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Caribbean Current - Towering stilt walkers are a treat for the eyes

Halloween 2019 has come and gone. The costumes and decorations were everywhere. The stores have had the extra candy aisles set up for weeks now.

Most people from the Caribbean do not celebrate Halloween because it is not a part of our culture. But the carnivals and festivals that we celebrate have some similarities to Halloween because dancers don their costumes and people flood the streets during special holiday seasons. Some of the themed costumes are definitely ghostly and ghoulish.

The carnivals attract tourists from all over the world who come to witness the dancers with their painted bodies and masked faces portraying animals, plants or a tribal figure.

One of the biggest attractions are the stilt walkers whose costumes are so colorful that onlookers cannot keep their eyes off them. The stilt walkers are performers who dress in oversized costumes to complement their exaggerated height as they loom above the crowds looking larger than life.

Imagine a man or woman walking toward you unexpectedly and he is 12 feet tall. For children that can be very frightening.

At the very mention of carnivals or festivals, Caribbean people automatically think of Trinidad and Tobago. Why? Visitors to the island know that they can always find a celebration there because Trinidadians love to put on a show year round.

Katherine Brooks wrote an article in 2017 on this topic. She described the mime movements of the dancers as they tower over their audience. She said that Trinidadians were known to pass on these stilt walking skills to the younger generations in the cities of Port of Spain and Oaxaca.

Brooks credits the Keylemanjahro School of Arts and Culture in Cocorite, Trinidad and Tobago, for reintroducing the art form. Stilt walking not only passed on a new skill to the youth but it was a means to keep these young people off the streets of Port of Spain.

The Virgin Islands Traveller’s “A Guide For Curious Travellers” brings to light that stilt walking, junkanoo dancing and moko jumbie are tied into an African tradition that can be traced as far back as the 1700s.

This part of Caribbean culture was a re-enactment of religious rituals passed down from our ancestors who used the avenue of stilt walking to fulfil various spiritual roles by communicating with those who have passed on. Thus the word jumbie, which means ghost, was used. They also played a vital role in the coming of age ceremony back in the motherland.

Today stilt walkers, moko jumbie or junkanoo — pick a name based on the island you are from — are providing the exotic entertainment in circuses and parades all over the United States and elsewhere in the world.

Each year that the UniverSoul Circus has performed in Philadelphia, attendees are fascinated with the Dynasty Dancers from Trinidad and Tobago, who are now a permanent stilt walking dance troupe with the circus.

Another example of modern-day stilt walkers are those featured at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in a portion of the “Lion King Circle of Light” show. Seeing that in person was the highlight of my visit when I went there a couple of years ago with my family.

It’s almost winter but maybe you can begin to plan a visit to the islands to allow your family to have a first-hand experience of seeing these creative flamboyant dancers up close and in person.

Some of the grand festivals of Trinidad and Tobago are: the Heritage festival from May to July, the Blue Food Festival in October and the Tobago Carnival in December.

There are other islands — Anguilla, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda and Bonaire, to name a few — that feature great stilt walking during festivities starting in December through August.

If you can take some time to watch the videos about the “Touch D Sky” stilt walkers from Trinidad and Tobago. You’ll be happy that you did.

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