Junkanu

Junkanoo is a street parade with music, dance, and costumes of Akan origin in many towns across the Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day (January 1), the same as “Kakamotobi” or the Fancy Dress Festival. The largest Junkanoo parade happens in the capital Nassau, New Providence. There are also Junkanoo parades in Miami in June and Key West in October, where local black American populations have their roots in The Bahamas. In addition to being a culture dance for the Garifuna people, this type of dancing is also performed in The Bahamas on Independence day and other historical holidays. Dances are choreographed to the beat of goatskin drums and cowbells.

Junkanoo may have been named after a folk hero named John Canoe or it may have been derived from the French gens inconnus (unknown people) as masks are worn by the revelers. There is a possible Igbo origin from the Igbo yam deity Njoku Ji referencing festivities in time for the new yam festival. There may also be a link with the Igbo okonko masking tradition of southern Igboland which feature horned maskers and other masked characters in similar style to jonkonnu masks. Many of the colonies Jonkonnu was prominent, Bahamas, Jamaica (as Jankunu), Virginia celebrated Jonkonnu. Similarities with the Yoruba Egungun festivals have also been identified. However, an Akan origin is more likely because the celebration of the Fancy Dress Festivals/Masquerades are the same Christmas week(Dec 25- Jan 1st) and also John Canoe was in fact an existing king and hero that ruled Axim, Ghana before 1720, the same year the John Canoe festival was created in the Caribbean.

The festival may have originated several centuries ago, when slaves on plantations in The Bahamas celebrated holidays granted around Christmas time with dance, music, and costumes. After emancipation the tradition continued and junkanoo evolved from simple origins to a formal, organised parade with intricate costumes, themed music and official prizes within various categories. The Junkanoo parade has featured in movies including the James Bond film Thunderball (erroneously described as a local Mardi Gras-type festival), After the Sunset and Jaws The Revenge, as well as in the season one episode “Calderone’s Return (Part II)” of the 1984 television series Miami Vice, taking place on the fictitious island of St. Andrews. In the television show Top Chef: Allstars Season 8, episode 13, “Fit for a King”, the contestants danced at the Junkanoo parade, learned about its history and competed to make the best dish for the Junkanoo King.

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