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Junkanoo Slave Freedom Festival of the Bahamas

Published by Melaina Gasbarrino, Writer

Country: Bahamas

The Experience

Step into the Bahaman streets in the wee hours of the morning on December 26th, and become encircled in the liveliness of the Bahama's Junkanoo Festival.

Thousands upon thousands will be dancing through the streets of Nassau, Bahamas in the most vibrant costumes, which can be spotted from miles away. You will whirl through droves of people in a circle of colour filled with the sweet sounds of music. These rhythmic sounds protrude out of whistles, brass instruments, goatskin drums and cowbells. The Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas is just like that of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Needless to say, there will be plenty of high energy spirits filling the streets on Junkanoo Day.

Junkanoo is celebrated through out the Bahamas, but most notably in Nassau. Other places of celebration are Abaco, Bimini, Eleuthera, or Grand Bahamas: from 2:00 am till 8:00 am. If you miss out on the December 26 festivities, make sure you make it to the Bahamas by January 1st—Junkanoo festival is also held as the sun rises on the 1st of January.

The Junkanoo Festival is a celebration of freedom from slavery named after 17th-Century African slave trader John Canoe. On this day, Bahamian slaves were able to leave plantations and celebrate the Christmas season with family and friends. This was a chance to let loose with song and dance in these troubled and miserable times. During the early years of the festival, Junkanoo parade participants donned bizarre masks and trotted along on stilts. This celebration of freedom almost stopped when slavery was abolished, but the tradition is still in full force in The Bahamas.

The participants of the Junkanoo Festival thoroughly plan out the parade into groups of about 500 to 1,000 members, who invest months and months in preparation for the big day, aiming to grab first prize. Competition is so fierce that groups have a “shack” (base camp) where they practice day in and day out on their routines; so be prepared for some well choreographed dancing through the streets of the Bahamas during Junkanoo. At the end of Junkanoo, judges award prizes to those with the best costumes, music, and overall presentation. This is a huge event, so arrive early and get prime seating up on Bay Street in Nassau.

While in The Bahamas, be sure to check out the Junkanoo Expo that displays local crafts, creative paintings, and a souvenir boutique of past Junkanoo festivals.

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When to Go to Junkanoo

The Bahama's Junkanoo Festival happens on December 26th and January 1st annually in the wee hours of the morning. The festival begins at 2:00 a.m. and goes right up till dawn, usually around 8:00 a.m. Rest on the beach the day before so you are up for this most vibrant of Bahaman festivals.

During the months of December and January everyone flocks to the sunny beaches of The Bahamas, so ensure you book a few months in advance as prices are at an all time high during the winter months.

Temperatures range from 75°F and 85°F (24°C to 29°C) so pack nice and light for this vacation. Note that it is a little chilly in the early hours of the morning and you may want to pack a light sweater.

Odds n' Ends

The Junkanoo Expo is open daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Nassau Waterfront. Admission is $2.00 for adults and just 50 Cents for children.

The best location to take in the Junkanoo festivities is in the city centre along Bay Street.

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