Mocko Jumbies are one of the oldest parts of Virgin Islands cultural heritage. It dates back to a time when Africans were brought to the islands over 200 years ago. When we see them at cultural celebrations, they are an immediate reminder of Virgin Islands history, heritage and culture. Mocko Jumbies are traditional stilt dancers that dress in colorful clothing and their faces are covered with masks!
The word ‘moko’ means healer and the word ‘jumbie’ means ghost or spirit. Many African tribes view Mocko Jumbies as seekers, protectors or guardians of their village or in our case in the Virgin Islands, our culture. Their height, which symbolizes the power of God, was believed to be their way of seeing evil before it arrived and would allow them to warn other villagers.
The purpose of the mask dates back to the days of slavery when slaves weren’t allowed to practice their religious beliefs. They had to get creative in how they would pay homage to their God. During celebrations and festivals, mocko jumbies weren’t wearing these colorful costumes and masks to be festive but more so to disguise their method of worship. Their appearance is considered a blessing and an honor because it is believed that Mocko Jumbies ward off evil spirits by their mockery of them, which is done through their spiritual dance.
You’ll see them bending and moving and doing different acrobatic stunts, making their performance all the more entertaining. As a kid, I was deathly afraid of them! You know how some people feel about clowns? That’s how I felt about mocko jumbies. I thought they were the scariest things EVER but now that I’m older and I’ve learned what they are (and that there are real people under there), I’m able to jump up and dance with them whenever I see them at various celebrations.
Have you ever seen mocko jumbies perform? Be sure to share a pic of them on social media (@cruzanfoodie) and tag me. I’d love to see your pics!
Anquanette Gaspard is a food and travel entrepreneur, freelance writer, blogger, and social media influencer, based in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Anquanette uses her blog, CruzanFoodie.com, and social platforms to share her experiences in a way that is authentically Caribbean.