A duppy is a type of ghost or spirit native to Jamaican folklore. Duppies, while ghosts, have much in common with European shapeshifters and roadside tricksters. They have a physical body, like to hide in dark places to then jump on their unsuspecting victims, like to play tricks on people. However, instead of crossroads and woods, Jamaican duppies preferred to hide in bamboo thickets and cottonwood groves, as many of them also feed on bamboo.
Duppies are nocturnal beings, appearing from seven in the evening till five in the morning. Only a few very powerful duppies can remain in their corporeal forms until noon.
Duppy activities range from simple mischief and trickery to arson, beating, burning, poisoning, and stoning, but they are powerless against twins and those born with a caul. A left-handed crack with a tarred whip and the burning of certain herbs also keep them away.
One of the most dangerous and feared duppies is the Rolling-Calf. Rolling—which here is used as in roaming—refers to this duppy’s habit of walking through towns in the nightly hours. The Rolling-Calf is a shapeshifter that can appear in a number of guises but most often chooses to look like a hornless goat, white or spotted, with an extraordinarily strong caprine stench. One of its front legs is human, the other is that of a horse, and the two hind legs are those of a goat. Its tail curls over its back. Its eyes are red and glow like blazing fires. Flames come from its nostrils. Around its neck, a collar hangs loose. From this collar, a chain drags on the ground, rattling ominously. However, the rolling-calf can also appear as a cat, dog, pig, goat, bull, or horse.
This duppy is so deeply feared by people in the Caribbean Region, the legendary Caribbean Maroon warriors used to tell stories about it to test the bravery of their children:
Dark tales of Maroon warriors,
fierce women and men
bush comrades of Cuchulain.
We swap duppy stories, dark night doings.
I show him the link of the rolling calf’s chain
And an old hige’s salt skin carcass
Only the soul of a particularly wicked person can become a rolling-calf. Murderers return as rolling-calves. The Obeah men (i.e., thos who practiced the sorcery and rituals developed among enslaved West Africans) also become rolling-calves after death, and in life, they can set rolling-calves on people as a way of torture.
Most often, Rolling-calves are found in bamboo and cottonwood, but in arid terrain they inhabit caves and abandoned houses. If not under the command of an Obeah, they come out on moonless nights, searching for sugary treats (they are fond of molasses) and breaking into cattle pens.
Rolling-calves can wreak all sorts of evil and blow evil breath on their victims. To get rid of them you must flog them with a tarred whip using your left hand. You can also stick a double-bladed knife into the ground. However, the most useful way to repel them is to use mirrors or any other reflecting surface to let them see moonlight, as they are terrified of the moon. Whatever method is used to escape from a rolling-calf, you would be well advised to leave the premises at once, for the rolling-calf will always return with a vengeance.
-Tewfik, L., 2007. ‘I arise and go with William Butler Yeats…’: Cultural Dovetailing in Lorna Goodison’s Country Sligoville. Guest Editor: Jorge L. Chinea, p.225
-Struselis, A., 2001. Postcolonial ghosts in the Caribbean: Lloyd w brown's Duppies. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 39(1), pp.97-106.