Dubbed as a Bahamian national pride, Junkanoo is a massive street parade that makes the towns come alive with dance, music and fancy costumes of Igbo origin in numerous towns across the Bahamas every December 26, the Boxing Day and January 1st, the New Year’s Day. The largest parade takes place in the capital New Providence. Every year a new theme is incorporated into the event which is reflected in the dances, music and costumes.
Junkanoo is not a single event but a collection of street parades, cultural shows, concerts and celebrations that are inspired from the Bahamian culture and Heritage combined together to make it a perfect destination fest for the festival-goers. The parade is also a competition where the residents join together in troupes and compete for prizes.
The festival is observed on the darkest hours of the morning of December 26th and January 1st and thus welcoming the first dawn of the New Year with lights, dance and music.
Along with the traditions, the costumes too have evolved over the time. They are created out of almost every kind of material available and their preparation can take anywhere from months up to a year. Shredded paper, sea sponges, fabric, and leaves have all played their parts in costume creation.
Today, the costumes are mostly made out of crepe paper that is meticulously glued to wood, cardboard or fabric. They usually consist of a skirt, shoulder piece and headdress that are elaborately designed and vibrantly colored. The group members make their costumes. The designs of the costumes are based on the theme of the year and are kept secret. The winning costume gets a place in the Junkanoo museum.
Families, friends, and neighbors join together to from groups, usually between 500-1000 members to perform and compete in the parade. The competition is so fierce that the groups keep their theme secret until the day of the festival. The dancers practice choreography, the musicians work on their music and the costumes prepare the costumes.
Distinctively Bahamian, the music over the years has not changed much. The rhythmically melodious mouth whistles, copper bells and goombay drums soon make your feet tap to the Junkanoo beat. Music is considered as the most important part of the festival.
Dancing is another integral element of the festival. In the early days, the dancing was freestyle and free spirited where the dancers had the freedom of doing any dance moves. Then in the 1950’s, a new era in dancing was introduced known as “Shuffle” and then another called “Vola Shuffle,” which are the most commonly practiced dance today.
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