Junkanoo: Hidden Treasure of the Bahamas

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This article by Katherine Beneby appeared in The Bahamas Weekly. Here are some excerpt. For the complete report follow the link below.

As the cool breeze sweeps the crowd, friendly rivalry accelerates among supporters, and anticipation peaks at the sound of the drums. While the Junkanoo groups rush down Bay Street in downtown Nassau, they entice their supporters with a short call-and-response. Roots Junkanoo Group calls out, “Roots! There it is!” while the Valley Boys Junkanoo Group shouts, “Who are we? The Valley!”

Some see the fancy costumes, hear the melodious music and share in the hype of the crowds but do not grasp the true meaning of Junkanoo. “For me it goes beyond the parade and the competition; that is the gift wrapping,” said Arlene Ferguson, educator and head of EduCulture, an educational and cultural consultancy group. “The real gift is a tradition passed on by our ancestors which reflects the strength and spirit of the people of The Bahamas.”

Whether one is a participant or spectator, Junkanoo is not about age or social status; Junkanoo exemplifies what it means to be Bahamian and celebrates the culture of the Bahamas. This article paints a picture of the ultimate Junkanoo experience. The roots of this cultural festival stem from the continent of Africa. Junkanoo continuously evolves throughout the centuries. When the Bahamas represents at any major international event, Junkanoo often follows.

Most festivals around the world have elements of costuming and music. All of them, including Junkanoo, derive from unique backgrounds and have different reasons why parts of the Caribbean and the United States celebrate them.

[ . . . ]

Recently, the One Family Junkanoo Group introduced a new instrument, the “Konklu” which makes the sound “Kong ku lu.” It worked for them so other Junkanoo groups like the Valley Boys caught on and now use the instrument, too. “Saxons refuse to do it,” Hanna said. “They’re sticking to the old Junkanoo. But Junkanoo evolves because, at one point, there was no brass section.”

Tourists not only desire sun, sand and sea, but they want to participate in things Bahamian. “They are no longer satisfied in saying, ‘I’ve been to the Bahamas’; they want to say, ‘I experienced the Bahamas,’” said Anthony Stuart, general manager at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. “Junkanoo allows them to experience the Bahamas through music, art, heritage and community.”

Junkanoo has appeared at Miami’s Dolphins and Heat games; the Beverly Hills Pre-Oscar Party; and, most recently, the 50th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., in 2013. “A few years ago, we had an opportunity to travel to Italy, and we spent two weeks down there at a major festival in Como called, ‘White Knights,’” said Christian Justilien, leader of the Colours Junkanoo group. “The people there really enjoyed Junkanoo. It was a wonderful experience to introduce the music to a different culture and to experience their culture as well.”

Growing opportunities to experience Junkanoo in the Bahamas creates optimism about the future of this festival. Several hotels host weekly Junkanoo events for guests; there are the Junkanoo Summer Festivals that are held in Nassau and the surrounding islands like Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera. Visitors to Nassau often attend the Sunday practice of Junkanoo sessions at Arawak Cay and Eastern Parade. Also, the Ministry of Tourism hosts Junkanoo rush-outs for groups or conferences, such as the recent Small Island Developing States Conference, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Conference and international Miss Universe pageant.

The Bahamas will host the “Bahamas Carnival 2015,” Armbrister said. “This will be a cultural explosion. It’s not only going to be Junkanoo, it’s going to be art, crafts, everything Bahamian.” The main Junkanoo parade still takes place during the Christmas holiday. Key attendees at the main Junkanoo parade are Bahamians. “It is estimated that there are about 5 percent spectator visitors,” Stuart said.

Junkanoo comes natural to Bahamians as a way of life. Some Bahamians dedicate most of their year to preparing for parades. “For me, Junkanoo is an outlet,” Hanna said. “Some people will spend however amount of money to go to a psychiatrist, just to tell somebody their problems. But, when I am out there, no matter what type of day I’m having, I have fun.”

Every year, Junkanoo with its fueling energy unites people from all walks of life to march to the beat of one sound: The Bahamas’ motto, “Forward, Upward, Onward Together” constantly revives the spirit and people of Junkanoo.

For the original report go to http://www.thebahamasweekly.com/publish/a-taste/Junkanoo_Hidden_Treasure_of_the_Bahamas35433.shtml

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