Moko Jumbies first protected believers from evildoers. Originally a West African tradition, men and women on gigantic stilts would dress in long gowns and masquerade as gods. Gods can look down on humanity from above, and foresee danger better than mere mortals. The stilt-walkers would collect donations, from revelers and onlookers on second-story balconies.
They now dance in the streets of Trinidad and Tobago for every Carnival. ‘Moko’ is the name of the an old African god, ‘the diviner.’ ‘Jumbies’ – ‘ghosts’ – was added by the emancipated slaves. After decades of decline, a man by the name of ‘Dragon’ Glen de Souza actually revived the Moko Jumbie tradition in the early 1990s, in an effort to teach children how to dance.
There is now one premier school for Moko Jumbies in all the world: the Keylemanjahro School of Art & Culture. It is open six days a week, has about one hundred and fifty students, and takes its name from Key (to open doors), le (the first two letters of ‘leader’), man (as in ‘mankind’), jah (the Rastafarian word for God), and ro, for the roar of the crowd as the Moko Jumbies come down the street.
This school keeps children off the streets. They often practice long after sunset, enjoying the cool night air in the midst of their exertion: each stilt can weigh up to twenty-five pounds. The youngest student was Dragon’s own son: he was two.