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Moko Jumbies and the birth of the Stilts Walkers

In Carnival, the stilt-walking masquerade dancers are known as Moko Jumbies. In several African territories, masked stilt-walkers are sacred guardians that bridge the ancestral spirit world and our earthly present; they ensure discipline is maintained and traditions are upheld, and can heal the sick or troubled. The Moko Jumbies of the present day are living proof of African cultural resistance in the New World, having survived the Middle Passage and subsequent repressions enforced during slavery and its aftermath.

“It is truly a spectacular art form that is integral to Carnival.”

The term Moko has disputed origin, but is believed to stem from the secret societies of West or Central Africa, referencing village guardians that could foresee evil from a towering height, servants of a vengeful god that performed inscrutable actions as they communicated with the ancestors, reaching the skies without visible help. In different parts of the Caribbean, a Jumbie is a spirit being — typically malevolent — or a ghost; the name probably stems from the Kongo zumbi, from which “zombie” is derived.

More than half of the Caribbean’s population hails from Africa. The Moko Jumbie tradition clearly dates from slavery days and historical accounts place them at Carnival since the early 1900s, when they had elaborate skirted costumes with feathered hats.

The art of the Moko Jumbie has been passed down from generation to generation and has led to the modern day stilt walking. It is impressive to see the walkers dance in time to the rhythms of pulsating music while towering over the onlookers. It is truly a spectacular art form that is integral to Carnival.

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