Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Moko Jumbie Heaven

This is it. If there is a heaven for Moko Jumbies (stilt walkers), it is right here on earth, at Harding Place, lamp post 9, Cocorite, Trinidad, West Indies. The yard belongs to ‘Dragon’ Glen De Souza, who started teaching the art of dancing on stilts to children in 1986. Today, about 100 kids are enlisted in his ‘Keylemanjahro School of Arts & Culture’. Many of the students come to practice every day. The yard is especially busy at times like this, 18 days before Children’s Carnival, when the entire school parades through the streets of Port of Spain on stilts.
I have visited the school for about 10 years now and shot gazillions of pictures in the process. The result was published as a book last year. It is not easy to take images here that I have not taken already, but the magic of this place keeps me coming back, anyway.

(Please also visit my Moko Jumbies gallery here)

I love the place when not much is going on, when somebody just cleans the yard, in this case Dragon’s neighbor Django...

...while Benji plays on a plastic toy guitar with no strings, which reminds me at how often I have tried to figure out how to show in an image the fact that very very loud soca music blasts from every single speaker in the yard during Carnival Season, day and night.

It is good to be back, to watch a few new students arrive, eager to become a Moko Jumbie, and there always seems to be a newborn baby, this time it’s Hannah. Welcome to the Moko Jumbies world, Hannah. Most students come here in late in the afternoon, after regular school. Practice normally starts just after the sun went down, which is a problem for me, there is hardly any light in the yard to work with. But a Moko Jumbie loves the cooler air; it is hard work to dance on stilts, the tall ones can weight up to 25 pounds each.

Looking through one of Dragon’s self made masks gives me the perspective of blue devils roaming the streets of Port of Spain during Carnival.

Here is a more official text on the school, which accompanied an exhibition of my work at the annual photofestival ‘Visa pour L’Image’ in Perpignan, France, titled

MOKO JUMBIES : The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad
A photo essay about a stilt-walking school in Cocorite, Trinidad & Tobago

'Dragon' Glen de Souza founded the Keylemanjahro School of Art & Culture in 1986. The main purpose of the school is to keep children off the streets and away from drugs.

He first taught dances like the Calypso, African dance and the jig with his former partner Cathy Ann Samuel. Searching for other activities to engage the children in, he rediscovered the art of stilt-walking, a tradition known in West Africa as the Moko Jumbies , protectors of the villages and participants in religious ceremonies. The art was brought to Trinidad by the slave trade and soon forgotten.
Today Dragon’s school has over 100 members from age 4 and up.
His 2 year old son Mutawakkil is probably the youngest Moko Jumbie ever. All the stilts are made by Dragon and his students and can be as high as 12-15 feet. The children show their artistic talents mostly at the annual Carnival, which today is unthinkable without the presence of the Moko Jumbies. A band can have up to 80 children on stilts and they have won many of the prestigious prizes and trophies that are awarded by the National Carnival Commission. Designers like Peter Minshall , Brian Mac Farlane and Laura Anderson Barbata create dazzling costumes for the school which are admired by thousands of spectators. Besides stilt-walking the children learn the limbo dance, drumming, fire blowing and how to ride unicycles.
The school is situated in Cocorite, a suburb of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.

Join the MOKO JUMBIES on Facebook here


  1. I entered your photoblog to

    Geat Pictures/comentary

  2. Sehr schöne Fotos und ein hochinteressanter Topic!!

  3. Hey Stefan, Great to see your photos and comments in this format. Keep up the good work!

  4. The artist works and we see the works of an artist. If photography is another language then I am reminded of a great book, Rememberance of Things Past. Prout's words and your photographs now become part of our enduring memories of how we lived our lives. Thank you for the view.

  5. Your images are very interesting....a true artist eye.I'm glad you are publishing them cause you have captured a side of Trinidad that is not often seen. I look forward to more of your work!!

  6. Your images are very interesting....a true artist eye.I'm glad you are publishing them cause you have captured a side of Trinidad that is not often seen. I look forward to more of your work!!

  7. This blog is an incredible find. I am a playwright working on a Moko Jumbie character and these images are perfect. Thank you for sharing.

  8. aahh..

    in love of the first picture of this article!

  9. have shared the first pic with a link to your book on my site. Hope you don't mind :)

  10. hi stefan
    how are you
    remember me?
    luis lauras friend
    help to her in 2006
    justo say hello to you