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Monday, August 15, 2022

Indefinite leave to remain: Moko Jumbies at the British Museum


Two years ago Soca News reported that, to coincide with Notting Hill Carnival, photographer, film-maker and sculptor Zak Ové had been commissioned by the British Museum to produce two imposing sculptures as part of its Celebrating Africa season, running from July to September 2015.

The British Museum has now made these imposing 7-metre-tall sculptures a permanent part of its display in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

In Trinidadian folklore, the moko jumbie’s great height allowed him to see danger approaching and so was considered the protector of the village. A similar tradition of a tall guardian spirit still exists in the Indian Ocean islands, suggesting a common African cultural ancestry.

The moko jumbie is one of the ole mas characters that Ové has explored through his photography in Trinidad Carnival, particularly a series called Transfigura. In an interview at the Tate Gallery, Ove described Carnival as “a war being played out with costume and theatre”. Traditionally, moko jumbie figures wore long colourful skirts or trousers over their stilts and masks covering their faces.

The British Museum said that the inclusion of these figures in its permanent display “acknowledges the culture and history of peoples of African ancestry who were forcibly transported to the Caribbean through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Today, African diaspora populations continue to commemorate their heritage through carnival in multi-cultural cities.”

Entry to the British Museum is free. For more information please visit www.britishmuseum.org.