If you were brave enough to face down jumbies under a full moon, you certainly weren’t going to let a little rain keep you away – or even a lot of it.
A heavy rain across the western half of St. Croix mid-afternoon on Saturday dampened the enthusiasm of some who might otherwise have attended Jumbie Talk, the annual gathering organized by Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism. The event is held on the weekend of the full moon, and in the past has drawn more than 200 people to Mt. Victory Camp for an evening of local food, a haunted hike and sitting around the campfire listening to jumbie tales.
This year that number was drastically reduced. The heavy rain let up long before organizers opened the gates, but for many it had been a bad harbinger, and some who started to make the drive might have been given pause by the runoff cascading down Creque Dam Road.
The result was a crowd of about 60, and the local cooks who had prepared food for a division looked dismayed at the platoon-sized gathering.
But if the numbers were down, those who made the trek were rewarded for their effort with a nearly-full moon shining intently down out of a mostly clear sky, and a swarm of stories about that sly spirit – the jumbie.
"We’re lucky the brave ones came out," said Frandelle Gerard, executive director of CHANT and organizer of the event. "It was a little late to cancel."
The audience covered the whole range – from people in their 70s to small children, people who have lived their entire life on the island and others who have lived here less than a year. And some of the latter were as enthusiastic in telling their stories as the old-timers.
Cultural guardian Willard John emceed the proceedings, calling people up to share a story and leading the rounds of applause when they finished. He also quizzed the audience – What does a jumbie not like? Lime, garlic, salt and loud noises. What do you do if a jumbie follows you? Wear your clothes inside out and/or backwards, walk backwards, hide under things.
Frederiksted native Wayne "Bully" Petersen was the crowd favorite, regaling the audience with his story about the time he disobeyed his father’s edict and he and a friend snuck out at night to go fishing from the pier. By the time they made it home they’d been frightened by at least three different jumbies, including jumbies gambling in the street.
Chastened, Petersen said he never went out at night again, and had to undergo counseling to get over the trauma. His friend, he added, was never the same and had to go stateside where he now lives "in a hospital called Bellevue" – New York’s famous psychiatric hospital.
"People always have a curiosity about the unknown and the supernatural," he said later when asked why people like to sit around telling ghost stores – or on this island, jumbie tales.
Gerard agreed, saying the Jumbie Talk – with its family-friendly atmosphere and beautiful setting – harked back to an earlier, simpler time. Not that many years ago people didn’t have home entertainment centers and computer and smart phones to occupy them.
"It’s reminiscent of a time when people would sit together and tell stories," she said.
As Veronica Gordon, who had led the walk down Creque Dam Road, wrapped up the evening with one more story, the rain came back. By then, the audience had been treated to plenty, and because they were small in numbers, they had one more treat in store. Gerard insisted that everyone take at least an extra plate of food or two home with them, because she hated to see it go to waste.