Welcome to the world of the moko jumbies, the guardians of a stilt-walking tradition that originated in West Africa and migrated to the Caribbean hundreds of years ago. Their talents have been seen at Carnival celebrations in places like Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as contemporary heritage events celebrating African and African-Caribbean culture in the United States, Huffington Post reports.
You know the moko jumbies when you see them – whether they’re dressed in oversized zoot suits or adorned with vibrant tapestry-like robes, they travel via massive stilts, reaching up into the heavens at heights of 17 feet tall.
Artist Laura Anderson Barbata has drawn our attention to the international stilt-walking community in a project titled “Transcommunality.” The exhibition pays homage to a beautiful and seemingly bizarre practice steeped in history and spirituality. The term “moko jumbies” combines what many have interpreted as a name for an African deity, Moko and the West Indian word for “spirit”, jumbie. Taken together, the two concepts have amounted to a centuries-old art form consisting of extravagant costumery and gravity-defying dance, in which individuals mime the movements of a towering, protective god. A staple of Carnival-esque gatherings, the stilt-walkers passed on their talents to new generations for years in cities like Port of Spain and Oaxaca.
Mexican-born Anderson Barbata not only photographed and filmed the gorgeous moko jumbie performances, she also immersed herself in their world, working with the Keylemanjahro School and the broader creative world to bring awareness to the sublime slice of bygone culture. “The knowledge of what others are living through opens our eyes and expands our conscience,” she writes in a description of her work.
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