Junkanoo Cultural Festival, Nassau Bahamas
Junkanoo Cultural Festival Nassau Bahamas

Should your calendar permit, experience the Junkanoo cultural festival on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day. The origin of the word is obscure. Some say it comes from the French "L'inconnu", meaning the "unknown", in reference to the masks worn by the paraders. Others claim it is a dialectical adaptation for "John Canoe", the name of an African tribal chief who demanded the right to celebrate with his people even after being brought to the West Indies in slavery.

Slaves were given a special holiday from plantations at Christmas time, to be with family and celebrate with African dance, music, costumes and call on the spirit of the ancestors while giving themselves over to joyful exuberance.

Today, Junkanoo has evolved to a more organized parade with intricate costumes, themed music and prizes. Traditional drums are still made of goat skins, lightweight and strapped to the front of the player; in Shango and Orisha pallet, drummers all sit in a circle, bow to the mother drum and say a silent prayer.

The end drums begin to play, while the central drum, the mother drum, answers and picks up the rhythm. Beside the mother drums are the cutters. As the drummers, sit cross-legged with their drums held between their knees, cutters answer the mother drum in a hierarchy of drum sounds. Weddings are celebrated weeks before the official ceremony. Funerals are commemorated by parties long after loved ones are gone. The laid-back attitude of Bahamians is a healthy byproduct of freedom and the good life.