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Bahamas Junkanoo Festival

Music of JunkanooAttending the Junkanoo Festival is a must for you if you wan to learn and know about the Bahamian culture and art. It is a very energetic as well as colorful 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 dawn.

One is usually reminded of the New Orleans' Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro's Carnival when looking at the parade of this festival but it is pretty much unique in its own way. Parade participants are arranged in groups of up to 1,000. They are organized around a particular theme and their costumes, dance and music reflect this theme. At the end of the Junkanoo procession, judges award cash prizes to the winners. 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. you need to plan a little ahead and start early if you actually want to experience the cultural festival of Junkanoo. In Nassau, some of the best views are upstairs on Bay Street, or on the street-side bench seats, which can be reserved well in advance.

Junkanoo History
Junkanoo festival on the BahamasThe origin of the word "Junkanoo" is unknown however it is most popularly believed to have been derived from "John Canoe," who was an African tribal chief. This chief had demanded to be allowed the right to celebrate with his people even after he was brought to the West Indies as a slave. Many others believe that the name is from the French "gens inconnus," meaning "the unknown people" and refers to people wearing disguises and thus being unknown. Throughout the West of Africa, as well as Bermuda and Jamaica, where the African slaves were brought in, gives traces of this festival and its celebrations.

It is thought that the celebrations of this festival began back in the 16th or 17th century. And around Christmas the Bahamian slaves were given a few days off and so this gave them the opportunity to leave for their families and celebrate the time 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.

Along with the abolition of slavery the festival was almost about to disappear when some of the islanders thought of holding on to their traditions and gradually the festival became more and more popular. It is now regarded as a celebration of freedom. This festival can be very enjoyable to you and your family as you visit the islands of the Bahamas.

Junkanoo Groups
Band of Junkanoo groupIt is the effort of the whole community that makes the Junkanoo festival possible. Families, friends and neighbors gather within groups and usually the groups consist of about 500 to 1,000 members. And these groups perform together at the parade.

But the competition among these groups gets fierce. The members of each group choose a theme and then try to keep it a secret until the day of Junkanoo. They prepare for the event for months in their shacks. The dancers work on choreography, the musicians practice music and the costumers work on their creations.

Junkanoo Costumes
Costumes of JunkanooAlong with the Junkanoo traditions their costumes have also evolved. And at certain point of times sea sponges, leaves, fabric and shredded paper have been the materials with which the costumes used to be made. But nowadays these are made up of crepe paper that is carefully glued to fabric, cardboard or wood. The costume is made of the headdress, shoulder piece and skirt. All of these are brilliantly colored. The winning costume 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.

Music of Junkanoo
Music of JunkanooThe vital part of Junkanoo is music. The rhythmic sounds of goatskin drums, cowbells and whistles are accompanied by a separate brass section and the affect of all this combined is too hard to resist. Food containers were once shaped as drums and the slaves used to scrap metal for bells and thus made their own musical instruments. Like their predecessors today the local people stretch goatskin across the drum opening and "tune" it by burning a candle under the skin to tighten it to the right pitch.


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