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The Kanaima – Folklore or Reality?

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First Published: August 2019 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: September 20, 2023 at 12:42 pm

During my travels throughout the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana, I’ve heard stories of the Kanaima. In fact, I first read about this diabolical creature in an online publication which claimed that the Kanaima is a spiritual being which comes to execute vengeance for some wrong committed. Apparently, the Kanaima is “invoked” by someone and sent to harm someone as an act of revenge for some wrong.

Cover Illustration Contributed by Guyanese Artist Aaron Gangadeen. All Rights Reserved.

After reading this article about the Kanaima, I started asking questions and putting the pieces of a puzzle together. What really is the Kanaima? Is it a human being with supernatural powers that can shapeshift into the forms of other creatures? Or is it a spiritual being which takes the form of humans and other creatures? The stories are a bit confusing and contradictory.

One tour guide in the Rupununi, Mr. Howard Barnabas, who works with Eldorado Tours and Rupununi River Tours, shared his knowledge on the subject with me. He told me that the Kanaima is a spirit, but it takes the form of the person who invokes it, and therefore, the person who invokes it is also called the Kanaima. But other Amerindians tell a different story: that the Kanaima is actually a human being who gains supernatural power through spiritual practices and can actually transform into animals such as bats and jaguars.

Whether it is a human being or a spirit, the Kanaima is considered to be demonic in nature: an evil being which kills in the most horrific manner. The Kanaima is rumored to cut off the tongue and remove the guts of its victims, amongst other horrific acts, ensuring a slow, painful death of those it attacks.

The story is told of a young boy who returned home after chasing cows and appeared to be sick. He died shortly after and it was discovered that his penis was cut off. It was said to have been the work of the Kanaima. Another story was told of ranchers hanging a man in the Rupununi Savannahs because they “knew” that he was a Kanaima who had murdered one of their relatives.

The Kanaima is thought to be able to travel far distances in a short time because of its ability to transform into different creatures such as bats, tigers, and jaguars. While the accounts of the Kanaima vary slightly, there is one thing that everyone I’ve interviewed in the hinterland agrees on: that it exists. On the other hand, some people from the coastlands have dismissed the idea as yet another mythologically creature – nothing more than a folklore or sort of scary bedtime story.

Read Also: Ms. Mandy Lewis Shares Her Story of an Alleged Encounter with the Kanaima

So, what do you think or know about the Kanaima? Tell us in the comments below.

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Geeta Outar-Sirjoo
Geeta Outar-Sirjoo
December 27, 2022 12:30 pm

I’ve heard stories of the Kaniama and some people are scared of it.

September 21, 2023 11:54 pm

As a child growing up on the Essequibo coast 🇬🇾 ,I have heard many stories about the kaniama that some was living on the Pamoroon River and will often comes out at charity.

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