Before the coffin leaves the house, the husband or wife of the deceased must put on a piece of black cloth with a white cross made of chalk. This is to be worn for the next four to five months.
Buttons must be removed from the clothes of the deceased and the clothes must be pinned or sewn without knots or the ghost will return. Pockets must also be sewn up or the ghost will return and fill it with stones and harm those left alive.
If you leave a wake, simply touch a person who is to leave with you – do not announce it – so that the duppy does not follow you home. You should also walk backwards and turn around three times since duppies walk in a straight line.
The body must be taken out feet first and through the front door. If the back door is used, the spirit of the dead will not leave the house.
As soon as the body leaves, the room must be swept out.
* Either one man or an odd number of men should dig the grave. After the digger makes the first dig, he should drink some rum.
* The grave must be dug east to west and the body placed to face the sun.
* When filling the grave, the diggers must stand with their backs to the grave and throw dirt in backwards through their legs to prevent the ghost from following them home.
* A calabash tree should be planted at the head and foot of the grave.
Duppies are said to live in the roots of cotton trees, bamboo thickets or in abandoned buildings. They eat bamboo roots, fig leaves and the fruit of a vine called the ‘duppy pumpkin’. Although generally believed to be harmful (especially when used by an obeah-man), there are good and bad duppies.
Duppies can take on the shape of humans or animals and are also able to change themselves into different forms. They can talk, laugh, sing, cook, smoke, ride horses and generally do anything a human can. When they do ride, however, they are said to use the animal’s tail as a bridle.
Interestingly, a number of Jamaican plant names feature the word ‘duppy’. This use of the term ‘duppy’ in plant names to distinguish between edible and inedible plants shows how superstition helps to direct the relationship between Jamaicans and their environment. Generally, what is good for the duppy is bad for humans – this is an important lesson to learn from a young age. For example, there is the real chocho and the duppy chocho, the real coconut and the duppy coconut. There is the real tomato and the duppy tomato, the real soursop and the duppy soursop and the real cherry and the duppy cherry, etc. Similarly, certain plants like night-blooming jasmine are known to attract duppies and Jamaicans know to keep them away from their homes (Resford, J.,1984, p. 69). According to noted historian Edward Long, this belief in the good and bad qualities of certain plants and trees comes from Africa. (as cited, ibid., 1984, p. 69).
Again, the information included in these folk customs about duppies is consistently specific. The following are noted by JIS (1991):
If you are followed by a duppy, stop and mark an X on the ground and since they can only count to nine they will spend the night trying to count to X.
Do not speak to a duppy immediately or it will hurt you. If he is wearing black, he is harmless. But if he is wearing white, he is dangerous.
Use your left hand to strike a duppy.
Do not kill any green lizards in a graveyard as they are believed to be duppies.
If you are in the bushes and hear a stick break, it is a warning from a dead relative that the area is unsafe.
If you feel a sudden gust of warm air, it means that a duppy is present.
While there is no official recognition of the role of superstition in everyday Jamaican life, it is clearly holding on strong as generation after generation share these ideas and continue to act on these beliefs.
Sources: Author unknown. (1991) Jamaica Folk Customs and Beliefs. Kingston: Jamaica Information Service (JIS), Hopwood, A. (2003). “Jamaican ‘Dead Yard’ Cultures and Customs throughout the Years,” in “J. D. Morgan and P. Laungani (eds). Death and Bereavement Around the World. Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Co.; pp. 77-94., Folk-Lore of the Negroes of Jamaica: (Continued) Folklore, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Mar. 25, 1905), pp. 68-77 http://links.jstor.org