Written by Shaun Rambaran
It was 8th January 2016 and the energy of Carnival already hung in the air. Artist, Joshua Lue Chee Kong, while walking past the Queen’s Park Savannah, unexpectedly stumbled upon a mysterious, towering group of colourful figures which left him captivated. Struck by their scale, the colour, and the movements, he excitedly made photographs and the feeling hung in his memory.
Carnival 2016 came and went, that year featuring Jha-whan Thomas’ performance of Peter Minshall’s ‘Dying Swan’ at Dimanche Gras.
By the July-August vacation, when word of an artist residency in Vermot came through, a conversation with his good friend, Kriston Chen, took place. As it turned out, Kriston, a skilled designer with a strong connection to Granderson Lab and fan of compelling imagery, had himself already been pouring over the traditional mas photographs—including pictures of giant moko jumbies—Maria Nunes had made that year. Nonchalantly Josh expressed a curiousity to his friend, “How cool would it be to have moko jumbies in the form of a residency? [I wonder] if I could walk on stilts myself…” thinking the idea would have been a passing cloud. Kriston however, being a bit of a taskmaster, began exploring his connections.
“It was too good to be true,” Kriston would reminisce in January 2019, because in a side-conversation with his friend, Debbie Estwick, mention so happened to have been made of an architect named Michael Lee Poy who had been making sticks for a number of years, and teaching stilt-walking workshops at Holistic Primary School. After a mini-Odyssey throughout 2016 which saw them: meeting Jha-whan Thomas in person via Granderson Lab; an overzealous and failed attempt at walking six-foot sticks supplied by Michael; and fête-sign painter, Bruce Cayonne, cutting the sticks down to four-feet; finally on 11th January 2017 Josh, Kriston, and Debbie all finally walked for the first time at Michael Lee Poy’s lab.
The spirit of sharing runs deeply through both Josh and Kriston. For fun, they thought it might be interesting to open an invitation to each of their friends to try walking too. Sean Leonard of Granderson Lab allowed them the space at the affiliated Alice Yard in Woodbrook to host their session. On 29th January 2017, the first ever stick-walking session at Alice Yard took place with designer, Richard Rawlins, eagerly being the first person to try.
The friends who came on that day told their friends, those friends told others and, as of the date of this writing, the interest hasn’t waned. The Alice Yard sessions became regular, fortnightly fixtures.
During passing conversation with Michael, Kriston learnt about Junior Bisnath and the Kaisokah group of San Fernando. The colourful mokos of Kaisokah turned out to be the ones which Josh had initially seen. For some time, Junior had been attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the most people simultaneously walking on stilts, which was achieved by Spijkenisse, The Netherlands on 16th September 2011 with 959 walkers. The notion of surpassing this record in Trinbago with ‘one thousand moko jumbies’ was attempted by Junior in September 2017 and voiced by Glenn ‘Dragon’ de Souza in March 2012. The #1000mokos hashtag was inspired by this, and for a short time the group called itself ‘1000mokos’ as well. Today, the group is known as ‘Sticks in de Yard’, named after its fortnightly sessions.
A collection of core team members gradually gathered throughout 2017 and 2018, including (in alphabetical order): Jendayi Akanke; Damir Ali; Yejide Cordner; Akilah E-R; Windsor Frederick; Mike Huggins; Xevran Ivarra; Simone Jacelon; Jo Ming Hon; Shaun Rambaran; Arvinda Rampersad; Richard Rawlins; and Mekhai Weekes.
The years also saw a collection of notable events and achievements for Sticks in de Yard, including:
Celebration of International Women’s Day at Audrey Jeffers House (March 2017);
The first ‘Touch D Sky’ Sunday session (April 2017);
A Vermont art / moko residency (April 2017);
Participation at New Fire Festival 2017 (April 2017);
Participation in the Bocas Ol’ Mas Competition (April 2017);
‘#1000mokos on the Mount’ (trip to Mount Saint Benedict) (June 2017);
Collaboration with ‘Moko Jumbie Mas Camp’ and their ‘Do Not Eat ah Food’ band (July 2017);
A world-record attempt with Junior Bisnath held at Skinner Park, San Fernando (August 2017);
Participation in ‘One Island, The Concert’ (a Hurricane Maria fundraiser) (September 2017);
Participation in the TogetherWI ‘No Greater Time’ music video (featuring David Rudder, Ella Andall, 3canal, and several other Trinbagonian artistes) (September 2017);
The first master class with Daddy Jumbie at Big Black Box (October 2017);
‘Sticks in de Schoolyard’ at Diego Martin Central Secondary School, initiated by Damir Ali (October 2017);
Visit to the legendary ‘Dragon’s Den’ (Keylemanjahro’s yard) (November 2017);
A feature in Caribbean Beat magazine (January-February 2018);
Participation and collaboration with Moko Somõkõw for Carnival 2018 (February 2018);
Playing in the ‘Friends for the Road’ J’ouvert band (February 2018);
Hosting the Carolina Friends School at Alice Yard (May 2018);
Attending, by invitation, the Americas Cultural Summit in Ontario, Canada (May 2018);
Initiation of ‘Stick Ting in d Alley’ in Aruba, through collaboration with Rancho Foundation (July 2018);
Participation in the booklaunch of Dr. Kevin Browne’s ‘High Mas’(November 2018);
Collaboration with United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in production of a social awareness film (January 2019);
Participation in Juby’s ‘Look She Dey’ music video (January 2019);
Participation in XOriginals’ ‘Way Up’ music video (January 2019).
To quote the ‘Sticks in de Yard’ social media caption: “What began as friends getting together in the yard to teach and learn how to walk on stilts has blossomed into a vibrant and unexpected stilt-walking and moko jumbie community.”
Just as it is important to keep moving when walking sticks, so too will the group continue to move: Step by step, onward to new heights, and always with the spirit of openness and acceptance which has allowed room for growth, support, and collaboration to-date. The future will see Sticks in de Yard continuing to share its time and acquired knowledge, putting up new walkers, and seeking to become officialised. And perhaps one day, a few more steps down the road, the group may well roll into a ‘yard’ near you!