Meet the Mocko Jumbies of the U.S. Virgin Islands
These colourful stilt-walkers trace back to pre-slavery Africa. Today they are a symbol of freedom in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Mocko Jumbies are dancers and stilt walkers, sometimes seen at carnivals across the Caribbean but always at carnivals and festivals across the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The tradition can be traced back to West Africa. Mocko means ‘healer’ there. And while jumbi is a West Indian term for ghosts or spirits, that too can be traced back to the Kongo language word, zumbi.
In Africa Mocko Jumbies watched over villages and used their towering height to foresee danger and evil.
It was an idea that African slaves and their descendants clung on too and when carnival was revived in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1952, Mocko Jumbies were front and centre of the celebration.
They continue to stroll and dance in carnivals and festivals across the islands as a sign of freedom to this day.
The influence of Mocko Jumbies stretches beyond carnival in the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of the island’s most popular musicians, Hugo Moolenaar, was also a mocko jumbie.
Hugo Moolenaar was regarded as one of the fastest stilt dancers ever and is just as famous for incorporating kung fu moves into his routines.
The cover of his album, Mocko Jumbie Jamboree, features Hugo dressed as a Mocko Jumbie on a white sand beach.
More recently, the Department of Tourism of the U.S. Virgin Islands adopted the Mocko Jumbie as a symbol for the islands.
The presence of a Mocko Jumbie at a parade, jump-up or even a beach BBQ is considered a great honour and blessing in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For visitors though, the best chance of seeing a Mockie Jumbie remains the annual carnivals and parades held in St Croix.
They are a colourful reminder of the islands’ West African heritage.
And, without a doubt, the most memorable part of any visit to this tiny corner of the Caribbean.
For more information about Mocko Jumbie and the US Virgin Islands, drop by VisitUSVI.com
Main image: A gang of Mocko Jumbi on St Croix (© U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism)