Douen Islands and the Art of Collaboration


Douen Islands is a new and fascinating collaborative project, based on an e-book of poetry by Andre Bagoo. The project invokes the Trinidad folklore character of the douen in order to comment on contemporary Trinidad and Tobago society. As you explore the project, keep in mind that the Douen Islands team is looking for new collaborators. Here are excerpts from “Douen Islands and the art of collaboration,” a review and interview by Nicholas Laughlin:

douen, duende, douaine, done, dwen, duegne: A folklore character, the spirit of a child who died before baptism. Douens wear large hats, have backward-pointing feet, utter a soft hooting cry, and often lead children to wander off (from the Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago, ed. Lise Winer).

Announced (by no coincidence) on 31 October, All Hallows’ Eve, Douen Islands is a collaborative project by writer Andre Bagoo (author of the poetry collection Trick Vessels), graphic designer Kriston Chen, artists Rodell Warner and Brianna McCarthy, and musician Sharda Patasar. Its first manifestation is an e-book (downloadable here) of eleven poems by Bagoo, designed by Chen, and incorporating a series of brief texts by Warner (drawn from his Twitter account). Accompanying the e-book is Chen’s video adaptation of Bagoo’s poem “In Forest and Wild Skies”. Further online publications, videos, and live performances involving all five collaborators are in the works.

[. . .] Douen Islands, whose creators describe the project as “a devious remixing of traditional Douen culture,” suggests that the old folklore stories and images remain relevant in the wired age — still offering insights into personal and collective fears. Though the poems’ voice is introspective and many of the references idiosyncratic, numerous co-options of nationalist rhetoric — such as Trinidad and Tobago’s national motto and “watchwords” — and the e-book’s (blood-)red-white-black colour scheme unsubtly indicate an allegorical intent. [. . .]

Nicholas Laughlin: Traditional folklore always draws on collective anxieties, hopes, questions of being. What can the figure of the douen, the spirit as lost child, say about (or say to) contemporary Trinidad and Tobago?

Andre Bagoo: Like most folklore and myth, the douen figure is at once simple yet complex. The douen is the undead: the child who dies after never being baptised and who haunts the forest thereafter. It has no face, its feet are backwards, so that hunters following its tracks go in the wrong direction. The nature of the douen alone transmits complexity: it engages questions of religion, of mortality and age, of physical deformity or difference. This makes it an ideal mirror for contemporary Trinidad and Tobago.

The douen tells us about the marginalised and the abandoned, and this is the area where I wanted to give voice to something. The douen is a nightmare figure of youth, and the story of a new generation has to be told, even if that story, in some respects, is an old one. Douen Islands is about growing up in a world while coming to terms with injustice in all its forms: violence and crime, racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, classism, stigmatisation. It is about moving from a place of blind rage to a place approaching knowledge. [. . .]

For full review by Caribbean Review of Books, see

For more information on the book, with a must-see video, go to

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