First Published: 11th of April, 2022.Last updated: April 27, 2023 at 23:44 pm
The story of the Old Higue is a Guyanese folklore passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. It is not clear which ethnic group introduced this idea to the Guyanese culture, however, it is most widely circulated amongst the East Indian and African population of Guyana.
But the boiling question here is: Is there any truth to this story or is it all a myth? Most likely, the story of the Old Higue is nothing more than a myth. Nevertheless, many people would swear on their lives that the old higue is real.
By definition, a myth is a traditional story which seeks to explain historical events or poorly understood natural phenomena even though the explanation may venture into the supernatural. Very likely, the story of the old higue might have been started as an attempt to explain away a poorly understood natural phenomenon of which the people of olden days had little understanding. But before we speculate on what that natural phenomenon might be, let’s take a closer look at the old higue story in Guyanese tradition.
According to some accounts, the expressions “old higue” and “fire rass” refer to one and the same (most likely fictitious) creature or supernatural being. However, others say that old higue and fire rass are two distinctive “zombies” or demonic beings which bear a number of similarities. They both refer to very old and unattractive women who carry on a normal life in the daytime and fly around as a ball of fire in the night trying to suck blood from people, especially babies. This article will treat the term “old higue” and “fire rass” as the same thing since the difference, if any, is minimal.
According to Guyanese folklore, it is difficult to recognize an old higue under normal circumstances. However, you can see it flying out of its abode as a ball of fire in the night. So, if a neighborhood of Guyanese suspect an old woman to be an old higue, or fire rass, they might spy on the house in which she lives to see if a ball of fire will fly out of there in the evenings, and if they see it, they will exclaim in wonder that the old woman is an old higue. Sometimes, even though they see no such ball of fire exiting the premises, someone might start a rumor that they saw a ball of fire leaving the house just to stir up excitement. There are even stories of elderly women being beaten to death in Guyana because they were suspected to be old higue or fire rass. This is indeed a sad situation since there is a great chance that those victims were simply elderly with poor memory or who were suffering mental health conditions. The story of the old higue especially creates danger to elderly women who, for some reason or the other, are left to live alone.
According to the ancient Guyanese folklore, the old higue has an appetite for sucking the blood of people, especially babies. So she would take off her skin at night, fold it into a calabash, and fly out as a ball of fire and go hunting for people or babies to suck. The old higue is said to usually enter through the keyholes of doors, although it can also enter through windows etc. Sometimes, in olden times, when Guyanese wake up with red marks about their bodies, they would think that they had been sucked by an old higue. Or if they see red marks about the body of their babies, they would think the same thing, not knowing that there are several documented medical conditions that cause persons to wake up with red marks about the body.
Vanquishing the Old Higue
The story continues to relate that the old higue can be vanquished by putting a bag of rice at the door where the old higue is supposed to enter. The old higue, being “miserly,” will count the rice grains one by one, moving the counted grains from one hand to other. The grains will spill forcing her (or it) to start the process all over again. The old higue will be unable to exit the location due to repeated counting of the grains and will be caught and beaten to death by the people of the house. To date, there has been no credible documented case of any old higue having been caught this way – supporting the argument that the story of old higue is fictitious or a myth.
It is said that the old higue can also be killed by turning the key when it tries to enter through the keyhole. Good luck with that.
Another way to destroy the old higue is to find its skin in the calabash (after it goes out to suck blood in the night) and coat it with pepper. When the old higue tries to reenter the skin, it will be burned (possibly to death). To date, there has been no credible documentation of any old higue killed this way either – or any skin of the old higue found.
Very likely, the story of old higue is an attempt to explain some natural phenomenon and was born out of exaggeration and ignorance. But what is the natural phenonemon that this folklore might have been trying to explain? It’s possible the story of the old higue might have been inspired by the ball lightning phenomenon.
So, what do you think or know about the Old Higue? Tell us in the comments below.