A Jumbee is a spirit in the folklore of St. Thomas and other Caribbean islands. Jumbees are described differently from island to island, and may also be called by different names, such a Zombie or Mendo. With regard to St. Thomas, the setting for The Jumbee’s Daughter, beliefs about Jumbees seem to come by way of the slaves imported from Africa to work on the island.
Perhaps the most authoritative source on Jumbees in the literature is Reverend Henry S. Whitehead (1882-1932), who wrote Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales. This collection of stories came from his own life in the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John). Rev. Whitehead talked with planters and shopkeepers and with descendants of slaves. He found many people, especially the descendants of slaves, were reluctant to discuss Jumbees, and only shared bits and pieces of their beliefs, such as Jumbees being able to change into wolves. That the beliefs were indeed taken seriously was evident in the custom of the locals to close their shutters at night, against the “night air.” Many of the religious and cultural practices of the slaves were forbidden, and were disguised as part of their festivals. Today’s Mocko Jumbies in bright colors and walking high on stilts in the annual Carnival is likely an example.