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Bahamas, Nassau

Saturday Video: Junkanoo, the Caribbean’s Best New Year’s Jam

Saturday Video: Junkanoo, the Caribbean’s Best New Year’s Jam

Without a doubt, the Caribbean is THE BEST place to ring in the New Year! Partying is in our West Indian blood, so finding a good fete just about anywhere along the island chain is no problem.

For the very best jam, though, Nassau is the place to be! New Year’s here means Junkanoo, which for anyone lucky enough to be on Bay Street after midnight tonight means an unforgettable great time.

Much more than your usual New Year’s booze-fest, Junkanoo is a celebration of authentic Bahamian culture; a vibrant explosion of colors, music, and dance rivaling the carnival celebrations to come further south during the pre-Lenten period.

Junkanoo is, at its core, a street party and parade. Its origins trace back to slaves living in The Bahamas during the 17th and 18th centuries, though there exists some disagreement over how the whole thing really got started. Some say the festival celebrates a legendary West African Prince named John Canoe, who was a hero to the other slaves for his ability to routinely outwit the British slave masters. Others say the word “Junkanoo” is based on the French term “gens inconnus,” which translates to “unknown” or “masked people.” This speaks to the slave tradition of dressing up, singing and dancing in colorful masks during the few days off they were allotted during the Christmas Holidays.

(Incidentally, this same tradition is what spurred the Crucian Christmas Festival in my home island of St. Croix).

Then there’s this from Wikipedia:

…slaves were not allowed much freedom and would hide in the bushes when they had the chance. While in the bushes, they would dance and make music while covered in costumes that they made from various paints that they made and leaves that they found, sponges and old newspaper. This festival represented the slave’s freedom from slavery.

Either way, the result is an amazing spectacle, offering a fantastic start to the New Year. Boxing Day (December 26) is a good time to experience this special street party in Nassau, and you can find Junkanoo jams in other parts of The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos at other parts of the year, but the main event is definitely the earliest hours of each New Year in downtown Nassau.

From about 2am to 10am, Junkanoo troupes numbering in the hundreds and even thousands fill the streets of Nassau jammin’ as featured in the video above. All the while, onlookers dance, sing and enjoy the revelry. At the end, cash prizes totaling about US$350,000 are awarded for the best music, best costume and best overall group presentation.

The Valley Boys troupe took home a top prize during the 2011 New Year’s Junkanoo with their “Majestic Africa” theme shown above, but I’m thinking anyone in attendance tonight will feel like a winner…

Happy New Year!

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