No need to wait until the Christmas season to experience the magic of Junkanoo, the colorful Bahamian festival of costume, music, food and art. Visitors can enjoy this exciting spectacle at various locations throughout The Islands Of The Bahamas all year long. The Junkanoo parade is similar to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but has a uniquely local flavor. It is a time when Bahamians dress in costumes and fill the streets dancing to a lively and inviting Bahamian beat.
For example on Nassau/Paradise Island the Doongalik Studios in Nassau is open year round. This gallery features the artwork of Jackson Burnside, Stan Burnside and John Beadle and is a premier showcase of Junkanoo art and culture. The Studios include an art gallery, the history and lore of the Junkanoo festival and plants and herbs around the property which are used in local bush tea - your experienced guide can teach you about the medicinal qualities of these common plants. (Located at Village Road, Nassau, 242-394-1886). Among the places where visitors can enjoy a “taste” of Junkanoo every Friday night while enjoying a meal is Café Johnny Canoe. (Located on Cable Beach, 242-327-3374). There is also Junkanoo in June featuring street dancing, craft demonstrations, storytelling, native drinks and dishes and live performances by top Bahamian artists, culminating with an authentic Junkanoo Rush-Out. The festival takes place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of June at Arawak Cay. For more information contact the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism 242-302-2000.
On Grand Bahama Island The Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board also celebrates Junkanoo all summer long, every Thursday from 5:30pm-10:30pm at Randfurly Circle. The festival includes: live Bahamian Bands, Bahamian cuisine, dances, and the famous Junkanoo Rush-Out. For more information log onto www.grand-bahama.com/summer.
The major Junkanoo celebrations take place on December 26, Boxing Day, and January 1, New Year`s Day beginning in the early hours of the morning, 2.00 a.m and ending at 8.00 a.m. Nassau hosts the largest of the parades but they can also be enjoyed on Abaco, Bimini, Eleuthera, Exuma and Grand Bahama Island.
This rhythmic parade that is Junkanoo demonstrates the influence of the West Africans who arrived in the islands during the 18th century. The exact origin of the name is unclear, but may be derived from John Connu of John Canoe, an African Prince and trader, or possibly a derivative name of the French word gens inconnus, meaning unknown people. Junkanoo began when slaves, given three days freedom at Christmas, donned costumes and masks and traveled from house to house to visit and celebrate. Though the tradition waned in Caribbean countries following the abolition of slavery, The Bahamas continue to honor this Afro-Bahamian heritage as contemporary Junkanoo groups like One Family, Roots, Saxons and Valley Boys design and create their costumes year-round and participate in the annual organized parade through the streets of Nassau on New Year`s Eve and Boxing Day, celebrating this cultural legacy and competing in various categories including best costume and best music.
Junkanoo costumes, constructed of cardboard, aluminum rods, crepe paper, chicken wire, sequins and glue, represent anything from dragons and bats, to Queen Elizabeth! Some of the lead costumes can be 16 to 18 feet high, weighing anywhere from 190 to 400 pounds. Junkanoo rules require that the lead costumes may not be built on wheels and that only one person at a time be allowed to lift them. The person carrying the costume must dance in it as well.
And soon you will hear the pulse of the drumbeat and sharp clang of the cowbells on U.S shores when The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism brings Junkanoo to the mainland as part of music festivals throughout the year. Festivals and dates to be announced.
For more information on Junkanoo, contact Destination Bahamas, 1-800-4-BAHAMAS or visit www.bahamas.com