Immerse Yourself In The Unique Tradition Of The Moko Jumbies

Plenty of travelers are aware of the African influence on Caribbean tradition, but very few seek out the most unique elements of this incredible culture. In St. Kitts, traces of African culture can be found throughout the island in everything from artwork to cuisine. Yet, the island's traditional performers offer one of the best ways for tourists to enjoy the diverse culture of St. Kitts. The most well-known of these performers are the moko jumbies, the famous stilt dancers recognized throughout the world. If you want to witness a truly remarkable performance while in St. Kitts, seek out the Caribbean spectacle provided by the moko jumbies.

afgasThe tradition of the moko jumbies has its origins in West Africa. It is believed that the term "moko" references an African god or spirit, while "jumbie" is most likely derived from a West Indian term for "ghost" (therefore, "moko" can be treated as the African figure, while "moko jumbie" represents the Caribbean derivative). In African custom, the moko would be responsible for watching over his village. Using his incredible height, the moko would be able to predict all types of danger and protect his people from evil. This important member of the tribe was rendered in artwork and performance as man on giant stilts capable of unexplainable feats.

The moko jumbies entered Caribbean tradition during the colonial period via the performances of West African slaves. After the African custom arrived in the region, the story of the moko and the dance of the moko jumbie were adapted to incorporate the new scenery. The new story claimed that the moko walked across the ocean to the islands and, despite the hardships of slavery, retained his pride and ability to protect his people. While those of African descent were resigned to celebrate this story amongst themselves for centuries, the moko eventually found his place in the Carnival celebrations of the Caribbean. By the early 20th century, the dancers - now known as moko jumbies - had become one of the most popular cultural attractions in the Caribbean.

While the popularity of moko jumbies waned during the second half of the 20th century, the tradition has experienced an incredible resurgence in the last 15-20 years. Like those traveling during the high period of the moko jumbies popularity in the early 1900s, tourists visiting the Caribbean today will be able to experience the joy of this unique performance throughout the region. In fact, the moko jumbies have become such a popular attraction that performances are held regularly throughout the year in St. Kitts and the dance is incorporated into many other cultural events.

The moko jumbies are certainly hard to miss in St. Kitts. The performers typically wear long gowns and spiked headdresses that resemble a macaw plant in bloom (some theories hold that the term "moko" may also be derived from the name of this tropical plant). In most cases, the moko jumbies dance atop six to eight foot stilts, allowing them to look down upon the crowds and interact with captivated visitors in balconies and second-story windows. Viewers often note the great suspense in watching the moko jumbies dance, as the performers can seem on the verge of falling over at any time. Of course, the moko jumbies are skilled dancers and only feign collapse to garner applause from their audience.

Though the moko jumbies perform throughout the year in St. Kitts, the best times to view all the diverse elements of the island's unique culture are during the New Year's and Carnival seasons. During these annual celebrations, the moko jumbies will be joined by an incredible assortment of performers. Much as the moko jumbie tradition has its roots in West Africa, each group of performers in St. Kitts draws from a distinctive cultural influence, mirroring the rich history and cultural diversity of the island.

If you want to experience the vibrant culture of the Caribbean, you won't find a better island than St. Kitts. As the fascinating tradition of the moko jumbies represents just the tip of the iceberg, a vacation spent in St. Kitts can offer a wealth of wonderful sights and unique experiences.

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