Superstitions on the Wall: Do they ever die?

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I don’t know about you, but I love liming with older folks, like my Aunty Silvia, who’s passed on, or my granny, who’s stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. I love the stories they would tell you, and the things that they’d say to do and not to do… you know, those old superstitions that would make you say, “Eh?”

I never dared to question my elders. If granny said to close the umbrella in the house, I was not going to ask why. To this day, I still won’t open the umbrella in the house. Superstitions are just that, superstitions, but have you ever really thought about them? Do they make sense? I’m not too sure, but I stay on the side of caution.

Walking backwards wards off spirits… and bandits

Since I was a child, I used to hear my grandmother telling my mother that if she came home after midnight, she better had walk in the house backwards so that spirits don’t follow her inside. That’s funny, because many of us feters would have some ‘back walking’ to do. So, I was surprised to find that almost 60% of the persons I randomly surveyed still do this today.

I followed this superstition religiously until I moved out on my own, and then, ironically, I would just look left, right and around before I entered my apartment. You’d think I would be really afraid – and in a way yes, but I was looking for bandits, not spirits. However, the way things goin’ these days, is bess we look for both yes! We’ve also been told to close doors facing the outside so that spirits don’t follow you inside.

There are other superstitions about spirits and death and our older folks would tell these with a passion and intensity that would send you to bed quivering, wanting a pillow to hug up and sleeping with one eye open. If you’re alone in the house and you hear someone call your name, would you answer? I won’t. The ole folks used to say do not answer, ’cause it could be a spirit calling. I think this is a given. I’ve watched too many horror movies to know what the outcome of THAT could be.


Washing off death

When I was a child, I remembered pointing at a hearse, and my granny slapped my hand down and told me my finger would drop off. How traumatic! Since then, I have never pointed at another hearse, cemetery or grave. As a matter of fact, I have never been one to go to many funerals. People say that you should throw a stone or water over your right shoulder when coming home from a funeral. Others urge you to wash your hands thoroughly in a sink outside, before entering the house, as this washes the death off you.


Bad luck and poverty

Superstitions like breaking mirrors, which subsequently leaves you with seven-plus years of bad luck, walking under a ladder, and allowing a black cat to cross your path are all global don’ts, if you want to avoid bad luck. But in Trinidad, we’re special and we’ve been told not to put a hat on a bed as someone could get sick, not to pass or hand people pepper sauce, as that’s bad luck, and not to cut your finger nails after 6 p.m., because that would also bring you bad luck or poverty. Then there’s the age-old “don’t rest yuh bag on the floor” because that will stop from you from having money.

In Trinidad and Tobago, routine, household cleaning can bring bad luck. Sweeping out the front door can sweep away your riches and if the broom brushes against your foot, well boy oh boy, are you in trouble because you won’t get married. This has happened to me so many times, no wonder I’m in the position I’m in: single. And when in a rush to tidy up, that bit about sweeping out the door goes “out the door” literally. However, the good thing about a broom is that you can place it upside down when you want visitors to leave or to keep people out of your home. Unfortunately sometimes superstitions don’t come with proper instructions, so I’m assuming I’d have to hide that turned over broom somewhere, otherwise my “guests” may know that I’m trying to get them the heck out.


Blighting yuhself

I consciously avoid not pointing to myself when talking about other person’s injuries or pain and when other people do it, I tell them, “Don’t mark yuhself!” I am not ashamed to say that I actually believe that “marking yourself” can open up your chances of bringing about blight in some way. I also don’t let people cross over me because of the belief that it stunts growth. If they do, I let them cross right back over in the same spot. Ok, I know that at 26 years old, there’s no way I can grow vertically anymore, but at 5″1′, one can have hope that miracles do happen (I’ve been doing this for years, so let me be).

You also don’t lend anything you use to clean your floor (e.g. floor polish or broom) to anyone, else the ‘jumbie’ on them or whatever bad influences reside in their home will be transferred to you, when you use it again.


The ones that don’t make sense

Finally, there are the sayings that don’t really make sense. When we comb our hair and strands or clumps are left in the brush or comb, why should we wrap it up in a piece of paper and dispose of it? Perhaps this lies in the old belief in Obeah where people who don’t like you could do all sorts of things to you, using your hair (or so I’ve heard). Do you also know that if your hem gets undone or if a button falls off, you’re supposed to put a piece of paper in your mouth before you sew or stitch something that you’re already wearing? My grandmother never let me sew anything while I was wearing it, and made sure I had that piece of paper in my mouth. Why. ‘Cause it meant to people would bad talk you. I still don’t understand the correlation.

I can’t prove if any of these statements are true or not. Still these stories  and superstitions pass through generations, creating memories and habits. In my case, my grandmother’s knowledge has been taken by Alzheimer’s, but I will always keep in mind the advice she used to give me and smile. Everyone has had a few superstitions passed onto them. Got any you want to share?


Author bio: Certainly a “Jackie of all Trades”, Keisha Stephen-Gittens is a professional makeup artist, and has always had a keen interest in the arts and theatre, having been part of small productions. She holds degrees in journalism, public relations and communication studies, and is now an Account Coordinator at one of Trinidad’ and Tobago’s top, advertising agencies. Follow her on Facebook.


Image courtesy; Kech


Check out the rest of this week’s issue (Issue 33: 22/11/10):


Keisha Stephen-Gittens

Certainly a "Jackie of all Trades", Keisha Stephen-Gittens is a professional makeup artist, and has always had a keen interest in the arts and theatre, having been part of small productions. She holds degrees in journalism, public relations and communication studies, and is now an Account Coordinator at one of Trinidad' and Tobago's top, advertising agencies. Follow her on Facebook.

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