He looms larger than life as he dances and prances on our island’s cultural stages. And though christened Jeffrey Wilkinson, this performer of extraordinary talent is known affectionately as ‘Ifie The Stilt Man’ by fans across the region.
Ifie recalls the many boyhood days that he spent at his grandmother’s house. “She lived in Passage Garden” he says – an urban district on the outskirts of the Bridgetown capital – “and I remember watching a parade in the area and seeing stilt men for the very first time. I ran away from them!”
However, as Ifie and his friends grew older they too tried their hand at this festive aspect of our Barbadian culture.
“In those days, the youngsters of Baxter’s Road, Reid Street and Lower Tudor Street (all neighbouring city districts) would be involved in various fads and crazes, depending on the season. At one time we would be into making kites, and when we got tired of that, we then spent our free time playing marble cricket, or table tennis, or stilt walking.”
But it wasn’t till he was a young man that Ifie became seriously involved in stilt walking, and by this time it was a forgotten and dying art form.
“I remember there was a play called The Fisherman being staged for Carifesta (a prominent regional festival). They needed a stilt walker, and I guess my enthusiasm to do what few others could do, got the better of me. People were amazed at how fast I caught on, and this too fueled by ambition and challenged me to practice even more and become even better.”
After making several other appearances at cultural events, the government invited Ifie to run stilt walking workshops for children. Now, more than a dozen years later, Ifie’s classes continue to prosper. He meets in the Queen’s Park gardens of Bridgetown every Saturday afternoon to teach the art form to the children. “I see a lot of self-awareness develop in the kids who attend the classes,” he says proudly, “and I would love to see even more people take an interest.”
Ifie’s fame has also spread throughout the entire region. This year he was invited to head a 60-member band of stilt walkers in the Antigua festival parade, and he has also held workshops in Jamaica and Trinidad.
“Life is an experience,” he reminds us, “and we must always strive to achieve only the best that we can.” – perfect words from a man who stands ten feet above us all.
Article written in 2003 and compliments of “Ins and Outs of Barbados” Magazine