Jamaica's Junkanoo
Start writing a post

It begins in the weeks approaching Christmas.

You can hear them coming from a mile away. They beat their primitive, handmade drums and blow trumpets made from the horns of bulls. They burst into sight and consciousness, a prancing, chanting, procession of fierce masked men and women. They are the living caricatures of mystical beasts and slave owners, some of their significance long lost in the memory of our African ancestry. They are the “jonkanoo.”

Among children, there's always one of two responses to the arrival of the jonkanoo. Some race to the streets or the houses they visit to watch the spectacle. Some quiver in fear and flee. As a child I often succumbed to the urge to run away, heart hammering away as my desire to watch the parade warred with my sense of self-preservation.

I'll never forget the time a jonkanoo dancer wearing a bull's mask and horns chased me into my house. I must have been six or seven years old at the time. It was terrifying but hilarious.

Junkanoo History

Jamaican Junkanoo (John Canoe) is a form of traditional dance that blends dance, mime, and symbolism communicating the ideology and experience of the slave with roots in West African religion. The mask is of great importance in African religions. Jamaica's slaves were individuals who had been ripped away from various tribes. They spoke different languages and practiced different rituals. They believed in different gods. They were thrown together by circumstance and were able to form their own unique culture and traditions, which included the junkanoo parade.

Jamaicans.com columnist, Marcia "Ackeegiel" Davidson, wrote:

"This African-rooted, African-inspired body of folk cultures, was the African-Jamaicans’ response to uprooting and alienation during the century after emancipation, when society felt the full force of colonialism. There was no other link, no other indigenous form of self-expression, no other source from which to nourish the sense of African identity" (Davidson).

Jamaican vs. Bahamian Junkanoo

Although the customs are similar and perhaps have the same African roots, there are some marked differences between Jamaican and Bahamian Junkanoo. For instance, in the Bahamas, the parade is usually on Boxing Day (Dec 26) and New Year’s Day (Jan 1) whereas the Jamaican Junkanoo pop up randomly during the Christmas Season. The Bahamian Junkanoo parades are much larger in scale and the revelers much more flamboyant than the Jamaican Junkanoo. The feeling of the Bahamian junkanoo is more like a modern Caribbean carnival while the Jamaican version of junkanoo seems to be more deeply rooted in tradition.

Legacy

Decades later and an ocean away, I remember the junkanoo with a certain sense of nostalgia and fondness. I miss those sights and sounds as much as I miss the taste of sorrel and Jamaican sweet potato pie. I think that as a child, I truly believed on some level that in masquerading as the junkanoo, these people had truly become something other than human. Beyond the fear I felt, I could hear something else. It was perhaps, the faint echo of a heartbreaking cant for lost memories.

All descendants of slaves and misplaced societies carry this song in our hearts. To this day, I remain convinced that threaded into the cacophony of horns and drums, and movements of the junkanoo dancers is, perhaps, the forgotten truths of our people; past, present and future.


Resources:

Davidson, Marcia. “ Culture John Canoe or Jonkonnu Parade.” Jamaicans.com, 15 Mar. 2015, jamaicans.com/johncanoe/.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

5 Cakes You Need to Try This Winter

Spending the winter trying different cakes can be a great way to combat seasonal depression. Lift the spirits of your entire family by trying these five cakes.

6118
Try This Winter

The winter can be a dull time spent indoors with very little change. But, it doesn't have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to spice up your daily routine, and dessert is one of them.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

5 Reasons to Consider a Career as a Defense Lawyer

Lawyers are supposed to be unbiased. Lawyers are trained to look at both sides of an issue and give equal weight to each side. It is meant to be their mantra, "My client is innocent until proven guilty."

83937
Career as a Defense Lawyer

Lawyers are supposed to be unbiased. Lawyers are trained to look at both sides of an issue and give equal weight to each side. It is meant to be their mantra, "My client is innocent until proven guilty." But if you're thinking about becoming a defense attorney, it's not this pretty simple. Defense lawyers argue that their clients are innocent because they don't want their actions to seem suspect in any way. They essentially say for the sake of the argument itself. If you're trying to decide whether or not becoming a defense attorney is something you would like to do, here are five reasons why it's worth considering:

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

What Everyone Should Know About Online Degrees

Nowadays, many working adults, high school graduates, and retired lifelong learners are choosing to advance their careers, lives, and personal knowledge by completing school at home.

189241
Online Degrees

The rising popularity of online college and graduate school degrees has completely changed the face of education and student life. It's no longer necessary to pack up all your belongings and head off to a distant locale in order to earn a diploma. Nowadays, many working adults, high school graduates, and retired lifelong learners are choosing to advance their careers, lives, and personal knowledge by completing school at home.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

What I am thankful for

I am saying one thing that I am thankful each day for until Thanksgiving. You try it to it will bring you joy.

143472
It's Thanksgiving time
Element5 Digital

November 1st, I am thankful for God and Jesus. I put my faith in them, they protect and help me through the happy and the sad in life. I could not imagine a world without them.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Chatting with the Iron Boy Himself Arthur Bozikas

Arthur Bozikas has penned a memoir that is heart-breaking and gutsy, as well as being full of hope and gratitude. This book is guaranteed to lift up readers and have them believing in the resilience and transcendence of the human spirit, making it a must read for years to come.

93396
Arthur Bozikas

Arthur Bozikas has penned a memoir that is heart-breaking and gutsy, as well as being full of hope and gratitude. This book is guaranteed to lift up readers and have them believing in the resilience and transcendence of the human spirit, making it a must read for years to come.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments