A History of The Mocko Jumbie
Moko jumbie is a stilts walker or dancer. The meaning of "Moko" healer in areas of Central Africa and "jumbi", a West Indian word for a ghost or spirit that is thought to have been derived from the Kongo language word zumbi. The Moko Jumbies are thought to originate from West African traditions brought to the Caribbean islands.
Moko Jumbie character tends to wear colorful garb including plaid fabrics which were adopted from the Dutch with elaborate carnival masks and large straw hats that were worn by the farmers and the men working in the field. They tend to frequent festivals and celebrations all through the Caribbean including the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and as far south as Trinidad and Tobago.
The god Moko is of from the Maasai people which inhabit the Congo and Nigeria. Trinidad and Tobago have added their own touch to him. Moko, in the traditional sense, is a god. He watches over his village, and due to his towering height, he is able to foresee danger and evil. His name, Moko, literally means the “diviner” and he would be represented by men on towering stilts and performs acts that were unexplainable to the human eye. In one remote tribe, the Moko rises from a regular man's height to the skies fluidly with no help and descends similarly to leave others to wonder how he performed such an act.
According to the Trinidadians the Moko arrived in Trinidad by walking all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the West coast of Africa. The idea of the Moko survived by living in the hearts of African descendants during slavery and colonial life to eventually walk the streets of Trinidad in a celebration of freedom, Carnival. While this figure was rooted in African heritage, Trinidad adapted the figure, notably by adding on Jumbie or ghost to the name. By the early 1900s Moko Jumbies had become an element of Trinidad's Carnival. This figure would walk the streets of Port of Spain and other cities protecting the city and revelers from evil. As part of his role in Carnival, the Moko Jumbie would accept donations from onlookers in upper floors of buildings. However, his notable figure of Carnival slowly faded until a drastic revival.
By the early 1990s, Moko Jumbies were essentially non-existent in Carnival, until two men brought this tradition back. These men, namely Moose and Dragon, have brought the Moko Jumbie back to a place of prominence in Carnival and created a new kind of Moko Jumbie. One man originally brought the idea to them as well as the knowledge of how to make stilts. The style of stilts they walked was very similar to the modern-day ones but with one main difference, they had no front leg brace. This changed when a man named Ben Block from Canada, a random traveler, came to Trinidad with a pair of stilts. He had a frontal brace on the upper leg and the Trinidadians took inspiration from this design and used it in their own. Now there are two main Moko Jumbie bands in Trinidad, Watusi, and Kilimanjaro, as well as several smaller ones. So while the idea of the Moko came from Africa, but the US Virgin Islands, Trinidad, and other islands have made it their own.