The Junkanoo Festival is celebrated every year by the island nation of The Bahamas. People in the Bahamas do not need formal occasions to party as this is a nation perfectly geared up to year round tourism. But it is during Junkanoo, that the country most livens up. The Junkanoo festival can be compared to the Carnivale in Rio de Janiero or the Mardi Gras at New Orleans. Junkanoo occurs during the morning of December 26th and again on New Year’s Day beginning at 2am and ending at dawn.
The origins of the festival remain unclear with several competing theories, but the one most well accepted goes back to a West African king by the anglicized name of John Canoe. He was one of the most powerful kings of West Africa ruling over most of the modern day nation of Ghana. When members from the Akan, Yoruba and Igbo communities migrated to the Caribbean as slaves, they brought some of their Old World traditions to the New World. Junkanoo is the main festival for the Garifuna people of the Caribbean.
During Junkanoo, participants decorate themselves with masks, many of which resemble the Yoruba Egungun which includes all kinds of facial masquerades. A procession begins from the town centre of the nation’s capital at Nassau but spreads throughout the main island. Places such as Bimini, the Exumas and Harbour Island are also prominent. At the end of the procession judges award cash prizes for the best music, best costume and best overall group presentation. In case one misses out on the festivities there is even a Junkanoo Expo Museum in the main town.
In addition to the Bahamas, Junkanoo is also celebrated in other parts of the Caribbean such as in Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada and even some former Dutch, French or Spanish colonies. There is also a sizeable Caribbean diaspora in the American state of Florida where processions are held in Miami in June and Key West in October. Thus the festival somehow combines elements from a vast variety of cultures and languages for all to join in the celebrations. Elements from Akan, Igbo, Caribbean, Spanish, English, American and other cultures come together to enjoy the cultural extravaganza.
When slavery was abolished Junkanoo almost vanished but the festival was revived in the Bahamas and now provides entertainment for thousands. Each Junkanoo festival takes months to prepare and uses a different theme every time for the Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Summer events. The carnivals bring people together from all walks of life.