In Brief

This mas is played on stilts and is a well-known fixture of Carnival and Christmas celebrations throughout the Caribbean.  Mas players sometimes wear an elaborate hat cut or headpiece. Examples might include an “admiral” style and made from found materials, such as wild cucumber (often referred to as a loofa today). The origin of Moko is disputed and generally considered drawn from West African traditions. The term jumbie has been identified as an expression for ghost or spirit. When mas was played for coins and gifts, Moko Jumbie mas players had the advantage of being able to collect from balconies as they passed.

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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 used 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.

Costume

In Jeff Henry’s account of the Moko Jumbie, the construction of the legs were 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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Bibliography

Hill, Errol.&nbsp;<i>The Trinidad Carnival; Mandate for a National Theatre</i>. Austin: U of Texas, 1972. 12. Print.

 

“The World Reveler.”&nbsp;<i>: Traditional Character: Moko Jumbie</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

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