Everyone loves hopping over to the Bahamas for sun and fun. There couldn’t be a better time to go than for a New Year’s Celebration. Again this year, Nassau’s Bay Street lights up in the Bahamas for the 2011 New Year’s Junkanoo festival. The giant annual street festival with its unique Afro-Caribbean flavor promises to be an adrenalin rush of colors, costumes and floats, amidst the sounds of Goombay drums, clamoring cowbells and distinct rhythmic music. If it is anything like past years, thousands of spectators and participants will gather, most in lively costumes for festive fun and all-night parties.
The most popular cultural festival in the Bahamas, Junkanoo is celebrated in two colorful parades with theatrical and musical performances on Boxing Day, December 26 and New Year’s Day. Junkanoo takes place in many towns in the Bahamas and also in the Turks and Caicos Islands, but the largest celebration and parade is in Nassau, Bahama’s capital. Junkanoo is a very important aspect of the African tradition and the African Diaspora Heritage initiative in the Bahamas. During this festive celebration Bahamians dressed in elaborate costumes, rush the streets clapping, singing and dancing in droves to Goombay beats.
While in the Bahamas, visitors can learn about this centuries-old celebration of life and freedom at the Junkanoo Mini-Museum in Delancey Town, a historic suburb of Nassau that was once an area of settlement for free and upwardly mobile blacks lived. Also, learn more about Junkanoo and black Bahamian culture at Ms. Nettie’s Different of Nassau, a unique cultural village that recreates the Bahamian way of life. Here you will find artifacts and related items that take you back in time where people enjoyed the simpler things in life. You can also learn more about black history while in the Bahamas.
No one is quite certain about the origins of Junkanoo. Some believe it is a derivative of the West African word “Jananin Canno”. Canno is a tribal god and a caretaker of its people, while Janani are the tribal spirits who are were patrons of the tribe. Others believe that the word “Junkanoo” derived from an African slave master and trader named “John Canoe” in the 17th century. Slaves would hide in the bushes where they would dance and make music while dressed in costumes that they made from various paints, scrap cloths and leaves that they gathered. This tradition continued throughout the years and later the festival came to represent the slave’s freedom. Still others believe that Junkanoo derived from the French phrase ‘gens inconnus’, which means ‘unknown people.’
Whatever the origin, during Junkanoo thousands dance through Nassau’s town center on Bay Street creating a moving ocean of color, rhythms and sounds while balconies and roof tops sway under the moving feet of onlookers, who are really also participants in the festival. Junkanoo is similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, but has its distinctive Bahamian flair. Everyone who attends is a part of the festival. The Junkanoo parades in Nassau are usually judged in various categories: A (or Major) Category, the B Category, individual costumes, and fun groups. Junkanoo groups perform and party from midnight until shortly after dawn, to the music of cowbells, in costumes made from cardboard covered in tiny shreds of colorful crepe paper. Many groups compete for cash prizes. Major musical groups involved in the Nassau Junkanoo have included The Saxons, The Valley Boys, The Roots and One Love Soldiers. For more information on this year’s Jukanoo festival, visit www.bahamas.com, .