There is far more to the city of Nassau than simply family friendly entertainment – it is a city with a rich history and interesting cultural traditions, of which the Junkanoo parade is the most well know. Read on to find out more about Junkanoo in Nassau…
The Bahamas is an island commonwealth that has a rich history and culture, and makes a fantastic family holiday destination. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is a little like Las Vegas on a tropical island – there are a range of casinos, excellent hotels and world class shows and nightlife, all surrounded by pristine natural beauty, white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
Junkanoo is a term used to describe a colorful, musical street parade which takes place in many towns across the Bahamas on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and several days in the Summer. Nassau is home to the largest Junkanoo parade.
It is unknown exactly where the term Junkanoo comes from – some think that the term is derived from the French term for ‘unknown’, “L’inconnu”, referring to the masks that are worn by the locals in the parade. Another theory is that the term comes from John Canoe, a famous African tribal chief who was brought to the Bahamas as a slave in the 17th century, but still demanded that he be allowed to celebrate his cultural heritage. The costumes used in Junkanoo parades are very similar to those used in West African parades, which may well be where the tradition began after West Africans were brought to the West Indies as slaves.
It is thought that the tradition of Junkanoo began in the 17th century, when Bahamian slaves would be given a holiday around Christmas time. At this time, the slaves would leave the plantations where they were working and reunite with their friends and family members, celebrating the occasion with African music, dancing and elaborate costumes.
Today, the tradition of Junkanoo continues and it has become an organized parade with stunning costumes and dance. There are a number of prizes given out on the day of the parade for those with the best costumes and dancing, and multiple groups compete for these prizes. Thousands of people dance their way through Bay Street which runs through the center of Nassau, in an explosion of color reminiscent of the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras or the Rio Carnival, but with a uniquely Bahamian touch.
Watching the Junkanoo parade remains a great way to experience a piece of traditional Bahamian culture, and to celebrate the end of the year and the start of the New Year along with the local Bahamians. The festival begins at around 2am on the nights of the 26th December and on January first, and continues until sunrise.