Earlier this month, lots of people gathered to enjoy the Mokofest event, hosted by the Funtopia Youth Initiative Foundation at Emilio Wilson Park. The Mokofest hosted a wide range of performances including singers, dancers, DJs and poets, but in the spotlight were the Soualigan Giant Moko Jumbies!
These are impressive dancers that balance on very tall stilts, and the tradition has deep-running roots to West African culture. Lots of kids took part, performing twice at the Park and also on the Boardwalk Boulevard – amazing the onlookers. Since it was not only about enjoyment, but also about promoting awareness about Moko Jumbie culture and the art of stilt walking, Funtopia decided to have a poetry and logo competition this year.
“Moko jumbies in west African culture are seen as seers and protectors of the village though our Soualigan Giants, moko jumbies, have been seen primarily during festivals and events for entertainment; many of our walkers express excitement in being able to master the skill of walking tall,” Funtopia President, Ms. Lucinda Audain, told The Kids Herald.
Taking part in the programme “has changed their level of confidence and they have newfound pride knowing there is a connection to what their forefathers used to do.
“We think it’s important for children to not only learn about Moko Jumbie culture, but also to learn about its African connection. It has been a journey of self-discovery for us, one which has unlocked many stories we can further develop about the afro Caribbean connection surrounding moko jumbies.
“We have heard stories of local salt pickers using stilts to cross the Great Salt Pond during salt picking season. We don’t know how accurate the story is, but its premise seems very logical. Salt pickers would use stilts to walk through parts of the pond that were not completely hardened, to not walk through the wet salt with their bare feet to get to the parts that were ready to be extracted.
The Poetry and Logo Competition
“Over the years, we have become aware of the misconceptions around this topic and our goal is to educate the community. Participants were presented with the topic and had to research the theme in order to create their submissions. You can see some young people really did research with their use of specific vocabulary in their poetry pieces.”
There were two winners each for the poetry and logo competitions. A total of 75 entries had been submitted in total. When it comes to the youngest winners, 12-year-old Nathannia Golden succeeded in the logo category, and 9-year-old Diya Asrani succeeded in the poetry category.
Competition judge Dion Gumbs said, “I was amazed and equally impressed by the design submitted by Nathannia; the logo has an international appeal and can be easily transmitted on a T-shirt or a cap. Congratulations to her.”
Poetry entries were graded on creativity, use of language, and relevance to the topic. Both winners scored 23 out of a maximum possible 25 points.
Here is Diya’s poem:
Soualigan giant moko jumbie
Soualigan giant moko jumbie, a beautiful warrior.
Watching over his village protecting from the evil.
A true giant moko jumbie, a seeker and a protector.
Standing tall, tall, tall
And their tallness is symbolic to the power of God.
People can’t keep away their smiles during celebrations, when they see men, women and children dressed up as moko jumbies in their colourful costumes and flamboyant behaviour.
Soualigan giants, athletic stilt walkers are important to our history and culture of Sint Maarten and it’s our hope that it will continue to live for hundred more years.