Dougla Girl, or Half-Douen

by Caroline Mair

The initial title for this was Half-Douen, because although she clearly possesses a face, there is a childishness and playfulness about the girl. Mischievous. Impish. For some reason, as I was drawing her, a sentence was repeating in my head: You know that dougla girl down the road? Her father beat her and she turn douen.

There is no rational explanation for the connection. It was a blip, a random brain jolt no doubt triggered by a glass of wine and the hot Caribbean midday sun over me as I drew. But it started me thinking about what it means to be ‘dougla’, the notion of belonging, and the crisis of identity that occurs within mixed people.

The word dougla has connotation of “bastard” or “illegitimate” in Bhojpuri, the Hindi dialect spoken in Trinidad. The colloquial meaning refers to a person who is of mixed Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian descent. Meanwhile, Douens are the lost souls of children that have not yet been baptized or christened, doomed to exist in limbo and wander the earth after death. Both dougla and douens are rootless, not ordained, innocent children not embraced and included by social mores. 

To be mixed is to be ever at the interstices of culture. Half-way, in-between. At the intersection. Never fully belonging to one culture or another. Included by many, but exempt from all.

Times are changing, but to be part of several cultures at once is always a choice. Which one do you choose? To pledge allegiance to one is often perceived as rejecting another. 

- exhibited at Hue Man Form Exhibition, Port of Spain, 2010

p.s. What’s a douen? (and why they don’t have faces?)

The Douen of Trinidad & Tobago

Douen are one of the many colourful yet frightening folklore characters from Trinidad and Tobago and are the result of children who have died before they have been baptized. They are doomed to roam the earth forever while practicing their collection of pranks. The douen character also applies to a fetus through an abortion or miscarriage.  

Douens have a distinguishing deformity as their feet are backwards. This is to cover their tracks as they lure children into the forest and get them lost. These stocky creatures are faceless with the exception of having a mouth to eat their favorite food, land crab. Their manifestation is that of a naked child never growing more than two or three feet in height. They wear a large floppy straw hat. Douens lurk on the fringes of your garden and call out to your unattended children to come out and play, they pursue children that are not yet baptized, or christened in anticipation of luring them away deep into the woods until they are lost or they may come near people’s houses at night, crying and whimpering.  To prevent the Douens from calling your children into the forest at dusk, never shout their names in open places, as the Duennes will take their names, call them and lure them away. The douens come out during carnival. The costumes are made of white satin. 

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Morals: children should be baptized, Children should not wonder far from their parents and to scare and place some order of obedience if a child does not listen to her or her parent. 

Trinidad and Tobago folklore is primarily of African foundation, with French, Spanish and English influences. Religious or semi-religious cults of African origin have undeniably contributed much to the Island’s folklore.They are ugly and fearsome. Many of the supernatural folklore characters are identical with those of African deities. It is exceedingly complicated to draw a line between the stern religious elements and what may be described as traditions. Nevertheless in the African tradition, stories were meant to instill values in the children.

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[Sources: The Bookmann, Folklore, Denaruttenhall, Douen Wiki

Douen - 

A child spirit from Caribbean folklore, Douens are feared by both parents and children. They are the spirits of children who died before they were baptized or christened so they have been cursed to roam the forests forever. The Douen is often described as a mainly naked child, sometimes wearing a banana leaf or loincloth on their lower half. They are about three feet tall and have a featureless face with only a small mouth. Their faces are normally hidden under a huge straw hat which allows them to pass as a normal child until you see them up close. The most identifiable trait of a Douen is that their feet are turned backwards. 

 Douens are malicious creatures. When the moon is full they will lure children deep into the forests, sometimes the child is found shortly after but in most cases the child will never be seen again. They will learn a child’s name and lure them away from their home by calling their name. To avoid this parents try to avoid calling a child’s name too loudly in open areas. Douens will also play with children in order to lure them away from their homes and into the forest. A Douen can also become fond of a particular person and come to their house continually crying and knocking on doors to ask them to be their parent. When they like a person they can be near impossible to get rid off as they can be very persistent and clingy. The Douen have a soft side though, they have been known to help injured animals and mimic animal cries in order to throw hunters off track to protect wildlife. It is also possible to summon a Douen and ask it to play pranks on people of your choosing, but their clinginess can make them tricky to get rid off once you have summoned them. 

To release a Douen from its cursed state you must sprinkle it with holy water and recite the baptismal prayer. It can then rest in peace.