The Jumbies' Playing Ground

The Jumbies' Playing Ground: Old World Influences on Afro-Creole Masquerades in the Eastern Caribbean

ROBERT WYNDHAM NICHOLLS
Foreword by John Nunley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24htcd
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  • Book Info
    The Jumbies' Playing Ground
    Book Description:

    During the masquerades common during carnival time, jumbies (ghosts or ancestral spirits) are set free to roam the streets of Caribbean nations, turning the world topsy-turvy. Modern carnivals, which evolved from earlier ritual celebrations featuring disguised performers, are important cultural and economic events throughout the Caribbean, and are a direct link to a multilayered history.

    This work explores the evolutionary connections in function, garb, and behavior between Afro-Creole masquerades and precursors from West Africa, the British Isles, and Western Europe. Robert Wyndham Nicholls utilizes a concept of play derived from Africa to describe a range of lighthearted and ritualistic activities. Along with Old World seeds, he studies the evolution of Afro-Creole prototypes that emerged in the Eastern Caribbean--bush masquerades, stilt dancers, animal disguises, she-males, female masquerades, and carnival clowns.

    Masquerades enact social, political, and spiritual roles within recurring festivals, initiations, wakes, skimmingtons, and weddings. The author explores performance in terms of abstraction in costume-disguise and the aesthetics of music, songs, drum-rhythms, dance, and licentiousness. He reveals masquerades as transformative agent, ancestral endorser, behavior manager, informal educator, and luck conferrer.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-616-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. FOREWORD: Clash of Cultures
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
    JOHN WALLACE NUNLEY

    The Jumbies’ Playing Grounddocuments an extraordinary social history of humans, one that developed as a result of a meeting of Amerindian societies of the New World and the experiments in social living created by players and actors from the Old World. While the social life of New World peoples was greatly disturbed by this meeting—and that is a related story—another important merging has been taking place in the new country to this day: between Old World European and African peoples.

    The meeting of Old World European and African peoples was largely responsible for the creation of a...

  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xviii-1)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-6)

    Similarities between disguised performance traditions in the West Indies and those in West Africa and Western Europe warrant investigation.The Jumbies’ Playing Groundexplores cross-cultural knowledge transfer relating to transatlantic art influences. This interdisciplinary study examines how Afro-Creole masquerades evolved and looks for possible precursors in the regions from which Caribbean populations were drawn. More specifically, it examines the elements of Old World masquerades adopted in the Lesser Antilles in terms of appearance, roles, and behavior. In so doing, this research provides a detailed exploration of the origins of New World cultural practices as well as cultural transfers between European...

  7. Chapter 1 MASQUERADE DERIVATION, COSTUMES, AND BEHAVIOR
    (pp. 7-45)

    I became interested in masquerade performances while getting my degree in art in London. A Yoruba artist, Taiwo Emmanuel Jegede of the Keskidee Arts Center in England, taught us that the artist’s duty is to feed society’s soul. I was intrigued by a masquerade’s quality of “whole theater,” combining the other arts.¹ I eventually researched the masquerade culture of the Igede people of Benue State, Nigeria. Although once used to ready warriors for war or to commemorate battle victories, Igede masquerades such as Onyantu, Aitah, Ogrinye, and Abakpa now appear primarily during funerals or during the New Yam Festival, which...

  8. Chapter 2 AESTHETICS OF MASQUERADING
    (pp. 46-76)

    Masquerade performances provide enjoyment—masquerading is fun—but the pleasure provided is not trivial; rather, it contains psychosocial benefits. It brings aesthetic experiences into the community and disseminates values. Moreover, masquerading provides informal education, especially in the affective domain. For example, the Caribbean Bull has been shown to embody masculine values of strength, jocularity, sexual potency, and aggressive retaliation. Eike (2007b, 103) talks about mumming participation in Norway as a type ofrite de passage. Similarly, Kaivola-Bregenhøj (2007, 538) argues that youthful mumming in Finland served as a socialization agent, offering “the boys and girls of the same age who...

  9. Chapter 3 MASQUERADING IN THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN
    (pp. 77-105)

    In discussing the composition of masquerade groups, a distinction must be made between large troupes (eight to twenty or more members), smaller groups, and solo performers, some of whom were accompanied by musicians. A further distinction can be made between masqueraders who performed regularly as the same character and those who adopted different disguises each time. In the Virgin Islands, the former included Koka the Bear, Smokey Joe the Bull, and Magnus the Mocko Jumbie, while the latter is exemplified by Paddy Moore, who played a range of characters including the bear and the Indian. Viggo Roberts of Christiansted, St....

  10. Chapter 4 SPECIFIC MASQUERADE TYPES
    (pp. 106-143)

    Unlike the bear and the bull, the Mocko Jumbie masquerade seems not to have a shared European and African ancestry—there are only marginal European influences. However, stilts were worn by shepherds and hunters in France and by hop twiners in Britain. Alli Paul (pers. comm., July 10, 1995), a Mocko Jumbie performer, uses the term stiltdancersto differentiate Mocko Jumbies from stilt walkers, who appear in European circus rings and elsewhere. The Mocko Jumbie stilt-dancing masquerade historically appeared in many places in the Eastern Caribbean, including Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Kitts–Nevis, St. Lucia, and Trinidad....

  11. Chapter 5 MASQUERADE PROTOTYPES IN WEST AFRICA
    (pp. 145-175)

    Masquerades in West Africa include animal disguises and bush masquerades made of vegetal material. As an animal, the bear is not indigenous to Africa; therefore, one would not expect masquerades to be so named. Raffia masquerades are widespread, however—for example, the costumes of ancestral Egungun masquerades from the northeastern region of Yorubaland are made entirely from shredded plant fibers. The bulky raffia contributes to its appearance of hugeness, while bold, exaggerated gestures similarly add to its “bush monster” appearance. Figures clad in raffia fiber of one kind or another are among the oldest masquerades found in Upper Guinea and...

  12. Chapter 6 MASQUERADE PROTOTYPES IN WESTERN EUROPE
    (pp. 177-208)

    Acknowledging that customs from diverse societies migrated into the Caribbean, this exposition draws broadly from rural masquerades across Western Europe. Bear disguises made of straw or burlap were found in England, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, and Germany, and raffia masquerades were also found in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Gunnell (1995, 105) establishes that straw figures must have been known in southern Scandinavia before 1300. In Russia, the bear masquerade smeared soot on his face, and his costume was constructed of withered pea stalks, which were “quite effective as a disguise when bound neatly around the arms, legs, and body of the...

  13. Chapter 7 OLD WORLD–NEW WORLD COMPARISONS
    (pp. 209-230)

    Some West African spiritual ideas crossed the Atlantic. Regarding the use of charms to protect property, Baum (1999, 165) states that among the Jola, special “medicines made of palm fibers consecrated at the Gilaite [blacksmith’s] shrine were placed near valuable goods to keep them from being stolen.” In the Eastern Caribbean, a Bapoo, or “Jumbee in a bottle,” was placed on fruit trees to keep thieves away (Valls 1981, 7).

    African funerals do not simply mourn a death but celebrate the deceased’s life. Masquerade dancers are disguised because they represent ancestral spirits welcoming the deceased’s soul into their ranks. Expensive...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 231-241)

    Both Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic religions that have generally discouraged traditional masquerading in its various forms and often actively eradicated it. Throughout the centuries, Christians’ criticism of the practice has been relentless, and masquerading has been accused of preserving heathenism. In many ways, traditional African religions and the animistic religions of pre-Christian Europe are similar. Both focused on local sources of spiritual power and pragmatic outcomes. The list of prohibitions embedded in the Ecclesiastical Canons of King Edgar in A.D. 959 reveal some European pre-Christian beliefs: “Well worshipings . . . divinations, and enchantments, and . . . various...

  15. APPENDIXES
    (pp. 242-247)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 248-254)
  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 255-271)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 272-293)