There’s nothing more Bahamian than the Junkanoo, a festival like no other. The Junkanoo takes place throughout the islands, but the wildest parade is through the streets of Nassau over Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The rhythmic sound of a drum starts tapping out a tempo in the evening. This rhythm builds into an intoxicating beat calling everyone out into the streets in what they call a “rush out.” Performers appear in extravagant costumes and burst into dancing under artificial pre-dawn lights in a parade that usually lasts into the night and past daybreak.
The frenzy of dance and joy evolves into a day of food, fun and festivities.
The Bahamian Junkanoo traditionally takes place over Christmas and New Year’s, but if you can’t make it to the Bahamas at Christmas time, Junkanoo parades are also held in conjunction with other special celebrations such as Independence Day on July 10th. June and July are now becoming part of a Summer Junkanoo program due to the pastime’s rising popularity.
There are also smaller and more spontaneous Junkanoos throughout the year, if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
THE HISTORY HAS BEEN LOST IN THE MISTS OF TIME
Nobody knows when the first Junkanoo occurred or how the first Junkanoo took to the streets of the Bahamas, but it is believed that it took place during the 16th and 17th centuries. The origins of this festival were during the slave era when the slaves would be given a day off after Christmas and on New Year’s Day when they would celebrate. Its cultural significancecontinues as a memorial to African origins and freedom from slavery.
The name “Junkanoo’” very likely comes from the African tribal chief John Canoe (Jun-Canoo), who demanded the right for the slaves to have a day off.
YOU’LL LOVE THE JUNKANOO DRUMS
Traditionally, the drums used are lightweight and made of goatskins. Drummers strap them on to play in a parade. However, before the parade and at other times, drummers sit in a circle, cross-legged, with their drums between their knees.
They bow to the mother drum and say a silent prayer. Then one drum begins to play, while the central mother drum answers and picks up the rhythm. Other drums, called “cutters,” also answer the mother drum, one by one, resonating into kind of a hierarchy of drum sounds and building the beat.
JUNKANOO TROUPESWEAR OVERSIZED, ORNATE COSTUMES
Before each Junkanoo, the entertaining troupes are secretive about their costumes, which could be anything from Vikings to aliens, but will definitely be oversized, loud, ornate and creative.
Junkanoo troupes include the “Saxons,” “Valley Boyz,” and “Roots.” Like the Brazilian carnival, the Junkanoo has fierce competitions between performing troupes with thousands of dollars in prize money, not to mention honor, up for grabs.
THE DANCES, MUSIC ANDCOSTUMES WILL BLOW YOU AWAY
The performers in the parade short-step or merengue through the street, depending on the music they are playing. They are accompanied by the goatskin drums, conch shell horns, cowbells and various whistles. Some are rake-and-scrape bands that originally made music with a goombay drum, a carpenter saw and a concertina, but today, those same sounds are created on whatever they have at hand.
On the sidelines the crowd steps to the rhythm and sings out:
We’re rushin’, we’re rushin’, we’re rushin through the crowd … K-k-kalik, k-k-kalik, k-k-kaliking k-k-kalik, k-k-kalik, k-k-kalik, k-k-kalik, yeah.
TRY AND CATCH THE SUMMER JUNKANOO
The Ministry of Tourism sponsors a Summer Junkanoo which is a series of festivals and rush-outs parades over the course of a month from late June to late July. Generally, there are also big Junkanoos on July 10th, Independence Day, throughout the Bahamas.
There are children’s “rushes” as well as the big parades, rake-and-scrape-bands and concerts, and lots of food festivals as well. So, join in, step to the beat and feel the rush.
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