Guyanese are fascinated by the notion of spirits and I don’t mean the kind that comes in bottles, although there is obviously that, too. I’m talking about the one that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up; the kind that has youngsters on bicycles (I wrote about this previously) wordlessly shooting past a supposedly haunted house (in my case, the Coghlan house near Pouderoyen); the kind that had Mrs. Vieira, my one-time next door neighbour in Vreed-en-Hoop, tying stuff under her bed to ward off spirits. I had crawled under there one day, chasing a ball, and removed this little potion bag I spotted tied to the bedspring – there were some rice grains in there and some dried leaves – and while I never heard from the spirits, I caught hell from my mother for being so brazen. (Of course, I wasn’t surprised at all when she and I later had a good laugh over the incident.)
The basis for my reference here is that the kind of jumbie and ol’ higue talk I grew up with in this country may be declining, but there are still some diehards about. I heard from one just recently who was adamant that there was this haunted house at the entrance to Hague village, and on recounting this story to others I was amazed to find how many people had bought into this canard, because canard it is.
My family was somewhat connected to that house, so let me give you the ganga:
I was born at Hague in the Barcellos house, at the Middle Walk junction. In fact, my mother, Zepherina Barcellos, and her four sisters and two brothers, were also born in that house. This, mind you, is not the infamous “haunted house”, but it pertains. My uncle Joe, my mother’s brother (he was married to a lady named Betty) had a general store halfway up the village, and a lovely upstairs house, where we later lived for a while. This is not the “haunted house” either – just hold on.
Farther up the village, Louis deSouza (he owned the Kaiser store on Lombard Street in Georgetown), in the late 1930s, had built one of the most beautiful upstairs houses on the west coast. It was on that corner where Hague turns to Den Amstel, on a wide curving piece of land on the waterside, with a clear view of the sea and constant sea breeze. At the time, the thing was practically a mansion. Now my uncle’s wife Betty was the daughter of Louis deSouza, so she naturally spent time there, and here’s how the whole “haunted house” story came about.
One afternoon, around 1940, with her six-week-old baby in her arms, Betty visited her father’s house, as she often did. She was standing by the window looking out to sea, and she suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Dr. Cozier down the coast, and then to the Georgetown hospital, but in a few hours she was gone; autopsy later revealed she had died of a blood clot.
A very sentimental man, my uncle Joe was devastated by the loss of his young wife. In short order, he handed over the running of the Hague store to my mother and bolted to Trinidad to start a new life. However, the suddenness of this tragic incident was disturbing to Hague folks, and in the months that followed (remember, the village had few distractions in those days) speculation about “spirit tekkin she” arose.
The explanation that Betty had suffered an aneurysm didn’t take hold; such things were little understood in those times. Furthermore, the notion of young Joe Barcellos, respected in the village, falling apart and bolting to Trinidad, suggested other forces at play, and before long the rumour was that the deSouza house was haunted by a lady – supposedly the reason for Betty’s collapse.
The interesting thing is that in the 20 years or so I lived in or visited Hague (my aunts never moved), although I heard a number of juicy tales about a range of things, not once did I hear even a hint of anything odd about the deSouza home. No haunted-house talk reached my ears, but it must have started, because in later years, when three other people died in that same house, one of them a pastor, the speculation became fact – “da house haunted, buddy” – and now it seems to have become part of our folklore.
It is the way of such things that logic is often out the window. Apparently, nobody stopped to consider that, for example, there were several houses in the village where several people had died, including the very Barcellos family house by the Middle Walk.
Also, inherently – and this is where I started out – we are a people inclined to this view of the spirit world. It is part of our culture; it defines us; if we spot an opening for it, we go there, and moving back to Guyana I can see it in action.
Ironically, just two months after I returned here to live, a Guyanese fan of my music, telephoned me from London to enquire about my plans. In the course of a long conversation, he mentioned that his father had bought the deSouza house at Hague, had done some remodeling, and then had sold it to someone else.
He referred to the “haunted-house” rumours as nonsense, and we had a good a laugh over it.
And that, in a nutshell, is the straight ganga about the Hague house.
However, I’m not kidding myself. I know enough about this culture to know that whatever I have to say on this matter will not make an iota of difference to the haunted-house adherents. Although the Hague corner house is considerably changed from how I knew it in the 1950s, people will persist in their belief that the “jumbie deh deh”; ask about it and you will be told so.
At base, it is actually a cultural expression, and no talk from anyone will change that – so it go.