The Curse of Chickcharney: The Dark Tale of This Bahamian Cryptid TAP TO GET PODCAST
Imagine sitting on the tropical beach of the Bahamas, watching the waves crash while drinking from a coconut with an umbrella straw. Life is good. But be aware your fate can all change in an instant if you’re not on your best behavior.
When it comes to luck, we all seem to have our own charms and practices to create good fortune. For some, it’s carrying around a lucky rabbit’s foot, finding a four-leaf clover, or even repeatedly seeing the number 7. For others, it’s more ritualistic, like rubbing Buddha’s belly, Ceaser’s hand, or kissing the Blarney Stone. It’s why we make a wish on a shooting star, when we blow out our birthday candles, or when the clock strikes 11:11. And if you ask many sports players, they will probably share their own pre-game rituals to ensure a winning season.
Take New York Mets, Turk Wendell, for instance. It’s said that he often “leaps over the baselines when walking to the mound, chews black licorice while pitching, and brushes his teeth between innings.” Or take Indianapolis Colt kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who’s said to “walk the length of the field to touch both goalposts” before a game.
So whether it’s picking up a shiny penny that’s facing heads up, carrying around our favorite token before an important meeting, or simply eating the same meal every night before a big game, humans can be pretty superstitious. It’s why we walk around ladders and not beneath them and why we throw salt over our shoulders to ward off evil. And it’s why we often look for patterns in nature to tell us our future or, at the very least, affirm our beliefs surrounding different ideas.
And just like carrying around a lucky rabbit’s foot, many of our ideas about luck and superstitions involve different types of animals. It’s why many of us avoid black cats, especially around Halloween. The legend goes if you see a black cat, you’ll receive bad fortune, or worse, death – because it’s believed that a black cat is nothing more than the devil in disguise.
Our ideas surrounding animals and luck even go so far as to create an entire holiday around, you guessed it, the Groundhog. Celebrating every year on February 2nd, we await the groundhog to see if it sees its shadow. And depending on whether he sees it or not, it’s believed we’ll have either a prolonged Winter or an early Spring.
And while the list goes on and on, I’d like to tell you about one of the most commonly associated animals surrounding luck: Owls.
Historically, owls have various connotations from around the world. In Greek Mythology, Owls were revered as they were considered wise, noble, and protective in battle. In English folklore, the Barn Owl was depicted as sinister because it was associated with being “a bird of darkness” and a harbinger of death. In different parts of Africa, owls are often considered messengers of witches due to their nocturnal intuition.
And according to some Native American beliefs, owls weren’t even considered to be birds at all but shapeshifters or restless spirits of the dead. From being the token of wisdom and power to witchcraft and the underworld, it’s easy to see that humans have a love/hate relationship with these creatures.
But for Bahamains, the owl, or the Chickcharney as it is known there, is neither good nor bad. No, the Chickcharney is merely a reflection of how you treat them.
Now before we dive into how owls have influenced cryptozoology, I want to start off by saying that I love owls, and I’m not just saying that to save my own skin. I think they’re beautiful creatures, but man can they be terrifying. Especially late at night when you’re driving down a foggy backroad or when they’re in places you’re least expecting them. I mean, take baby barn owls, for instance. Tell me that seeing these things in your attic in the middle of the night wouldn’t be a terrifying fright.
In fact, I’ve had my own creepy run-in with barn owls. A few years ago, my husband and I were driving home late one night from work. As we stood outside, standing next to our car, this terrifying screech that I can only describe as a witch cackling above us made us book it for the front door of our house and quickly lock the door behind us.
Staring blankly at each other with all the lights off in the living room, we were peering through the blinds trying to catch a glimpse of where this sound was coming from. And as we were looking, Cody saw an owl flying toward a tree on our property. Having no idea that owls could scream like your typical witch Halloween prop, we immediately went to YouTube, and sure enough, barn owls do, in fact, cackle.
While I don’t personally believe that owls are spirits from the underworld or witches trapped in bird bodies, I will say that was one of the most disturbing sounds I have ever heard. And as a side note, if you have ever experienced something like this, we’d love to hear about it.
The Chickcharney, while not believed to be an evil spirit, is often described as having the face of an owl, standing roughly 3 ft tall, and covered with fine feathers that resemble fur. Calling Andros Island, it’s home. Bahamian natives have also commonly described the Chickcharney as having three fingers, three toes, and large piercing red eyes with the ability to turn its head nearly 360 degrees, typical of an owl. But some natives also believe that the Chickcharney has a “prehensile tail,” one that helps them grasp and hold onto the trees as they make their homes by tying the tops of two pine trees together.
Many Andros Island residents believe that the Chickcharney, while owl-like in appearance, are actually more elfin or goblin in nature due to their mischievous, easily offendable, and sometimes aggressive behavior. Because of this, many Bahamian locals warn that if you come in close contact with these creatures, it’s best to be polite.
Oh, and they love bright colors. If you’re visiting their island, it’s best to bring them a brightly colored flower as a gift, or at the very least, dress in your brightest colored attire.
But double-cross one, and you’re sure to fall on hard times. Laugh and mock them still, and not only will they curse you with bad luck, but they’re likely to forcibly twist your neck 360 degrees. Pretty much, just treat them kindly, and they’ll gift you good luck on your way.
Generally speaking, there aren’t really any documented attacks from the Chickcharney, much less physical proof of their existence. But for one British politician, while his life may have been spared when it came to his financial endeavors, the Chickcharney may have had the last laugh.
Representing the Conservative Party, Neville Chamberlain, most popularly known for The Munich Agreement, preceded Winston Churchill as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister from May 1937-1940. But before his time in British politics, Neville had his sights on other endeavors…
When Neville was in his early 20s, his father, Joseph Chamberlain, asked him to take over his sisal plantation on Andros Island. Sisal, or Agave Sisalana, is a species of flowering plant that originates from Southern Mexico.
Apparently, the reason why Joseph asked his son Neville to take over his plantation was that his business was starting to decline. So Joseph thought Neville was the perfect person to help save their business and their legacy. And, of course, Neville, young and entrepreneurial-minded, jumped at the opportunity.
Upon arrival, Neville had heard stories of the Chickcharney from locals and chalked it up to nothing more than silly tales. Instead of heeding their warning, he laughed and mocked the idea of a bird that can change your fate depending on how you treat it. He simply didn’t care about these owls, as his only focus was to grow his father’s business.
Not long after settling in, he got to work. One of the first things he accomplished? Chopping down acres of trees for the sisal plants to flourish. But these weren’t just any ole trees. No, these were the homes of the supposed Chickcharney.
Not only did Neville scoff at the idea of these birds, but he also tore down their homes for his personal gain. I don’t know about you, but making fun of someone and then tearing down their house doesn’t seem like it would beget good karma. But, like they say, what goes around comes around.
After spending six years on Andros Island, destroying its subtropical forests to try and re-spark an already declining business, Neville had no such luck. Eventually, he gave up trying to build the family business and decided to make his way back home. But not without going into debt first. His financial downfall ended up costing his family what would be considered $4.2 million in present-day.
Some might argue that the business failed simply because trying to grow plants that weren’t native to the island was just a bad business move. But Bahamian locals have a different theory. They believe that the Chamberlain family’s misfortune was due to the Chickcharneys getting even. But, supposedly, a large financial debt wasn’t all. It seems like they had something else up their sleeves.
What’s more is that years later, in September of 1938, The Munich Agreement that basically gave over Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany to appease Adolf Hitler backfired. This agreement was put in place by Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.
And unfortunately, The Munich Agreement, in an attempt for peace, was later coined The Munich Betrayal because of a previous 1924 alliance agreement and a 1925 military pact between France and the Czechoslovak Republic. Ultimately, many people lost their respect for Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Even Winston Churchill is quoted by saying, “Poor Neville will come badly out of history. I know, I will write that history.”
And according to BBC, an article titled, Was Neville Chamberlain really a Weak and Terrible Leader?” States that “after th[e] monumental failure of policy Chamberlain’s name became an abusive synonym for vacillation, weakness, immoral great-power diplomacy and, above all, the craven appeasement of bullies – whatever the price in national honor. Despite his many achievements in domestic policy, therefore, ultimately, Chamberlain’s reputation remains indelibly stained by Munich and the failure of his very personal brand of diplomacy.”
It seems like Neville Chamberlain just can’t catch a break.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, sure, The Munich Agreement may have been a bad choice politically. And destroying the land for financial gain may not be the best way to get positive recognition. But people make mistakes all the time. People aren’t always good with their pocketbooks, and leading a country isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
No matter how good your intentions or efforts are, there will always be a group of individuals who hate you, no matter what. And none of this has anything to do with owls and luck. Especially not cryptids that have the power to make or break your financial endeavors.
But what if the Chickcharney did exist at a different time and were recognized by a different name?
Tyto Pollens, commonly known as the Andros Island Barn Owl, Bahamian Barn Owl, Bahamian Great Owl, and to some, the Chickcharney, is an owl that has been since extinct and is believed to be in the same genus as the Barn Owl. These specific owls were thought to be native to the Bahamas during the last ice age.
However, these weren’t your typical owls. According to Alexander Wetmore, an American ornithologist (which is someone who studies birds and their habitats) as well as an avian paleontologist (which is someone who studies bird evolution and bird fossils) believed that these Cryptid owls were more robust and stronger than their counterparts. So, the Chickcharney could have very well be real, despite the argument about its ability to alter the outcomes of your endeavors.
Like other cryptid stories we’ve covered, many creatures have often been mistyped as unidentified living relics of years past, similar to the Chuchunya we covered last summer. For the Chuchunya, many people believe that these “Siberian snowmen” are some of the “last living links the human race has with its simian ancestors”.
Or even in one of our mini-series online, where we covered the misidentification of the platypus in the 1700s, it’s easy to call something a cryptid when it goes against what we believe to be true. But just because something seems to go against all odds doesn’t mean our belief can’t somehow influence the truth.
If you carry around a lucky charm before each baseball game, does it really increase your chance of winning? Or if you rub Caesar’s hand before hitting the slot machine, does it really increase your chance of pulling triple sevens? And if you’re vacationing in the Bahamas and make fun of an owl’s appearance or don’t bring a small gift, can you really go broke when you return home?
Well, if you’ve won the national championship every year by wearing the same pair of socks or always scored the jackpot after rubbing a golden statue, maybe there’s something to this whole luck thing, after all. And in Neville Chamberlain’s case, being rude to a native resident, no matter how silly it may have seemed, didn’t really age well for him, now did it?
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.