Djab: Caribbean Spirits for Hire

Djab are a feature of the Vodun religion, but are associated more with practical magic than with spirituality. Their name is derived from French diable, “devil.” In fact, the same word is found in Louisiana Creole. These beings are not necessarily diabolical, though. Rather, they are what might be called “mercenary spirits”: they are independent supernatural contractors that can be hired or bribed to perform magical work. They must be paid for every job and they can be very aggressive about collections, to the point that they can effectively be the equivalent of supernatural loan sharks.

Djab are conceived as a type of lwa or intermediate spirit between the mortal realm and the Creator. At least some djab are the spirits of deceased mortals—or at least present themselves in this way. It is possible that the “spirits of the dead” interpretation may be the result of Christian missionaries imposing their theological bias upon the legend.

Magical practitioners can summon a djab through spells and rituals. Such spells are typically aggressive and less than savory—means of invocation that other spirits will refuse. Furthermore, djab are willing to do malevolent work from which other spirits may shy.

Djab may serve as guardians to a spell-caster if so requested. They prove to be formidable bodyguards willing to search out and destroy enemies. They are also sometimes invoked to serve justice when it is otherwise not found. Some djab are truly scary and unpleasant while others are just exceptionally independent. Each djab tends to manifest somewhat differently.

Particular djab might be affiliated with a person or a family—who may or may not be able to exert control over it. Like a European-style domestic spirit, it passes itself down from one generation to the next and is treated like one of the clan. Other djab, however, are wild, autonomous spirits who play by no rules but their own.

A “djab-djab” (or “jab-jab”) is a traditional costumed figure of Carnival. They are described as:

men in jester costumes, their caps and shoes filled with tinkling bells, cracking long whips in the streets, with which they lashed at each other with full force, proclaiming in this display that they could receive the hardest blow without flinching at its coming, while feeling what, at its landing, must have been burning pain. (Richard and Jeannette Allsopp, Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage [Oxford University Press, 1996] 194)

A female djab might be called a djablès (diablesse), but usually djab serves for both male and female, both singular and plural. (Djablès or “devil woman” usually refers to an evil creature that appears on a lonely road in the form of a pretty young woman, who lures men into the woods. There, she reveals herself to be an old crone with cloven hooves and causes her victim to either go mad or die.)