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Folk customs and beliefs form the core of Jamaica’s oral history. For years, they have been handed down from generation to generation and have managed to creep into every aspect of our daily lives. Most of our customs and beliefs are of African origin as Africans keep a large portion of their culture alive through a rich oral legacy. However, there is evidence of some European influence; for example, the beliefs concerning the days of the week were derived from the Europeans.

Although these traditions are frequently practiced in present day Jamaica, there was a time when these practices were suppressed. During slavery, the European rulers did not approve of the practice of these traditions, labeling the slaves as being pagan. Consequently, many traditions were lost as they were no longer practiced by the elders who in turn did not pass them on to the younger generation.

Though much of the significance has been lost over the years, folk customs and beliefs are still commonly practiced, although often times unknowingly, especially in the rural areas. Those which are popular are generally those relating to birth and death. These are considered to be the two most important life cycles and as such are afforded much respect, especially in the case of death. The dead are thought to possess great power and if not properly treated, will return to haunt the living.

Here are a few uncommon folk customs and beliefs you may find interesting.

  • A pregnant woman should not stare up in a tree or the baby will be born cross-eyed.
  • If lovers offer money to each other, the friendship will end.
  • It is bad luck to marry on your birthday.
  • To dream of losing a tooth means that someone is going to die.
  • If a man dies with his eyes open, someone from the family will soon follow.
  • Just before the last breath leaves the body, water must be put in the mouth of the dying person to help them on their journey.
  • If your knee itches, you’ll change your bed and if your elbow itches, you’ll shake someone’s hand.
  • The best day of the week for beginning a journey is Monday as one should never travel on Sunday. However, the best day to go looking a job is Tuesday. If a person fails to get a job on Tuesday, he should not try again until the following Tuesday.

There are many persons who believe that these are all superstitions, yet, on the other hand, there are those who strongly believe in their validity. Whatever your stance, it cannot be denied that Jamaican folk customs and beliefs are a rich part of the country’s heritage.

1. Jamaican Folk Customs & Beliefs. ACIJ: Kingston.
2. Stewart, Marion, Some Local Folk Customs. ACIJ: Kingston. March 1978.
3. Senior, Olive, Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Twin Guinep Publishers Ltd: St. Andrew. 2003.


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