Nassau Junkanoo, the Caribbean’s Best New Year’s Eve 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 NYE jam, though, Nassau is the place to be! The reason: Nassau Junkanoo.
What is Junkanoo?
Junkanoo is a celebration of authentic Bahamian culture. A vibrant explosion of colors, music, and dance rivaling Carnival. Like Carnival, 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.
There exists, however, 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 punctuation to the Holidays.
Prime Nassau Junkanoo Party Dates
Boxing Day (December 26th) is a good time to experience this special street party in Nassau. You can, however, find Junkanoo jams in other parts of The Bahamas (and the Turks & Caicos) over the Holiday Season.
The Nassau Junkanoo main event, though, definitely goes down over 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. I’m thinking, though, that everyone in attendance that night felt like a winner…