• Keir Alekseii Roopnarine

Digging in

Updated: May 26, 2020

In my last world-building post, I mentioned the question that gave rise to Maddie's universe: "What happens if, in a callaloo country, the callaloo people had callaloo powers?"

The immediate answer is "chaos," but if I get into that now, I won't talk about digging in. One thing at a time. 

Anyhoo, before I could identify the callaloo powers of my new world, I needed to know the folklore of the callaloo people. Easy enough for the popular local myths: Soucouyant, Lagahoo, Papa Bois etc. There wasn't much digging needed to learn about these characters or their origins. These are proudly touted parts of T&T's heritage and I don't know a single Trinbagonian who hasn't heard tales of these folk. 

Ironically, my problem was the Indian side of things. How is it that even with 40-ish percent of the population being of Indian descent, so little of the Indian folkloric characters made it into popular Trini myth? 

I only have one theory, really: we (Indo-Trinis) simply don't engage with these tales the way other communities do. 

The majority of Indian folklore comes from the Vedic texts, which are religious texts. These are not, in my experience, used in "cautionary tales" the way I've known the Trini characters to be used. No one ever tell me if I burn down the forest a Rakshasa will beat meh. Or that the old woman down de road is an Apsara in disguise.  Or that if I do a good deed a Yakshini will bless me... 

You see where I'm going with this. Maybe it happens on the other side of the world, but that practice didn't make it this far. Instead, all of our cautionary tales are from the T&T's other roots.

So, that brings me to: digging in. To write about my own Indian heritage from the perspective of our folklore, I had to do extensive research on those very same Vedic texts, and the tales they tell. For example, the most popular stories are of course from the Ramayana and the Mahābhārata. If you've heard the word "rakshasa" before, it was probably in the telling of Sita's kidnapping by Ravana (a rakshasa). 

Sources abound on the internet, of course... but I'm still a child of paper and ink, and this was a fantastic opportunity to expand my book collection. If you're interested in learning more, a simple Amazon search for books gives you a nice long list. Sita Sings the Blues is another lovely resource and I recommend watching, as well as looking at her list of reading recommendations. For my own purposes, the best buys were an encyclopedia of Indian Mythology that I found in a second-hand bookstore and of course varying copies and translations of the Ramayana and the Mahābhārata. If you'd like to read the Bhagavad Gita, just remember it's part of the Mahābhārata so a purchase of one will get you the other, but not the other way around. 

Now, this is not to say I ignored the essential research of the Afro-origins of the Soucouyant etc., but for that I at least had a starting point. 

After some considerable research on both ends, I was ready to start developing the supernatural powers of my characters, which (I am pleased to say) are deeply connected to their heritage. It's the perfect storm for this callaloo country and for some good ole family bacchanal. Imagine two Indian parents have a Soucouyant child. Is it recessive genetics? Or is it horn?

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