The origin of the word Junkanoo is obscure. Some say it comes from the French “L’inconnu” (meaning ‘the unknown’), in reference to the masks worn by the paraders; or “John Canoe,” the name of an African tribal chief who thought it was about time he and the other chaps got to party properly.
It is believed that this festival began during the 16th and 17th centuries, possibly when the slaves were given a special holiday at Christmas time, when they could leave the plantations to be with their family and celebrate the holidays with African dance, music and costumes.
On Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, the island comes alive as the Zulus and the Warriors come out to ‘rush’ in competition. Astonishing amounts of Kalik beer is drunk, goatskin drums are warmed by fires, and gigantic costumes and huge mobile sculptures, made from cardboard boxes and covered in finely fringed, brightly colored crepe paper, parade around Harbour Island.
Competition is fierce– thousands of dollars in prize money are at stake– and costume designs are a closely-guarded secret until they are finally unveiled.
This time last month, dressed in leopard suits, carrying shields and spears that we had bedazzled with hot glue guns and glitter, Linda, Domino and I danced down Bay Street, amidst the beat of the cowbell, the rumble of the drums, and that incredible, wild spectacle of color.
How could I resist naming my colored collection of tassels anything other than Junkanoo?