April 11, 2009 — It was a high time in Gallows Bay Saturday evening, but it's always a high time when the Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies are out and about.
Eight members of the stilt-dancing troupe were dancing, cavorting and towering over the crowd of more than 100 people who came for the official release of the DVD documentary, "Mokolution," held at Undercover Books.
"Mokolution" was produced by Willard Johns, who heads the Guardians of Culture, and funded by the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
"I'm very happy today to be celebrating the release of 'Mokolution,'" said Brad Nugent of Tourism. "It's a chance to share with our friends and with our competitors that here in the Virgin Islands, and especially on St. Croix, we do it well, and we do it best."
The department provided a $30,000 grant to create the documentary, which tells of the evolution of the mocko jumbie from a West African folk figure across the ocean to the Caribbean, where it became an important cultural symbol. The tradition of the masquerade stilt dancers had begun to fade out by the 1960s and '70s, but John and others revived it and carried it forward into the new millennium.
For John, the documentary is more than an entertaining movie. It's a document of Virgin Islands culture.
"I've been involved in the art form for more than 33 years," he said. "And I'm an educator. It's not just entertainment, it's edutainment."
The documentary was filmed last July, and was in post-production for eight months before Saturday's release. All the filming and production work was done by WTJX-TV.
As the evening started, a crowd formed outside the Gallows Bay bookstore, with some people staking out a spot close to where the stiltwalkers would perform, but the majority crowded into Undercover Books to purchase a copy of the DVD. Food and beverages were available outside.
After welcoming remarks from John, Nugent, and others, the Moko Jumbies performed. Eight dancers, half in black and white costumes and half of them dressed in red and white, glided above the crowd, shimmying, hopping and dancing in their uncannily graceful articulation.
According to Nugent, "Mokolution," is the second film project funded by the Department of Tourism, from a $300,000 grant for projects that record arts that are culturally, socially and politically relevant.
"Mokolution" will be available both to local residents and to people around the world who want to know about the arts of the Virgin Islands.
John said he is negotiating with the Department of Education to make the DVD available to all of the territory's schoolchildren.
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