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An Abacos-Style New Year's Celebration!

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Rushin' To Junkanoo - New Year's Day
Celebrated on The Abacos' Green Turtle Cay on New Year's Day (and also on Boxing Day [December 26] in Nassau and Freeport), The Bahamas' best known festival is a riotous explosion of color, sound, movement and rhythm. A little like Mardi Gras, a little like Carnival and a little like a Mako Jumby festival, participating in Junkanoo (or just watching) is an experience you'll not soon forget.

Junkanoo - Centuries of History and Tradition
Thought to have been originated by The Bahamas' Loyalists' African slaves in the late 1600's or early 1700's, this colorful combination of the arts of dance, music, costuming and theatrics has not always enjoyed today's wide-spread Bahamian popularity. "Junkanoo" is a procession of masked dancers in bright colourful costumes parading or 'rushing' through the streets, creating music with goat skin drums, cowbells and whistles. These revellers spend up to a year before the parade 'pasting' their costumes in junkanoo 'shacks' and practicing their theme songs.

The exact origins are unknown, but the most popular version is that John Canoe, a beneficent plantation owner, allowed his slaves time off to celebrate on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Thus the slaves named the celebration in his honour.

Originally celebrated on Christmas Day morning as well as the 1st of January, Junkanoo was widely opposed by Bahamian church groups as sacriligious due to its wild revelry on the 25th of December. In the later 1930's, the Junkanooers and churches moved the first of the two "Junkanoo Days" to the British holiday of "Boxing Day" - the 26th of December. Banned again in the early 1940's for insiting riots, the spectacle was officially recognized as a Nassau tourist attraction in the late 1940's, and has enjoyed ever-increasing popularity (both domestic and worldwide) over the last 5 decades. In the 1990's, Junkanoo is celebrated on the majority of The Bahamas' most populated islands and settlements, and can be enjoyed in the Abacos on Green Turtle Cay as well as Marsh Harbour.

This form of celebration was brought to The Islands of The Bahamas in the 16th and 17th century by African slaves. The exact origins are unknown, but the most popular version is that John Canoe, a beneficent plantation owner, allowed his slaves time off to celebrate on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Thus the slaves named the celebration in his honour.

Junkanoo has not always been appreciated for its cultural nature, however. In 1899, an Act placed it in the Street Nuisance category and, during the early 1900s, the festival was opposed by the churches. They thought it was sacrilegious to hold it on Christmas Day. But a compromise was reached in 1938, declaring Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) a public holiday, and junkanoo was moved from Christmas morning to Boxing Day morning.

At one point in 1944, junkanoo was made illegal, following riots in 1942. It was reinstated in Nassau on January 1, 1948, after it received official recognition as a tourist attraction. A year later, awards were introduced to bring about a more orderly celebration and promote the art of costume design. Over the years, Junkanoo costumes have evolved from fabric, palm leaves, newspaper and coloured glass into a beautiful, elaborate, hand-made costumes of crepe paper adorned with sequins and rhinestones.

In the mid 1970s the trend of making junkanoo parades part of social activities at hotels was initiated by the social director at the former King's Inn, now Bahamas Princess Resort & Casino.

Today, junkanoo parades are held throughout the Bahamas on Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Green Turtle's event provides a festive, cultural experience for both visitors and locals. The layout of the parade provides visitors a front-row view of the festivities and the carnival atmosphere gives them an opportunity to sample native food and drink and interact with people from the community come mainly to cheer on their favorites.

As a distinctly Bahamian tradition, Junkanoo groups fiercely compete with each other for prizes and other recognitions for best costumes, music and Junkanoo dance performances. Due to the historical and cultural significance of Junkanoo, The Bahamas' government has recently decided to provide financial assistance for officially recognized Junkanoo groups.

Junkanoo - As Modern As Today's Music
As a testimonial to the pulsating power of traditional Junkanoo music, the signature drum beat and distinctive rhythms associated with this major Bahamian festival are increasingly heard in the music of The Bahamas' best recognized songwriters and singers such as The Bahamen, Phil Stubbs, The Gully Roosters and others.

SUGGESTION: Make Your Reservations As Early As Possible For 2000!
If you're even thinking about going to Green Turtle's 2000 Junkanoo, make your reservations now! Junkanoo on this tiny island has become extraordinarily popular with Abacos residents as well as travelers from all over Europe and the U.S., and "last minute" (6-8 weeks in advance) accommodations were very scarce for Junkanoo '99.

Scott at Bert's

The dining and drinking establishments on Green Turtle were filled to capacity by New Year's
celebrants (above left pix is Bert Reckley's "Sea Garden" in New Plymouth).

GT Club money wall

Several of The Abacos' island-style pubs, bars and drinking establishments have a tendency to "personalize" their interiors with visitors' business cards (Miss Emily's Blue Bee - not pictured, but fascinating ... we bet you'll find a card you recognize in the many thousands adorning her walls!), As a variation on business card placement, autographed currency from the
patron's home country
(above) covers many of the walls in the Green Turtle Club's Pub.

Bert's at New Years

A line of New Year's celebrants outside Bert's "Sea Garden" in New Plymouth (really cold Kalik
and great island drinks!) - New Year's Eve 1997. Yes, it was a bit chilly - about 60° F.

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