So Saturday January 9th ’16 saw the annual Junkanoo Festival here in Governors Harbour. It was a spectacular sight and went on for several hours along a stretch of the Queens Highway outside the Royal Bank of Canada. Junkanoo, for those of you not familiar with it, is a type of Carnival parade with fantastic costumes mainly made from cardboard plus music and dancing. There is a strong competitive element to it between the different settlements that all compete.
The Governors Harbour team are called the Harbour Boys – their motto is Unity and Strength and I spoke with Demetrius Johnson who is Chairman of the Governors Harbour Cultural and Community Organization about the significance of Junkanoo here in the Bahamas.
Junkanoo is a celebration and expression of the soul experience of Bahamians. Demetrius likens the strong, powerful and distinctive beat of the drums to the heartbeat from deep inside your soul….. It has roots back in the West African traditions – incidentally Bob and I experienced that in the Gambia 25 years ago on Christmas Day when small gangs of marauding youngsters toured the streets beating their drums and demanding small amounts of money !
Anyway back to modern Junkanoo here in Eleuthera. As I said before there is a strong element of competition between the various participating settlements – again harking back to the tribal element that has always been there. So the Junkanoo teams are judged in six different categories – Best Banner, Choreography, Lead Costume, Best Music, Best Group Performance and Best Off The Shoulder Costume. The teams ‘rush ‘ – or parade , along a stretch of road while onlookers cheer and dance along with them while the five judges do their judging. This year The New Vision Junkanoo Organization from Rock Sound won, closely beating the Harbour Boys from Governors Harbour.
One of the things I was interested in was how do you participate in a Junkanoo group ? Demetrius told me that you fill in an application form where you are asked to select a category in which you want specialise – these categories are Decorating, Brass, Rhythm Drums, Bass Drums, Cow Bells, Scraper, Horn Blower, Free Dancing, Choreography, Banner, Off The Shoulder Costume, or Marshall !!! – quite a selection. There is also a great list of conditions that you agree to on signing the membership form – reproduced below……
Every year there is a Summer Camp – held during the later part of the school vacation for youngsters aged 6 – 18. It is called Cardboard to Culture – and it teaches the participants about the different aspects of Junkanoo including how a piece of cardboard becomes a cultural symbol in Junkanoo. There are lessons on how to make a goatskin drum, how to carve styrofoam to make costumes and banners, right through to how to bend metal rod – used widely in the making of costumes and banners as well. The youngsters learn the history of Junkanoo, along with the strong cultural significance of it all – as well as learning discipline, co-operation and many other social skills without really realizing it. Outside assistance, in the form of tutors, come from Nassau to give much of the instruction.
Bob and I will definitely be going along during this years camp to see how it all comes together – and of course we will be happy to donate some funds towards this important event. If you wish to make a donation yourself – no matter how how large or small then please contact Demetrius Johnson at – firstname.lastname@example.org
Better still come and see it for yourselves this time next year in Governors Harbour…….
My photos are not that good – but do check out the ones taken by Marc Coeffic on his Facebook page