Thursday, 5 July 2012

Junkanoo/John Canoe - Caribbean Festival

Was John Cunnu an African chief?  Did the Junkanoo celebration originate as a festival in his name?  No one is quite sure but what is certain is that the maquerade celebration certainly has African roots.  Pictures of the traditional costumes worn by participants in the Caribbean hark back to those worn in Africa during certain rites.
An old Jamaican postcard

"The leading male street masquerader of a troupe; his costume comprises mainly an elaborate head-dress (horse-head, cow-head with horns, model house, or tall hat with an ugly mask) and a tinselled or jingling, multi-coloured outfit; he dances to the beat of goat-skin drums, cow-bells, whistles, and other folk instruments while rushing at or 'frightening' onlookers and receiving money....[also] the merry festival of street-dancing and parading led by the Junkanoo with a troupe of traditional, costumed characters such as Devil, koo-koo, or, in recent times, related to some particular topic; the festival is now restricted to the Christmas season."  Richard Allsopp, Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage
Set Girls, women dressed in the distinctive colours of their set, often accompanied John Canoe.

Junkanoo was probably celebrated in most of the Caribbean islands but died away (the BVI tradition of Christmas bands is probably a legacy of that tradition) and is now mostly celebrated only in Jamaica, Bahamas and Belize.  The word itself is thought to come from Yoruba jo 'dance' n-n-kon (general word for) 'things, spells, feats'; also jankon-jankon 'noteworthy' (ie. person).  (Allsop)


  1. I was so lucky to be in the Bahamas at Junkanoo time about 20 years ago- I'd so love to see it again. It was amazing.

  2. You must go again! Junkanoo looks like great fun but I, myself, have never experienced it in person.