Moko Jumbie


In Brief: This mas is played atop stilts from ten to fifteen feet in height, and is a well known fixture of Carnival and Christmas celebrations throughout the Caribbean.  The mas player would wear an elaborate hat, generally cut in an “admiral” style, and made from found materials, such as as wild cucumber (Luffa aegyptiaca).  Moko is allegedly a derivation of the god “Moko”, from West African traditions, though Moko Jumbie is now far more well known than its alleged predecessor. The term “jumbie” is a common expression for ghost or spirit.  Oral traditions indicate that Moko was a protector of villages, and height allowed the spirit to foresee evil faster than other men.  Moko Jumbies are known to dance down the streets, sometimes accompanied by music, and as they are taller than other mas players, are able to collect money from the balconies they pass.

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Videos Not from The Archive:

Moko Jumbies of Virgin Gorda from Bob Cibulskis on Vimeo.

Mas Origins and History:

Hill states,

The character of the Moco Jumbie was originally a cult figure found throughout West Africa.  In the West Indies he appeared regularly as a Christmas or carnival masker whose performance had lost its ritual significance and was purely entertaining.  In the Trinidad carnival years ago he was a favorite character, bobbing along the street on gaudily striped stilts ten to fifteen feet high.  His costume consisted of a long full skirt and an Eton jacket of brightly colored satin or velvet. His admiral’s hat carried long peaks front and back and a crown gaily decorated with feathers.  His dance was similar to a jig, and, like the famous Elizabethan clown-actor Will Kemp, he danced all day through the streets accompanied by a drum, a triangle, and a flute.  His two companion maskers at the Christmas revels in St. Vincent, the menacing swordsman and clownish musician, were supporting dance-mimes.  As in the Trinidad carnival, spectators were expected to reward the performers with a small payment.

Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival edited by Garth L. Green, Philip W. Scher

The Moko Jumbie use to collect money from people on second story balconies. The same name is a compound derived from distinct Africa sources moko most likely being derived from Hausa for ugly and jumbie deriving from Kongo sources for spirit.

The Moko Jumbie use to collect money from people on second story balconies. The same name is a compound derived from distinct Africa sources moko most likely being derived from Hausa for ugly and jumbie deriving from Kongo sources for spirit.

Carnival: Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience By Milla Cozart Riggio

When this stilt walking traditional carnival character is asked where he is from the responds that he has walked all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the West Coast of Africa. A Moko Jumbie is the spirit of Moko, the Orisha (diety) of fate and retribution who emphasizes that even as he endured centuries of brutal treatment he remains ‘tall tall tall’ . His head touches the sky as he stands astride the cross roads to waylay unwary late night travelers. Moko Jumbies are found throughout the West Indies. Traditional Moko Jumbies wear long pants or skirts (covering the stilts) and cover their faces. Now any stilt walker in carnival might be called a Moko Jumbie.

Costuming: In Jeff Henry’s account of the Moko Jumby, the construction of the legs was a yearly event. He goes on to state ” they were cut from a specially selected wood and left for a period of time to cure and dry. This ritual was done at a special time of the month according to the moon.”

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Movement: Moko Jumbies walk on stilts, which significantly alters their gate. They also dance informally.

Other Behavior: n/a

Variations and Developments of Note: n/a

References in Arts and Popular Culture: n/a

Related Characters: n/a

Bands and Individual Performers: n/a

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Interviews and Scholarship: n/a

Bibliography:

 

Hill, Errol. The Trinidad Carnival; Mandate for a National Theatre. Austin: U of Texas, 1972. 12. Print.

“The World Reveler.” : Traditional Character: Moko Jumbie. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.