, yeah, just realizing that I had missed a lot of that and that nobody’s really retelling any of those made me really want to be like, Hey, maybe I can start this up, write a few of my own, research a few, find out if anybody else is telling these stories and maybe we can start getting them recorded.
[00:17:05] Dev Ramsawakh: Yeah. Like I remember asking my dad to tell me some of the stories. And I do remember him telling me about the Moongazer and another one about a fireball, but I, I think we might
[00:17:22] Clif Knight: Fire rass, yeah.
[00:17:23] Dev Ramsawakh: We might hear more about that later on in the season, but that kind of brings me back to another reason that I was interested in doing this podcast with you. And that was the, the way in which being a queer diasporic Caribbean person, I’m very disconnected from Caribbean culture because of the estrangement I have from family, just due to, uh, you know, having to make certain choices out of survival and not being able to just have certain stories or even just the ability to, to just go to someone and ask about a cultural story and be able to get an answer, uh, without having to go through a bunch of, you know, therapy.
[00:18:14] Clif Knight: [laughs]
[00:18:14] Dev Ramsawakh: and that kind of makes me think about how we use storytelling to make community. And why, why do you think it’s important that we should be doing this kind of cultural storytelling, even outside of the diaspora and maybe, you know, like myself, like within these like sub-communities, uh, that, that exist for us.
[00:18:39] Clif Knight: Yeah, I do think it’s very important to like bring back some of what you know, would have gone before some of these classic stories. I have this background of studying great Caribbean storytellers, guys like Sprangalang, Paul Keens-Douglas, and whatnot, that weren’t just comedians. Like they were funny, but they told stories, they had poems that had narrative and things like that. And I feel like, in the, in the, in the greater scope of things, a lot of, uh, not just diasporic, uh, Caribbean people, but like people still in the Caribbean, uh, they’ve had so much American culture imported very directly, uh, and, and it starts to super impose a little bit. And so people end up losing parts of what is their own culture in favor of something that’s more assimilative, uh, you know, from specifically North America and Europe. And so I think there could be a lot of value, not just in reconnecting to those roots but also in that these are new stories that are not new stories.
There’s still is a lot of, you know, surface area to be covered. In terms of media, uh, especially when you have the Caribbean. Like we export culture, like it’s mostly Jamaica sure. And Trinidad a little bit, you know, but we export serious amounts of culture all over the world. And there’s just parts of that, that just doesn’t get to tag along because of the nature of how it is relayed, you know, it’s this oral tradition that’s kind of kept just for the people who have access to the elders who were going to be able to tell these stories. I think that there can be new retellings of some of these stories in, in these new genres, in these new mediums. And so not only is it important to reconnect, you know, to our roots in that way, but it’s just a huge opportunity for people to be able to use some of these characters, some of these myths to enhance their own.
[00:20:43] Dev Ramsawakh: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. We’ve retold the vampire myth, so many times
[00:20:50] Clif Knight: All the Greek gods, all of the Roman gods.
[00:20:53] Dev Ramsawakh: And even now that we’re branching into like Norse mythology, it’s still the same Norse gods, still Thor, still Odin, still
[00:21:04] Clif Knight: Loki has how many different iterations, you know, and even if we’re talking other versions of, uh, quote-unquote Indigenous myths, like the wendigo, like the chupacabra and things like that those are only really represented in the mainstream as part of American culture. Not really as part of Indigenous or like Mexican-Indigenous culture that they’re really from. And there for sure are more myths that just are being left off the bill because they don’t fit into whatever story the North Americans are trying to tell.
[00:21:39] Dev Ramsawakh: So, you know, I’m up to talk about this for a lot longer, but, uh, we should probably jump back to your story a little bit more.
[00:21:49] Clif Knight: Sure.
[00:21:50] Dev Ramsawakh: So you mentioned that like this jumbie in your story is not actually based on like any stories that you grew up with. Is there anything that you were basing it on when you were writing it?
[00:22:02] Clif Knight: There is this general feel anytime, like if you grow up, like me in the city, Georgetown is still a very much like a garden city. There’s there’s parts of Bush and random swamps kind of everywhere. But if you find yourself in the interior, like you’ve gone to a creek or you went to close by the airport, you cross the bridge, anything like that, you’ve gone camping.
There’s this general feel of, you’re going out at night? Eh bai, you know, like you gotta be careful, you know, you have to know what you’re doing and that’s partly from, yeah, superstition, but also partly from, oh, there’s totally going to be jaguars around. There’s going to be caimans, there’s going to be spiders, snakes, any amount of deadly things can kind of come for you, but it is much more, I want to say powerful in a way to attach them to these superstitions.
A lot of the Indigenous cultures, we have this whole thing about kanaima, which is, you know, is another story that I’m trying to work on, which is the, sort of the, the catch all term for the Indigenous evil spirit. Although they’re not necessarily always evil, I suppose, and from my own experience, not a whole lot apart from being camping one time and not being able to explain how, you know, the sun set a lot faster than we thought it would. And we didn’t have time to get back. We got a little bit lost. And so this, it started to feel very much like, oh, uh, is this it? Are we dead? Like, you know, we never gonna make it back. And we kind of did, but it’s that primal fear is definitely there at the forefront of your brain anytime you’re putting that sort of situation.
[00:23:47] Dev Ramsawakh: Another part of your, your story I wanted to touch on is, uh, you mentioned throwing salt over your shoulder or your main character’s shoulder as he runs back into the house. Why, why was that significant part of the story?
[00:24:03] Clif Knight: It’s a general and to be honest, I don’t know whether or not it specifically applies to all of the, you know, supernatural. I know for sure it applies to like Ole Higue, you know, you want to throw rice or salt or something like that. The, the salt you can salt the skin, you know, on Ole Higue. This jumbie is just kind of like throw salt over your shoulder when you come back from anywhere, the burial ground or something like that. So as to make sure that something can follow you, that’s kind of a general rule of thumb, you know, superstition, throw some salt behind you.
And it was very significant, uh, for this character because he has the supernatural experience and he remembers to throw the salt behind him when he comes back. But the last time, his most harrowing experience. It’s just too much for him. He can’t even remember to do the thing that will keep him safe. And so it is this very important part of, you know, general superstitions. So I figured, yeah, make sure I put it in there because people are gonna recognize it and maybe, uh, salt prices will go up. I don’t know.
[00:25:13] Dev Ramsawakh: I know salt does come up in a lot of mythologies and folklore across a lot of cultures. Not that I expect you to have an answer for this, but do you have any thoughts on like what the significance of salt is just in general? Like why across so many cultures, do we like go back to salt.
[00:25:40] Clif Knight: Yeah. I don’t know. There’s a few theories for myself, you know, salt and just used as currency. It’s that kind of like all purpose seasoning. It’s very responsive in our, in our taste system, you know, we kind of use salt on everything. It’s got this healing, you know, or antiseptic property, you know, you put a salt in a wound too, to kind of make sure that it’s, it can be handled or whatever. I don’t really know what the science is behind that. I just know that something that people will do in general. You know, it’s ubiquitous. It’s very powerful. You know, we make it, use it to make saline and all these sorts of things. So salt probably just has this sort of a space in our brain, maybe not evolutionarily, but like societaly, across greater society. Humans just decided, you know, salt is good. We’re going to use it for everything. Yeah. Even, even rock salt, sometimes it’s used in weaponry. So it’s probably, you know, some sort of sanctified, uh, or I don’t really, I don’t have a greater answer, but people be using salt, people be salty, I guess. Yeah.
[00:26:53] Dev Ramsawakh: I guess that’s the truth always, uh, people be salty. Yeah. So I just have like one last question for you before, uh, we kind of wrap this up. Uh, I, I know that like when you were writing this, it was mostly just to, you know, like write a ghost story, but was there anything else that you were trying to explore with this story or when writing the story, was there anything that kind of came out to you as, as being something that you were processing while writing it?
[00:27:25] Clif Knight: Um, in a way, I guess there’s that notion, I mean, this story’s gone through several different versions by now. One of the original versions, it just includes the main character just feeling a little bit, a little bit dejected. Like he doesn’t have friends, and he kind of finds a friend in this invisible force that he’s found out in the bush, you know, and it kind of, it comes to his aid, you know, in, in these scenarios.
And so there is that sort of, you know, at times feeling that you’re alone and the only thing that you can rely on to like help, you can’t depend on people. God forbid, no, you, you go out and you find some sort of supernatural force to come back and have your back. For a lot of people that ends up being, you know, the church or religion in some sort of, you know, fashion, they, they figure out some, some imaginary friend that will help them through whatever their hardships are in the same way that Akeem has done, he’s he’s gotten lost quote unquote in the forest and found a friend that’s willing to protect him. And I think that’s a, that kind of illustrates maybe, um, a personal feeling that I may have felt at some point in time, uh, in high school or even, even now there’s times that you just feel like I don’t wanna have any friends, you know, I might as little just go live in the woods by myself.
Uh, and then you figure out you’re not by yourself. And it’s a, it’s a trope that’s, uh, been used multiple times in multiple ways. You know, even to think back to something like Castaway, Tom Hanks and his character just ends up figuring out an imaginary friend in his volleyball. So I think it’s part of that human condition, is that if you’re feeling alone, you’ll always find a way to, to figure out how to not be.
[00:29:15] Dev Ramsawakh: Yeah. And I think that’s actually a great way to sum up a lot of reasons why we may, as people, uh,
[00:29:25] Clif Knight: as a species
[00:29:27] Dev Ramsawakh: uh, yeah, as a species concoct, these stories or whether or not they are true or not. But maybe the fact that we need to believe is tied to that need to feel like we aren’t alone, especially when we do live in such a capitalist system that really emphasizes individualism and being alone.
[00:29:48] Clif Knight: Well, uh, yeah, that is a whole different conversation, but, uh, specifically, yeah, capitalism is, is about standing on your own two feet so much in a way that it kind of devalues the idea of society. There is something similar in networking, quote unquote, but that’s not the same as building community, of course. Networking is more of the, the ladder, whereas community is more of a net, I think. Even though net is in networking, is this
[00:30:20] Dev Ramsawakh: [laughs]
yeah, I think that’s a very important distinction to make. Um, anyways, uh, it, it has been, uh, a pleasure as always,
[00:30:33] Clif Knight: likewise, likewise,
[00:30:34] Dev Ramsawakh: uh, chatting with you tonight. Thanks for joining us and for giving us the, the background to Jumbie and setting the stage for an exciting season that we’re launching.
[00:30:47] Clif Knight: I’m looking forward to it.
[00:30:48] Dev Ramsawakh: Yeah. So aside from this podcast, obviously, do you, do you have any, uh, projects or anything uh, we should be looking out for?
[00:30:58] Clif Knight: Um, well, as you know, I’m a standup comedian and producer here in Toronto, so there’s shows happening all the time. There’s stuff that’s, you know, just kind of like pops off. So if anybody wants to see anything that I do, you can always follow me.
Facebook, Instagram, you can search me Clif Knight, that’s Clif with one F, Knight like round table. You’ll find me. And then, uh, you know, click on the link in my bio, or just look at what I post and you’ll be able to see cool new stuff coming up soon.
[00:31:28] Dev Ramsawakh: Awesome.
[00:31:29] Sound: [Outro music begins]
[00:31:30] Dev Ramsawakh: You’re listening to Jumbie produced by Dev Ramsawakh, hosted by Clif Knight. Music by Zee Thompson. Sound effects are creative common sounds from freesound.org. Make sure you’re subscribed so you can catch our next episode with Patrick Salvini, also known as Ms. Nookie Galore. We can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and a bunch of other different directories.
Thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to check those dark shadowy corners. .