Dec. 29, 2003 – Sunday's 22nd annual King Mango Strut parade in the artsy Miami enclave of Coconut Grove featured the usual political fun-poking, longtime Virgin Islands resident Patrick Deery reports, but also a group that got not laughs but "long clapping, ovations and cheers."
And that group was a band of stilt-dancing mocko jumbies from the Virgin Islands.
The group members "were dancing their hearts out," Deery said. "Their agility and style was something to behold, for most people had never had the opportunity to see a real, live mocko jumbie in action! For someone who has spent most of his life on St. Thomas, with deep roots in the community, I was thrilled to watch them, and proud to tell those around me who they were, what they were, and where the came from."
As of Monday, however, Deery didn't know who they really were, or where they were from. "I don't have a name," he said of the group. "But I do know they are the same ones sent to dance in the Junior Orange Bowl Parade" in Miami on Tuesday afternoon.
He said he called the Orange Bowl Parade organizers, "and the only info they have is the entry is called U.S. Virgin Islands Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers."
On Tuesday, Deery tracked the troupe and its leader down. "The name of the group is, indeed, United States Virgin Islands Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers," he reported. "The organization is made up of people from St. Thomas and is led by Vernon Brookes, who has resided in Miami since 1985."
Deery described the annual King Mango Strut, which this year featured former Attorney General Janet Reno as grand marshal, as an event "considered to be one of the more zany gatherings held in the United States. The overall theme is political satire and downright tastelessness. The parade's organizers always promise to leave everybody offended — in a silly, fun way. And they succeed."
This year's entries, he said, included "a herd of human 'Mad Cows' stampeding down the street" and an entry titled "Cuban Eye for the Gringo Guy" doing "makeovers with cigars and guayabera shirts."
When the mocko jumbie group danced by, Deery said, he called out to the young woman he caught in his camera lens, and "she said they were from St. Thomas."
Phone calls by the Source on Monday yielded little enlightenment. Gerrie Cockerell, whose Mocko Jumbie Jamboree members in years past have appeared in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades shown on network television, said it wasn't her group. She pointed out that sometimes performing groups that relocate to the mainland still say they are from the Virgin Islands.
Luana Wheatley in the office of Martin Public Relations, the government's mainland publicity agency, couldn't help.
Some Web site sleuthing into the makeup of Tuesday's Junior Orange Bowl Parade turned up confirmation without elaboration — that a mocko jumbie troupe is one of 58 units lined up for the event: On Sunday, the online edition of the Miami Herald headlined an article "Parade going to new heights," with a subhead reading "The Junior Orange Bowl Parade will feature stilt dancers from the U.S. Virgin Islands practicing a centuries-old West African art form."
The Herald article began this way: "It may be the 55th year for the Junior Orange Bowl parade, but organizers have come up with new ways to keep the event dancing — literally." A couple of paragraphs later, it reported that the parade organizers "are bringing in the Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers from the U.S. Virgin Islands. They'll be performing an art form that originated in Ghana, West Africa, centuries ago. The tradition migrated to the Caribbean, where folks in the U.S. Virgin Islands have practiced it for about 200 years.
"The towering dancers — who in West Africa measured from 10 to 15 feet tall — represent 'good spirits' or 'observant guardians' ready to use supernatural powers to ward off evil spirits."
On Tuesday, Deery said he hadn't been able to get the names of all the group members but did verify that the female dancer he spoke to and photographed is Raycine Bonelli. And, he added, "the group is quite well known to the V.I. Tourism Office in Miami."
Deery said his reaction to Sunday's Coconut Grove parade was that "these kids truly are our very best Virgin Islands ambassadors. My compliments to each and every one of them."
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