The Werewolf seems to be a more or less universal figure. Most of the world’s major countries and cultures have their own legends and their own folklore regarding the beast, and each one is different in one way or another. The Caribbean, for example, has a variety of unique and terrifying monsters, but it also has more than one werewolf legend. One of the most frightening versions of these legends tells of a shapeshifting monster that can take the form of either a towering and emaciated manlike figure dressed in torn clothing or a ferocious wolflike beast, and both of these shapes have terrible red eyes that glow in the dark with a demonic intensity. The Caribbean natives know this monster as the Jé-Rouges, the Red-Eyed Werewolf.
The Jé-Rouges (pronounced juh rooje) is a shapeshifting monster (not necessarily a werewolf) that is found in Caribbean folklore and legend, particularly in Haiti, Hispaniola, parts of both Central and South America, and on several other islands throughout the Caribbean. The name of this beast is derived from the French term les yeux rouges, which literally means “red eyes”. In the Creole language, it is pronounced “lay jer rooje”, and through the mingling of these two dialects, this descriptive name for the monster was produced. In a similar vein, the Jé-Rouges is thought to be the end result of combining indigenous beliefs and cultural folklore from both Europe and Africa, resulting in a unique and horrifying monster. However, nobody seems to be entirely sure if the beast is a corporeal being or an evil spirit. It could even be both. The monster is also strongly associated with the Vodoun religion, which is still very widely practiced throughout the Caribbean to this day (Curran and Paciorek 116-118).
There seems to be a couple of different notions regarding what the Jé-Rouges looks like. This may be because the creature is a shapeshifter and can change its form to suit its needs, much like people change their clothes. It is said that the monster looks more or less human when seen from a distance or in dim light, but the similarities end there. The creature is extremely tall, towering over most men. Its body is lanky and emaciated, as if it was perpetually starving. It is said to wear ragged, torn clothing and a tattered straw hat with a wide brim, all of which may be symbolism relating to the people’s days in slavery and their toiling in the fields. The lower half of the monster’s face is wrapped in dirty bandages, concealing a mouth full of horrible fangs, which are ideal for feeding on human flesh. Its hands are equipped with sharp, bony talons on the end of each finger. But worst of all are the horrible, blazing red eyes that glare from underneath its ragged straw hat. This is a feature that always appears, regardless of what form the Jé-Rouges takes. The creature moves with a slow, shambling gait that is reminiscent of the modern cinematic zombie (Curran and Paciorek 118). However, this could be intentionally deceptive, and it may very well be intended to frighten a potential victim into immobility so that the monster can move within striking distance. Either that, or it may lull them into a false sense of security, making them think that they can easily escape from such a slow creature…only to find it right behind them.
In other versions of the legend, the Jé-Rouges is said to take the form of a great wolf that stands and runs about on all fours, and has the same demonic red eyes as its more humanlike form. This notion is especially common on the islands of Haiti and Hispaniola, as well as in parts of Central America and other Caribbean islands, where it is regarded as a werewolf. And although the beast may prefer the form of a humanlike monster or a wolf, people also believe that it can take on any shape it desires, whether it is an animal or a plant. However, these forms aren’t perfect, and close observation can reveal the truth. When in the form of a wolf or a dog, it is thought that the Jé-Rouges has a fifth clawed toe on both of its front legs, just above the heel. In some beliefs, this is reminiscent of a thumb, indicating that the beast may have once been human. Some also say that the creature will have bushy, human-looking eyebrows that meet in the middle above the nose while in its animal form, a sure sign that the so-called “animal” is actually a shapeshifter in disguise (Curran and Paciorek 119-120).
The Jé-Rouges has a fairly limited array of supernatural powers. The beast has unnatural strength, speed, agility, and endurance, regardless of what form it takes. The monster’s glowing red eyes allow it to see in complete darkness and over vast distances as well. One may assume that its senses of smell and hearing are enhanced as well. But the Jé-Rouges is a shapeshifter, and besides the aforementioned humanoid and wolf forms, the beast can take the shape of anything it wants, including the form of humans, pets, or even household plants. Furthermore, anyone who is bitten by the Jé-Rouges will become a red-eyed monster themselves. And in addition, unlike most werewolves, this creature can actually speak (Curran and Paciorek 118-120). And whenever a big wolf starts talking, trouble is sure to follow.
The Jé-Rouges is not a mere mindless beast, unlike some of its better-known European cousins. It is both cunning and sly, and it is not above manipulating potential victims to get what it wants. The Jé-Rouges feeds on the flesh and the blood of its prey, and the monster prefers children. However, it doesn’t hunt and chase down its prey with sheer strength and speed like a wild animal, although it could do so if it desired. Rather, the creature uses guile and deception to gain access to its victims. Much like the Vampire of film and literature, the Jé-Rouges cannot enter an individual’s house without an invitation, and so it has to somehow trick the homeowner into letting them in. The creature’s favorite tactic is to come to the house late at night and wake up the home’s owner, pretending to be a neighbor (and quite possibly taking that particular neighbor’s shape as well). The exhausted occupant will more often than not invite them inside, and it will proceed to take a look around. If it finds a baby or a small child, the Jé-Rouges will ask if it may take the child. In their sleepy state, the homeowner may very well agree (although one has to question the parent's sanity). If so, the beast will run off with its catch and will then kill and devour the child, or it may steal the little one’s soul (Curran and Paciorek 121). In the morning, the child will be nowhere to be found, and the parents will be left with the awful guilt of knowing that they had willingly fed their child to a monster.
Another aspect of this monster that makes it so unique is that the Jé-Rouges is believed to drive from place to place in a car, although one wonders where the beast got its license from. This vehicle is usually a rusty, beat-up car or a shabby-looking pick-up truck, which wouldn’t be an uncommon sight in some of the poorer towns of the Caribbean islands. The beast slowly drives along the streets of these places late at night, seeking children or the homeless to assuage its gnawing hunger for human flesh. Anyone who gets into one of these vehicles will very likely never be seen again. Parents who live in these areas know this, and take great pains to stay away from these kinds of motorists (Curran and Paciorek 118-119).
As mentioned earlier, the Jé-Rouges has very strong ties with Vodoun practices in the Caribbean. This connection is so powerful that it is possible to actually summon the beast. However, this is absolutely fraught with danger, and the summoner will almost certainly be killed for his stupidity. A houngan or a bokor (most commonly the latter, as the bokor is more inclined to use black magic) is able to call upon the beast using the same rituals used to summon the Loa (godlike spirits). This is accomplished by playing a special drum inscribed with magic symbols and chanting in an archaic African tongue. The Jé-Rouges is compelled to answer the call, but it is not bound to serve the priest. The Jé-Rouges is loyal to none but itself, and anyone who dares to call upon the monster had better have a damn good reason for doing so. The Jé-Rouges is fickle by nature, and the beast will turn on the priest and may even kill him if it wants to. Another connection to Vodoun practices lies with the Haitian belief that a man may become a werewolf by giving himself up to evil spirits or by becoming the willing servant of a Vodoun priest in exchange for supernatural powers of his own (Curran and Paciorek 119). This most likely occurs through spirit possession. This spirit may take over its host’s body at night, transforming the man into a huge, red-eyed wolf-beast that wants nothing more than to taste human blood.
There is said to be a few different ways to become a Jé-Rouges. In the Caribbean, the native children have a very peculiar custom. At parties, they always grab a piece of cake that is the furthest away from them, instead of the closest. In a similar vein, adults will decline to eat the last piece of any kind of food at a gathering. In both cases, this is believed to prevent them from becoming a werewolf. Exactly how this is supposed to work is unknown, but it may have something to do with not being greedy and selfish. It is also believed that eating certain kinds of soup (none are specified) can lead to a monstrous transformation. If an enemy spits into someone’s soup, then they are guaranteed to become a monster. Pathological liars are at an enormous risk of becoming a red-eyed, hairy beast as well. It is thought that these beliefs originally came from the slaves working on the plantations, who brought their own folklore from Africa. As stated earlier, these superstitions gradually became entwined with European beliefs, which in turn led to the birth of the Jé-Rouges and several other monsters (Curran and Paciorek 120-121). Of course, being bitten by the Jé-Rouges is always guaranteed to create a red-eyed monster…that is to say, if the victim survives the initial attack.
The Jé-Rouges has very few weaknesses, and nobody really seems to be sure how to kill it. But, according to Caribbean folklore, the beast fears one thing: iron. Pure iron, with no carbon or any other alloying elements added, is said to be able to restrain and confine the monster. It can then be dealt with in other ways. According to ancient folklore, most supernatural beings (with a few exceptions) despise iron and the power that the metal has over them. A hoop, forged from pure iron, can be thrown over the creature’s body while it is in the form of an animal or a plant. This will force the Jé-Rouges to revert to its natural state, at which point it will be vulnerable and can be captured or killed (if not both). However, there are some rather substantial risks involved. The hoop must be forged into a complete, unbroken circle that is big enough to fit tightly over the beast’s body and to completely restrict its movements. Keep in mind, however, that the Jé-Rouges is still highly intelligent and possesses great strength, and even if it is captured in this manner, the monster is still more than capable of fighting back. In other words, it could still slaughter its would-be captors like cattle. Furthermore, the iron hoop is useless against the Jé-Rouges’ humanlike form for some odd reason, and trying this tactic may make it even stronger…or it might just piss it off. In some Caribbean traditions, on the other hand, it is said that the cut-off rim of a steel oil drum will work just as well as the iron hoop. However, this method is highly disputed, and there have been no recorded attempts to prove its efficacy (Curran and Paciorek 121-122). Needless to say, it would be safer to stick with the iron hoop.
As for killing the Jé-Rouges, there seems to be no certain way of doing so. If the Jé-Rouges really is a werewolf, then it should be susceptible to conventional weapons once it has reverted to its human form. Silver would most likely be ineffective, as it really isn’t considered to be a part of Caribbean folk beliefs. Of course, one can always fall back on iron. It might be possible to kill the Jé-Rouges by stabbing it through the heart with a blade forged of pure iron, although this could also be done with an arrow or a crossbow bolt tipped with the metal. This must be followed by decapitation (an axe with an iron blade is a good bet), and then the corpse (along with the head) must be burned until only ashes remain. Keep in mind that this is only speculation, and that these methods have never been proven to work against this particular monster. Relying on them could get a monster hunter killed…or worse yet, turned into the very same vile, red-eyed beast that he was hunting.
Today, indigenous folklore still permeates the lives of the Caribbean natives. And even in this modern age, a belief in monsters still prevails. To this very day, the Jé-Rouges is still very much feared. It is much more than a monster, representing the horrors and the abuse that these people endured in the bondage of slavery, as well as their fear of strangers and of losing their beloved children. And when night falls, they hurry inside and lock their doors, and then make sure that each one of their children is present and accounted for. And once in bed, they can’t help but feel pity for anyone who might be foolish enough to be walking the dark roads at night and who happen to encounter a beast with those horrible, glowing red eyes…
Curran, Dr. Bob & Mr. Andy Paciorek. The Carnival of Dark Dreams. Durham, United Kingdom: Wyrd Harvest Press, 2016.