The Jumbies Playing Ground

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 the multi-layered history of the islands.  

The Jumbies Playing Ground: Ole World Influence on Afro-CreoleMasquerades in the Eastern Caribbean spotlights the evolution of Afro-Creole prototypes that emerged in the Eastern Caribbean including bush masquerades, stilt dancers, animal disguises, shemales, female masquerades, and carnival clowns, which contain the vestiges of formative Old World seeds. Author Robert Nicholls has worked in Britain, Nigeria, and the Caribbean in an attempt to understand the evolutionary links in function, garb, and behavior between Afro-Creole masquerades and transatlantic precursors from West Africa, the British Isles, and Western Europe. 

Intrigued by a masquerade’s quality of “whole theater” combining music, dance, drama, and visual arts with esoteric qualities, Nicholls utilizes a concept of play derived from Africa which encompasses a range of activities simultaneously lighthearted and ritualistic. 

Masquerades enact social, political, and spiritual roles within recurring festivals, initiations, wakes, skimmingtons, and weddings. The Jumbies Playing Ground explores performance in terms of abstraction in costume-disguise and the aesthetics of music, songs, drum-rhythms, dance, and licentiousness. Nicholls discusses class factors, logistics, and the economics of performance troupes, and reveals masquerades as transformative agent, ancestral endorser, behavior manager, informal educator, and luck conferrer. 

By documenting the artistic outcomes of cultural transfers that resulted from the interaction between both European and African descendants in the Caribbean in 18th and 19th centuries, The Jumbies Playing Ground offers new perspective and adds breadth to the subject.  

The Jumbies Playing Ground is now available from UPM. Click through the jump for more pictures from the book.