Venezuelan boy, 9, sister, 7, find hope as 'moko jumbies'

Riannel Jose Mendoza Salazar and his sister Rihanna Mercedes celebrate their home country Venezuela in moko jumbie portrayals on Henry Street, San Fernando. -
Riannel Jose Mendoza Salazar and his sister Rihanna Mercedes celebrate their home country Venezuela in moko jumbie portrayals on Henry Street, San Fernando. -

MEET Riannel Jose Mendoza Salazar, nine, and his seven-year-old sister Rhianna Mercedes Sofia Mendoza Salazar.

A future policeman and doctor – that’s the dream for the Venezuelan siblings.

Right now, they are excited about learning to walk on four-and-a-half feet tall stilts in their quest to become the best moko jumbies – Carnival characters based on the tradition of African stiltwalkers.

With the help of the founder of San Fernando's Kaisokah School of the Arts, Junior Bisnath, they are well on their way to achieving this goal.

Riannel and Rhianna, along with their mother Yixiannys Salazar and four-year-old sister Rihangellys Aviadna Mendoza Salazar, came to Trinidad some eight months ago to meet their dad who they had not seen in two years.

When they arrived, stilt-walking was as foreign to them as English. Now, learning the local culture, the children are beginning to master both.

Through a chance meeting with Bisnath, the family has been given hope.

Bisnath and his wife, Victoria, helped to find a home for the migrant family, jobs for the parents and ensure the children are not denied an education.

Yixiannys Salazar with her three children, Riannel, Rihanna and Rihangellys at the Kaisokah School of the Arts. -

Bisnath, considered the king of the moko jumbies, noted Riannel and Rhianna's keen interest as they sat and observed his students honing their skills on the stilts.

Coming from a different culture and as Spanish-speakers, he was sceptical at first to teach them. They could not dance and were unfamiliar with soca music which energises moko jumbies. Their curiosity moved Bisnath to teach them.

The results were amazing. After two months, Riannel and Rhianna were able to complete one leg of the four-mile march of moko jumbies from San Fernando to Port of Spain on February 14, which Bisnath organised to celebrate Carnival which was cancelled because of the covid19 pandemic.

“We had our historical walk on Valentine’s Day and the Mendoza Salazar family were in the front line, walking and dancing.

Riannel Jose Mendoza Salazar on the move as a moko jumbie on Henry Street, San Fernando.

“They had an opportunity to meet the mayor of Port of Spain and that was a great moment for them,” he said.

Against the backdrop of the San Fernando Hill, last week, Riannel and Rhianna, dressed in costumes in the national colours of Venezuela, and on two-feet stilts, demonstrated their skills for Newsday Kids, dancing to soca and the ever-popular Jerusalama.

In English, they said they loved the freedom of walking on stilts, pointing to a four-and-a-half feet pair they want to master.

They were touched by the kindness shown to their family by the Bisnaths, whom they call Mama and Papa, and said they love Trinidad.

Rihanna Mercedes Mendoza Salazar plays with a cat at the Kaisokah School of the Arts. The seven-year-old wants to be a doctor. -

“I love Trinidad. I love the toys, parks and being a moko jumbie,” said Rhianna, an aspiring doctor, as she showed how well she had learned the language by naming her mother, brother and sister in English.

A sports enthusiast, Riannel said, “I love basketball and football and moko jumbie.”

He said he wants to be a policeman when he grows up.


"Venezuelan boy, 9, sister, 7, find hope as ‘moko jumbies’"

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