Soucriant: A character from the folklore of the Caribbean island of Dominica: a vampire witch who sheds her skin at night and turns into a fireball, flying through the sky and sucking blood from animals and people. Also spelled soucouyant or soucouyan.
There are conflicting etymologies for soucriant/soucouyant. The Dominican anthropologist and writer Lennox Honychurch says the word is derived from French sucer, “to suck,” while other researchers have traced it to sukunyadyo (masculine) and sukunya (feminine), words for “man-eating witch” in the Fula and Soninke languages of West Africa.
Soucriant may receive wider notice thanks to Byzantium, the new film from director Neil Jordan that had its U.S. release last week. In her review for the New York Times, critic Manohla Dargis devoted some space to defining terms:
Clara [played by Gemma Arterton] and her companion, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), don’t call themselves vampires: they’re soucriants, a variation on soucouyant. (A vampire witch from Caribbean folk culture, the traditional soucouyant lives as an old woman by day but at night sloughs off her skin and turns into a fireball to hunt.) The Dominica-born writer Jean Rhys preferred the word soucriant.
“Your face like dead woman and your eyes red like soucriant,” a woman says in Rhys’s novel “Wide Sargasso Sea,” which may be where the playwright-turned-screenwriter Moira Buffini first read it.
The Byzantium of the film’s title is the name of a hotel where the main characters stay. It’s also the ancient Greek city (now Istanbul) that gave its name to the Byzantine Empire (4th to 15th centuries CE). It wasn’t until 1937 that the first citation of byzantine to mean “complex, devious, rigid, filled with intrigue” was recorded.