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- Bahamian Festival
Junkanoo is a Bahamian festival that occurs during the dark hours of morning on the 26th of December and again bringing in its first hours of light on the first day of the new year. Thousands dance through Bay Street, Nassau's town center, like a wild ocean of colour, while deep goat skin rhythms reverberate off the surrounding walls and cow bells chatter over the singing of brass horns. The sidewalk like a snake comes to life twisting blacks and browns while balconies and roof tops sway under the rhythmic feet of onlookers. There is a timeless sense, a feeling inside that is so vital that even the deaf feel to move. And as though possessed, these God-like cardboard sculptures dive and rise to the awesome music that lifts their spirits beyond the flesh."
(courtesy - c2000 M. Govan & E. Robinson)
To experience Bahamian culture and art,
you should make plans to attend Junkanoo. The Bahamian festival of
Junkanoo is an energetic, colourful parade of brightly costumed people
gyrating and dancing to the rhythmic accompaniment of cowbells, drums
and whistles. The celebration occurs on December 26 and January 1 --
beginning in the early hours of the morning (2:00 a.m.) and ending at
Junkanoo is reminiscent of New Orleans' Mardi Gras and
Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, but it is distinctly Bahamian and exists
nowhere else. Parade participants -- arranged in groups of up to 1,000
-- are organised around a particular theme. Their costumes, dance and
music reflect this theme. At the end of the Junkanoo procession, judges
award cash prizes. The three main categories for the awards are: best
music, best costume and best overall group presentation.
The most spectacular Junkanoo parade occurs in Nassau.
However, you can also experience it on Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Bimini
and Abaco. It's held on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day
(January 1) from 2:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m.
If you wish to experience the cultural festival of
Junkanoo, plan ahead and arrive early. In Nassau, some of the best views
are upstairs on Bay Street, or on the street-side bench seats, which you
may reserve in advance.
Junkanoo first began as a temporary celebration of freedom for
slaves who were given three days off at Christmas time. Donning
scary-looking masks, slaves played homemade musical instruments
(drums and bells) and cavorted about freely on the island.
The origin of the word "Junkanoo" is
unknown. The most popular belief is that it's derived from
"John Canoe," an African tribal chief who demanded he
be allowed the right to celebrate with his people even after he
was brought to the West Indies as a slave. Others believe the
name is from the French "gens inconnus," which means
"the unknown people" and refers to people wearing
disguises and thus being unknown.
Junkanoo's roots can be traced to West Africa.
In fact, other areas in the region that practised slavery --
like Bermuda and Jamaica -- had their own versions of John Canoe
Junkanoo probably began in the 16th or 17th
century. Around Christmas, Bahamian slaves were given a few days
off. This allowed them to leave the plantations to be with their
families and to celebrate the holiday with music, dance and
costumes. In the early years, Junkanoo participants wore
grotesque masks and walked on stilts. They were allowed to move
around anonymously and let off steam.
After slavery was abolished, Junkanoo almost
disappeared, but a few islanders kept the tradition going. Over
time, Junkanoo's popularity has waxed and waned. Today, it is a
joyous celebration of freedom. It is an important part of the
Christmas season, and The Islands Of The Bahamas is the only
country where you can experience it.
As Junkanoo traditions have evolved, so, too, have the costumes. Sea
sponges, leaves, fabric and shredded paper have at one time or another
played their part in costume construction.
Costumes today are made out of crepe paper that is meticulously glued
to fabric, cardboard or wood. They usually consist of a headdress,
shoulder piece and skirt, which are elaborate and brilliantly coloured.
Group members make their own costumes and it may take them up to a year
to complete the intricate creations.
Costume design is tied to a theme and is a carefully guarded secret.
Themes vary greatly -- they can be contemporary, based on the past or
anything the group chooses.
Junkanoo costumes that may have once been discarded as rubbish after
the parade, are now being preserved for posterity. The winning creations
are placed in the Junkanoo Museum, formerly located in downtown Nassau
at the Prince George Wharf. The museum is temporarily closed, because it
is being relocated.
Junkanoo participants that you see rushin' down
the street are members of well-organised groups. These people
work together year after year to make Junkanoo the exhilarating
experience it is.
The Junkanoo festival is a community-wide
effort. Families, friends and neighbours gather within groups --
usually from 500 to 1,000 members -- who perform together at the
Competition among groups is fierce, so members
choose a theme and keep it a secret until the day of Junkanoo.
They spend months preparing for the event at their "base
camp," or "shack" as they call it. The dancers
work on choreography, the musicians practice music and the
costumers work on their creations.
In Nassau, Junkanoo groups go by such
colourful names as "Valley Boys," "Saxons,"
"One Family," "Vikings," "Roots"
and "Fancy Dancers."
Distinctively Bahamian, the music you hear at Junkanoo today is very
much as it has always been. Rhythmic goombay drums, copper bells and
mouth whistles soon sweep you up in the Junkanoo beat.
Music is the most important part of Junkanoo. The rhythmic sounds of
goatskin drums, cowbells and whistles -- accompanied by a separate brass
section -- create an infectious beat thatís too strong to resist!
Slaves, who originally made their musical instruments from cast-off
items, fashioned rum or food containers into drums and scrap metal into
bells. Todayís musicians use similar methods. Like their ancestors,
they stretch goatskin across the drum opening and "tune" it by
burning a candle under the skin to tighten it to the right pitch.
A brand new attraction at Nassau's waterfront. The first Museum of it's
kind showcasing large, colorful, intricately designed artistic creations
from recently passed Junkanoo
parades, held annually on December 26th and New Year's Day. The Expo
complex also includes a souvenir boutique, with Junkanoo paintings and a
variety of Junkanoo craft. Open daily 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission:
$2.00 adults, $0.50 children. For more information, telephone (242)
We are providing a 30 second video clip
about Junkanoo prepared from a VHS movie titled 'Junkanoo' - Produced
by Maria Govan & Erika M. Robinson, Editor Thomas Krueger and
Director Maria Govan who was also the Director of Photography.
clip is available in 3 formats depending upon you Internet connection.
Both the above use require Real Player 8
for streaming video. If you do not have Real Player 8 - Click
Here to Download Free version
| Download a (1.6mb) QuickTime
clip on your hard disk - (160x120 pixel)|
|It requires QuickTime viewer. If
you do not have click (free
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