ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Enjoy the Bahamas Junkanoo Festival

Updated on April 14, 2019
rickzimmerman profile image

Rick is an architect who has written extensively about sustainable materials.

Junkanoo Parade Float, Nassau

Elaborate festive parade float.
Elaborate festive parade float. | Source

Welcome the New Year with Junkanoo

Junkanoo is to the Bahamian Islands what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, and what Carnival is to Rio. A traditional cultural celebration dating back to the time of island slavery, it now culminates in tremendous costume parades and music on a number of days throughout the year. Though abbreviated summer Junkanoo festivities are now held on many of the Bahamian Islands throughout July, it is the larger, more elaborate celebrations in downtown Nassau on Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Year's Day (January 1st) that are the true marvels. To become totally immersed in the greatest of music and dance and visual spectacles, you should head for the New Year's Day Junkanoo celebration in Nassau (or, alternately, just head to rickzworld).

There is some debate as to the origin of the name Junkanoo. Some say it honors John Canoe, an enslaved former African tribal chief who insisted on his people's right to celebrate. Others say it derives from the French expression 'gens inconnu' or 'unknown people', referring to the wildly disguised dancers. Still others say it's merely a derivation of the Scottish 'junk enoo' meaning 'junk enough' — referring to a trashy spectacle. However its name developed, the festival was well entrenched by the 17th Century. It became the Christmas holiday for which plantation slaves would be released briefly from their labors to celebrate with friends and family.

The Parade

Though food, drink, music, dance and merchandise all play a part, the centerpiece of Junkanoo festivities is the costume parade. It usually begins by about 1:30 to 2:00 a.m. on New Year's Day in the center of downtown Nassau, after partygoers from all the resort hotels' New Year's Eve parties and fireworks displays drift from Paradise Island into the old city, to join a great percentage of the local population. Begin your night of fun by watching midnight fireworks over the Atlantis Resort marina yacht basin among the towering, gleaming hulls and bellowing ship's horns. Then cab into town for a spot along one of the parade route streets.

What, Where, When

Nassau's municipal government wisely bans auto traffic from the center of town, lines the Junkanoo parade route with guardrails, and, for a number of the central downtown blocks, erects bleachers banked along each side of the street. For about $15 to $20, one can purchase a seat to watch the nearly endless parade; though the parade may get started by 1:30 am, the final groups of parade participants may not pass the judging stands until 11:00 am or noon. Those who feel hardy enough (after their New Year's revelries) may choose to stand and watch along any section of guardrail. Just be sure to arrive by around 1:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. to get a choice selection.

Not Parading, but 'Rushing'

Junkanoo parade participants refer not to marching, but to 'rushing': striding slowly and dancing in time with their compatriots to often deafening 'goombay' music ringing from cowbells, drums, horns and voices. Individual parade troupes may range from just a few paraders to scores and more. The largest and most established troupes number in the hundreds of members, and have been in existence for generations. Such groups prepare all year long for the coming Junkanoo, invest up to $100,000 or more on costumes, instruments and equipment, and compete fiercely for the sizable parade prizes. As you watch the passing parade, you may note within a single troupe dozens of trumpeters, scores of drummers flailing modified oil drums with stretched goatskins, 50 or more female dancers moving as one, and several dozen more revelers joining in with cowbells and whistles. Typically, troupe members are all costumed to a similar theme, with recurring colors, motifs, patterns and materials. In addition, the entire Junkanoo parade may have an overarching theme as well.

Parade Dancer (with Attachments)

Yes, that's just one person inside that elaborate hand-made costume.
Yes, that's just one person inside that elaborate hand-made costume. | Source

One Amazement After Another

As troupes rumble by, it is difficult not to get swept up in the festivities, becoming a Bahamian in the process. Your body will move with the percussive thrum, your feet will stamp in time with the dancers, and you'll vibrate to the staccato pulses of horn and whistle. You'll also gape at the tremendous costumes. An individual dancer may pass, wearing a costume that literally brushes each curb of the two-lane street, while barely clearing the overhead wires. Fashioned of prosaic materials — pvc tubing, wood, cardboard, cloth, duct tape, crepe paper, feathers and poster paint — these massive and massively imaginative creations astound, one after another after another. Just as you imagine you have seen the most spectacular costume of the night, along comes the next!

Costumed Parade Dancer

Costumes are made of plastic pipe, paper cache, cardboard, fabric, feathers, beads and imagination!
Costumes are made of plastic pipe, paper cache, cardboard, fabric, feathers, beads and imagination! | Source

Come for the Fun!

So bring a fun and free-wheeling attitude, bring your camera to capture the spectacle, bring your appetite to sample the wonderful Bahamian cuisine, bring comfortable shoes and casual wear so you can shimmy and dance to the goombay music, and bring family and friends with you to enjoy the grand festival that is Junkanoo!

About This Article

This travel article has been brought to you by Cleveland-area architect and expert witness Richard L. Zimmerman (Rick), who also happens to be a writer, cartoonist, humorist and illustrator. For your next fun trip, head to rickzworld.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)