April is Celebrate Diversity Month! Over the next few weeks, we’ll recognize and honor our employees’ differences and shine a light on their stories.
Alyssa Sooklal, Water Resources Designer II, Baltimore, MD
Alyssa and her family are from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island country in the Caribbean. Trinidad & Tobago is unique in its ethnic composition; the two dominant heritage groups of the country are South Asian (primarily Indian) and African. The culture of the country is heavily influenced by its history of conquest and immigration, with multiple countries ruling for centuries and long years of slavery and indentured servitude. "As a child, I was always extremely aware of my Indian heritage," Alyssa says. "But, I was also made aware of the many other cultures and groups influencing the country’s makeup and history."
One area that demonstrates the unique blend of cultures is the folklore of the country. During her childhood, Alyssa's parents told her and her siblings various “bedtime stories” to keep them on their best behavior. She remembers the stories often included figures from distinct backgrounds that always felt very real. Alyssa describes a few of her favorites below!
"The Lagahoo (also known as “Lugarhoo”) is a being that can change itself into a half-human, half-animal creature. The Lagahoo changes shape in the dead of night and drags chains as it creeps down the road. Parents would tell their children about the Lagahoo so that children would not sneak out of the house during the night. Additionally, the phrase “dragging chains all night” has become commonplace in everyday Trinidadian language to describe someone who is very tired. For example, if I’m yawning frequently during the day, my mother would ask me if I dragged chains all night.
The Sukuya (also known as “Soucouyant”) is a witch or old hag who has the shape of a woman during the day and the shape of anything else during the night. The Sukuya can change her shape, shed her skin, and cast spells. She walks the night and sucks the blood of unsuspecting people who are wandering in the night. This is another story to keep children (and adults!) at home during the night.
Similarly, Lajables (also known as “La Diablesse”) is the Devil Woman. She made a deal with the Devil to remain forever young, and in exchange, she became a demon. She has a hoofed foot and the face of a corpse, but her face is hidden by a wide-brimmed hat and veil. Lajables casts spells on men and lead them into the forest, where they become confused and die. To overcome the spell of Lajables, you must turn your clothes inside out. Or avoid Lajables altogether and stay home!
Dwens (also known as “Douens”) are the souls or ghosts of children who died before they were baptized. They are cursed to roam the earth and are often seen in empty fields, forests, and dark roads. Dwens do not have faces and their limbs are often turned backward, and they wail and cry in an eerie way. Dwens try to trick human children into following them to the forests or open fields. I have family members who have told me that they’ve seen Dwens. Don’t trust the ghost children!"
These “bedtime stories” stuck with Alyssa throughout her childhood, and, as she grew older, she developed a deeper appreciation for the origin of these stories. There are so many more stories and figures that are prominent in Trinidadian history and knowledge. Alyssa can’t wait to scare her own children with these stories!