While not as common on the streets of Brooklyn as the Jab Jab, the Moko Jumbie is just as intriguing. The character derives part of its name, practice and meaning from West Africa, as “Moko” is a healer in the Kongo language. Once the stilt-walking tradition caught on in the Caribbean, the Trinidadian people added “Jumbie”, which means ghost or spirit.
“They’re the ones above the rest of us,” Bell said. “They are the protectors of the village. They see from afar. They can tell you that something is happening.
Moko Jumbie’s attire is as extravagant as it gets. Not only are people usually on stilts, but they also wear extremely colorful clothes and creative decorative headgear.
“In some cultures he is a shaman or a diviner,” Byam said. “When slaves think of Moko Jumbie, they also think of him as some kind of spirit or ghost. He was on those stilts because he could kind of watch over the crowd and protect the village.
Bell said the character of Dame Lorraine became a vehicle for criticism of the French aristocracy. Usually dressed in long, ruffled dresses and gloves, and carrying a wallet and an umbrella, the character is an “imitation of plantation owners’ wives,” Bell said. “They also wear a metal mask with a European face painted on it. They wear flowered hats and have enlarged breasts. It’s about making fun of these European women.
Byam accepted. “They mimic the idea of power and the way we use power,” she said. “They gave themselves ostentatious names and parodied the way Europeans danced. These physical features looked like they were in the comics and it got a lot of laughs.
The meaning and context of the Baby Doll has changed over time, according to Byam. The character is dressed in pink, white or purple frilly dresses and bonnets and carries a doll on her hip. “It symbolizes a child born out of wedlock,” she said. “And then the Baby Doll character would approach someone, especially a man, and accuse him of being the father.”
“It’s an imitation of a tragic story,” Bell explained. “They make a caricature of a situation that often happened at that time.”
While at first Baby Doll was usually portrayed by men, Byam explained, the character has emerged more recently as a gesture of activism among women. “A couple of my female students have sent me pictures of themselves,” she said, “and they’re feminists who are using that as a kind of stage to talk about specific issues facing women. “