[ New Providence ] • Junknaoo
The exact origin of its name is a cause for debate. What's not up for debate though, is that junknaoo is the greatest expression of culture around. In fact, The Bahamas' very own junknaoo was voted as the top Caribbean Celebrationin 2014 by the readers of USA Today.
The largest parades are held in the capital city, Nassau in New Providence. Though, other very hotly-contested parades are also held throughout the archipelago. The junkanoo season officially begins just before the holidays in December, beginning with the National Jr. Junknaoo parade and ends in early February when the last family island parades are concluded. The largest parades however, are held on the historically established days of Boxing Day and New Year's Day. On these days, slaves in The Bahamas were given time off. The slaves used this time to celebrate with their families. They celebrated with traditional African dance, music and costumes. After emancipation, these people continued their celebrations.
Today, what began as a means to keep in tune with their African roots despite being in a foreign land, has evolved into the awe-inspiring parade that thousands flock to Bay Street for yearly. Groups compete in various categories such as music, dance, costume, time, theme portrayal, and of course overall performances. Spectators have their eyes treated to a sea of magnificent colour in the form of extravagant costumes that the world's greatest artists would envy. This, while the ears are pleasured with the most amazing sounds one can experience... Music made from humble instruments such as goat-skin drums (yes, the actual skin of a goat) and cowbells.
Artisans spend an entire year perfecting their pieces. Pieces that sometimes weigh hundreds of pounds and are carried solely on the backs of one man, or woman.
Last Boxing Day, as I have been doing every year for the past 4 years, I made my way to Bay... As a spectator of course, and the parade was nothing short of spectacular. Despite a very disappointing performance, by the (almost) always amazing Valley Boys, the costumes crafted were a sight to behold. The trash talk was on & I had to be the mouth piece for my group, as I sat amongst a dray load of opposing group supporters. The other big name groups are Roots, One Family Warriors, Genesis Warhawks and my personal favourite (the best), the Mason Addition Sun Oil Shell Saxon Superstars. They all came with jaw dropping pieces, no matter their points awarded and music so sweet, that your hair raised.
Junkanoo, is highly revered by Bahamians. It's the only thing that will tear a family apart, if only for a few hours, while bringing them together. While the best parades are held at Xmas time, there are parades, on a smaller scale, held for almost every Bahamian celebration and holiday. It as grown from a form of passive rebellion to the European dominance of the day, to a highly esteemed treasure piece for all.
Junknaoo is something that should be on everyone's bucket list and it's something that must be experienced in person. There's no amount of HD, no matter the tv size, that can do it justice. There's just something about seeing the glitter and mirrors reflect to the moonlight all while feathers and confetti seemingly dance and sway to the rhythm of the beat around them.
Make it a family trip, boy's or girl's night out, or do it alone next Boxing Day and New Year's and if possible, participate with a group. Though creating a costume can be very costly and time consuming. However, feeling the rush just as the clock strikes midnight with people around you and have a deep love and appreciation for the culture and craft is priceless.
"Junkanoo is fundamental to, not incidental to, Bahamian identity. The festival can take anything into itself and remake it." - Nicolette Bethel