Photographers: Roger Lewis, Jabari St. Cyr

Legend has it that if you hear a baby crying, sometimes, it may not be a baby at all but a douen. Located in the lush magic of Trinidad’s northern range is the village of Lopinot, in which live certain trustees of island lore; a veritable community of storytellers from great families with names that go back for hundreds of years across the oceans of the world to other lands.

Once when she wanted a holiday, Dolly Ma decided to spend some time in Lopinot with one of her doll children. The Rosa de Oxalà dressed herself and the baby in fine white laces from her trousseau. She transported herself to the village via a magical parasol that lifted her and the little one into the air. After floating gently on the breeze across to the village, she landed on the bridge at La Reconnaissance Estate and surveyed the property before taking the baby into the house for its nap. The house is over two hundred years old and has many terrifying tales to tell. However, Dolly Ma requested silence so the little doll child would have only sweet dreams.

While the baby slept, Dolly Ma explored the gardens where she found many blossoms including bougainvillea, marigolds, hibiscus, frangipani, ixora, ginger lilies, allamanda, and orchids. After noticing the beauty of each flower and selecting bits of their magic for her spells, she returned to the house. To her surprise, the baby was missing. She ran outside and anxiously asked the Pouis tree to tell her what happened. “Douens!” was the word she heard through the rustle of the tree’s leaves. Same time, a wind blew and a bundle of the bright yellow flowers left its branches and flew in the direction of the bridge to show her the way they went.

Douens had stolen the baby and hidden her in the village dirt oven. This was the treasured oven that baked many treats for the villagers, like their daily bread, special cakes, and Christmas ham. It was now part of the scheme of the impish douens to bake the baby. A fire was lit and the door of the oven shut tight. They ran behind the house and waited. At first, the doll child was afraid but soon she felt comforted by the warmth inside the oven and started imagining herself as a little bun growing browner and darker. But then she felt sad to be so alone and began crying for her mama.

The sound of the baby’s cry was enough for Dolly Ma to locate her. Soon the mother of dolls was clicking her heels across the wooden bridge, around the old lamppost, across the verandah, and away to the spot where the dirt oven was located. Dolly Ma hastily opened the oven door. Out came the deliciously intoxicating scent of bread and baby powder. The doll child who was fully indulged in the highest note of her cry paused.

When she saw her Dolly Mama’s face, she squealed and let out the sweetest gurgle with a dove-like coo. Dolly Ma lifted her baby out of the oven. Thankfully, the little dolly bun was unharmed except for the frightful memory of being stolen away. Dolly Ma looked across the yard searching for the crafty little douens but not one of the tricksters dared to appear. They quickly and quietly tiptoed backward into the forest.

Dolly Ma soon raised her parasol and rose into the air with her babe in arms. They returned safely to their home. She smiled knowing there would be other chances to teach those mischievous douens some lessons.

Amanda T. McIntyre is the Art Director at Pride Trinidad and Tobago. She was previously the Art Administrator at New Local Space (NLS), a contemporary visual art initiative based in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2020 McIntyre was part of the faculty for the La Pràctica artists Residency and an advisor for the NLS, Curatorial, and Art Writing Fellowship. In 2018, she founded She Right Collective, a Caribbean feminist advocacy network that hosts platforms for contemporary literature, visual arts, and performance. In 2017, she was awarded the title Ole Mas Champion by the Bocas Literary Festival and the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. In 2021, she was awarded a Futuress Coding Resistance Fellowship. Her art practice is mainly rendered through performance, costume design, photography, and film. McIntrye is the creator and performer of the Dolly Ma and Dolly Ma Brigitta Baby Doll masquerades. Her essay The Baby Doll: Memory, Myths and Mas is published in Issue 6 No.1 of  The Tout Moun: Caribbean Journal of Cultural Studies special issue “Creating a Caribbean Sense of Place: Calypso, Spoken Word & the Oral Tradition. She is also the author of Dolly Ma Brigitta, Queer Baby Doll Mythography in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, published in the special 10- year anniversary issue of Qzine: Imagining Tomorrow.