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The James T. Callow Folklore Archive

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JUNKANOO

THE JUNKANOO PARADE IS A MUSIC FESTIVAL CELEBRATED IN THE
BAHAMAS ANNUALLY. IN THE CULTURAL CALENDAR OF THE BAHAMAS
JUNKANOO IS THE BIGGEST AND MOST SPECTACULAR EVENT. JUNKANOO
OCCURS ON DECEMBER 26 WHICH IS CALLED BOXING DAY IN THE BAHAMAS
AND ON JANUARY 1, NEW YEAR'S DAY. COMMENCING IN THE EARLY HOURS
OF THE MORNING (3:00 A.M.) AND CONTINUING UNABATED UNTIL AFTER
SUNRISE (9:00 A.M.). HUNDREDS OF COSTUMED REVELLERS IN
EXTRAVAGANT OR IMAGINATIVE HEADDRESSES CONGREGATE ON MAIN
STREETS SUCH AS BAY STREET AND FREDRICK STREET TO PERFORM
BEFORE THOUSANDS OF SPECTATORS. MOST OF THE JUNKANOOS OR
PARTICIPANTS BELONG TO ORGANIZED GROUPS SUCH AS:
THE MUSIC MAKERS, SAXONS, OR THE VALLEY BOYS. OTHER CATEGORIES
ARE INDIVIDUAL COSTUMES AND SCRAP GANGS. SCRAP GANGS HAVE LITTLE
INTEREST IN COSTUMES AND THE PARTICIPANTS' MAIN INTEREST LIES IN
EXPERIENCING THE SHEER JOY AND UNINHIBITED ABANDON OF RUSHING
THROUGH THE CROWD. THE GROUPS SUCH AS THE SAXONS AND VALLEY BOYS
SPEND MONTHS DESIGNING, CONSTRUCTING, AND PASTING PAPER FRINGE
COSTUMES RELATED TO SPECIFIC THEMES SUCH AS "KINGS OF AFRICA".
THE GROUPS MAY BE SMALL OR LARGE (50-300 PARTICIPANTS).
THERE IS AN INTENSE COMPETITION BETWEEN THE GROUPS TO WIN THE
PRESTIGIOUS TITLE AND CASH PRIZE AWARDED TO THE BEST ADULT GROUP
ANNUALLY DURING THE CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR'S JUNKANOO PARADES.
IN THE EARLIER DAYS OF JUNKANOO THE COSTUMES WERE NOT RESTRICTED TO
LARGE PAPER FRINGE THEME PIECES AND SMALL OR SIMPLE PAPER FRINGE
COSTUMES AS THEY ARE TODAY. JUNKANOO PARTICIPANTS IN THE EARLIER
DAYS WORE COSTUMES MADE FROM CLOTH, NEWSPAPER, SPONGES,
BRANCHES OF TREES, AS WELL AS BROADLY FRINGED PAPER COSTUMES
WHICH WERE THE FORERUNNERS OF THE COSTUMES WE SEE TODAY.
THE PAPER USED IN MAKING THE COSTUMES IS CALLED CREPE PAPER
AND THERE ARE MANY COLOURS, WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO THE BEAUTY OF
THE COSTUMES. THE PAPER IS ALSO FRINGED OR CUT FINE AS OPPOSED
TO THE BROAD FRINGES IN EARLIER TIMES.
THE BEAUTIFUL COSTUMES ARE ONLY ONE FEATURE OF JUNKANOO. TWO
VERY IMPORTANT FEATURES ARE MUSIC AND DANCE. TWO EXAMPLES OF
DANCE ARE:
(1) MARANGY--A DANCE WHEREIN YOU MOVE YOUR HIPS FROM SIDE TO
SIDE AND SPIN AROUND.
(2) SKULLING--A DANCE WHEREIN YOU PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE
THE OTHER AND ROCK YOUR BODY FORWARD AND BACKWARD.
EACH GROUP CONCENTRATES ON IMPROVING AND CO-ORDINATING ITS
JUNKANOO SOUND, AND IT IS NOT UNUSUAL TO HEAR JUNKANOO MUSIC
BEING REHEARSED THROUGHOUT NEW PROVIDENCE (NASSAU) FROM AS
EARLY AS THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER. THE INSTRUMENTS WHICH
CONTRIBUTE TO THE JUNKANOO SOUND ARE:
(1) GOAT-SKIN DRUMS--HANDBEATEN INSTRUMENTS WHICH CREATE LOUD
VIBRATING SOUNDS.
(2) COWBELLS--HANDSHAKEN INSTRUMENTS USED TO CREATE A SHARP
METALLIC SOUND.
(3) WIND INSTRUMENTS--THESE INCLUDE WHISTLES, BUGLES, AND
BICYCLE HORNS WHICH CREATE A PIERCING OR HIGH PITCHED SOUND.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUMENTS INCLUDE CONCH SHELLS AND OTHER ODD
OBJECTS SUCH AS A CUTTING SAW AND THE RIM OF WHEELS.
ONE NOTABLE CHANGE THAT HAS OCCURRED IN THE MUSIC SEGMENT OF
JUNKANOO IS THE FACT THAT SINGING IS NO LONGER CONSIDERED
ESSENTIAL TO THE SOUND OF JUNKANOO. TODAY THERE ARE FEW
JUNKANOO SONGS THAT REMAIN FROM THE EARLIER DAYS. A NAME
OF SUCH A SONG IS "MAMA BAKE YOUR JOHNNIE CAKE".
JUNKANOO ORIGINATED IN THE DAYS OF SLAVERY WHEN IT WAS
CUSTOMARY TO ALLOW THE SLAVES THREE DAYS OFF TO CELEBRATE
CHRISTMAS. IT IS ALSO A COMMON BELIEF THAT THE JUNKANOO
FESTIVITIES WERE CONNECTED WITH THE MEMORY OF A CELEBRATED
AFRICAN TRADER-PRINCE NAMED JOHN CONUU OR JOHN CONNY. THE
BAHAMAS REMAINS UNIQUE IN THAT IT IS THE ONLY COUNTRY WHERE
THE CELEBRATION HAS NEITHER DISAPPEARED ENTIRELY NOR DECLINED
INTO ALMOST TOTAL OBSCURITY BUT, ON THE CONTRARY HAS DEVELOPED
INTO AN ANNUAL EVENT OF NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE. IN FACT
JUNKANOO IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF BAHAMIAN HERITAGE.

Where learned: BAHAMAS ; NASSAU

Subject headings: Ballad Song Dance Game Music Verse -- Dance
Ballad Song Dance Game Music Verse -- Musical accompaniment
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- January 1 New Year's
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- F110
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 26 Boxing Day St. Stephen's Day

Date learned: 00001970S

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