The Vengeance of Moko

Dear Mr. Eustace
In 2015 I had the opportunity to work with Trini/British artist Zak Ové to install two eight foot moko jumbie sculptures in the Great Court of the British Museum.
It was the culmination of years of negotiations with the museum, which had nothing in their vast collection to reflect Caribbean civilisation.
It was thought that the masquerade traditions of Trinidad and Tobago would be the ultimate symbol of the survival of African culture in the Caribbean.
In writing about moko jumbies and traditional mas for the museum I had to do extensive research. It’s what anyone who values their work should do. Read, read, read and write and talk to people who know better.
You clearly have done none of these. Your comments showed such a shocking lack of knowledge and were delivered with such hubris I wondered who had died and made you an authority on anything else but how to drag an ugly lump of shiny empty nothingness across the Savannah stage.
I read things about masquerade that the likes of you would probably never see because apparently you don’t know that the moko jumbie is in fact one of the most ubiquitous forms of African masquerade on the continent.
Every single time we encountered someone from either the continent or the African diaspora they gave another explanation of what the mas meant to them. Masquerade is of course a central part of the lives of people all over the continent, as it is to us, in case you didn’t know.
I stood and watched hundreds, thousands of people from all over the world express wonder at this mas.
Additionally we had a day of performances which included Stephanie Kanhai, the 2015 Queen of Carnival doing her moko jumbie portrayal.
Full disclosure, Mr. Uncle Minsh’s presentation was not my favourite in his long and amazing career of mas making. I have also since wondered why we always need to see non-Western artforms through a Western prism to fully appreciate their beauty and value.
But the fact that it has made the impact that it has is an indication that you and your cohorts have done absolutely nothing to advance the artform in the past ten years since there was last a Minshall King in the competition. Nobody cares about the mas you make, it is trite, dated, and about as interesting as the Soca Drome. That’s why the stands are empty Mr. Eustace. That’s your fault.
Big and shiny does not a mas make, Mr. Eustace. Your lack of understanding of that is shocking and the ignorance you have for the tradition you inherited is more ugly than that contraption that I had the misfortune to have seen being dragged across the stage on Tuesday. Luckily it was not memorable enough for me to have to consider it beyond the next couple days.
I hope next year every single band plays moko jumbie to trample not just your blinding ignorance but also your pyrotechnic kings under their stilts. That was one of the mythological functions of the moko jumbie – to seek out those in the community who harbour not just evil deeds but evil thoughts. Don’t call down the vengeance of moko on yourself Mr. Eustace. Trust me, you have neither the intelligence nor the humility to deal with that.

8 thoughts on “The Vengeance of Moko

  1. Yes, last year there was a comment overheard by Steffi, from one of the other Queens, about “how a moko jumbie win?”

    I do think that the scoring system needs looking at. Last year, they took the “skills” bit out completely into its own competition and what the performance/vision on stage is what was judged each night which I think helped us – This year in preliminary round, according to what I could work out, 30% of marks go on the skill of using wire,aluminium, cane etc – but apparently there is no skill in cloth or painting – hence the structures are likely to score more highly, leading to the edifices we see being pulled across the stage. 15% of these marks were marked off-track when the costumes are being put together – but it was our experience that out of a group of say 3 or 4 judges (perhaps one for each skill? who knows?) perhaps only one would even bother to come close to look at anything, they just seemed to wonder around with bits of paper demanding to see registration cards.

    • There is no place to run my friend, obviously the person who wrote”The Vengence of Moko?…Tillah Willah tried to impress readers with his research and all that bit, attempting to prove a point about the said Moko Jumbie. To him, and those who refuse to move on, that is probably Mas, to me and other designers/producers , the Moko Jumbie has its place in the “traditional” arena, no doubt. It has no place in the classification”conventional” Mas. If the self proclaimed historian had done what he ought to have done before attempting to shoot down critics of the Minshall piece, he would have discovered that in any competition there are rules which ought to be adhered to, and if the head judge had properly briefed his panel, the Minshall piece would not have been placed in the top ten. Let me educate the self proclaimed historian with one piece of important information which I am sure he is ignorant of the criteria which is very significant is “USE OF COLOUR”, another is backstage judging which carries heavy points. My MINSHALL’S costume, should have scored “Very Low marks in each of those criteria, so mr historisn, read before you try to impress those who are diehard Minshall supporters…you obviously don’t know the rules of engagement …you have failed in your effort to impress.

      • The Moko Jumbie as we call it is from the Dogon of Mali. It is a mask that is danced. It is an old mask older than our Carnival. You miss the spirituality inherent in masking which is the part in which Minshall excels. The Dying Swan as presented at the finals bore witness to so many deaths and in those deaths so many rebirths that someone grounded in science and materials would fail to comprehend the centre or the core that captures what is unseen only felt. Even the people who started a smattering of boos ended up applauding moved by the drama, ethos and the sheer bold-faced chutzpa to attempt something so audacious. Cut to chase! It’s all about soul baby! So Ted spent more than a hundred thousand! That’s the problem in our society, a lot of people are impressed by big shiny things and what those shiny things cost. We need to shift from that dead end street. The soul is what sparks great art. I’m glad I’ve seen the Swan die. My cynicism about T&T died too. Minsh for PM!

      • You maybe, but perhaps not everyone was as unimpressed as you would have others believe. This debate could of course, go on forever. The problem is that people do not appreciate the beauty of the art. Neither, how much is portrayed in the simplicity. Whilst a huge, heavily beaded, coloured, multi feathered and very expensive piece that many would call a costume draws ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the sparse audience, reality is that in this particular case, it was Minshall’s creation that caught the attention of the photographers. I think Mr Skeete, as a designer and an obvious lover of the Mas, you may want to rethink and give credit where credit is due.

        Your comments regarding the person you describe as a self proclaimed historian, stink of a knee jerk reaction. A thoughtful, as opposed to an attack response to the writer who is actually a woman, would have been easier to digest by the reader.

        I was shocked by Mr Eustace’s response to the result. I get the feeling that he feels threatened. And this is not the first time that Mr Eustace has caused controversy. My humble message to him is that he should be grateful for his win and should have kept his mouth shut.

        I cannot leave without commenting on the appalling remark heard to come out of Gloria Dallsingh’s mouth that “Peter Minshall has a long way to go”. This about the man who played a major role in the design and artistic direction of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in 1992, in 1996 and the 2002 Winter Olympics for which he received an Emmy.

        Envy is a killer.

  2. The foolishness of competition in Trinidad Carnival has reaped this. If t wasn’t this, it would be that the costume had no colour. That was the mantra of the era of Raoul Garib: “Carnival is Colour.” That catchphrase was really a paint company tagline, but people needed to justify their dotishness with an adherence to rules. Man-made objective rules which operate on a different subjective level to mas’. In all the years of Minshall in the mas’ this dog-fight of egos was present. In his exile, few, if anybody commented on the mas. And the ironic thing is Marcus Eustace did not even realise that the “empty stands” were a sign of apathy by a dwindling public in search of mas’, not a costume. A moko jumbie “is not mas” is the height of stupidity. And this is what is the future of mas’. Lord, put a hand.

  3. I was at the Savannah on the evening of the show, and while most of the costumes were impressively large and colourful, I and many of the onlookers around me, usually responded with polite applause. With a few exceptions, we had seen similar themes before.When the Swan presented itself, the interest level among spectators ‘spiked’! The costume was simple, moving and effectively displayed. I make no pretension to the erudition of other commentators, but that to me, was creativity. We need more like that. Perhaps it’s time to review the rules?

  4. Well done as usual.
    Hopefully he’ll understand your article , accept the rebuke and learn to moderate his comments in future…. Or at least do his research before commenting.
    Love from Julie

    Sent from my iPad


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