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The exam consists of the two short essays below. The first essay is worth 10 points and the
second essay 40 points, for a total of 50 points.1. Briefly discuss the three most important insights on the Caribbean that you have developed
during this course.
Your essay must be between 200 and 250 words in length. 2. Compare and contrast Carnival in Trinidad with: 1) Jankunu in Jamaica, and 2) Junkanoo in
the Bahamas. Address the characteristics and significance of these performances. In addition to
referring to the class PowerPoint modules, you must reference at least three of the assigned
readings on Carnival in Trinidad and both of the assigned readings on Jankunu/Junkanoo (Bilby,
“Surviving Secularization”; and Thompson, “Junkanoo Rush”).
Your essay must be between 450 and 500 words in length.
When citing an article, use only the author’s last name and the page number, e.g., (Bilby, 179).
Do not provide full citations.







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Jankunu in the Anglophone Caribbean I
Jankunu in the Anglophone Caribbean I
Today we begin a discussion of Christmas-season festivity in the
Caribbean. While a pre-Lenten Carnival is common in countries
where the dominant European influence is French or Spanish,
festivity during late December and early January is popular in
countries with a strong British heritage.
One important Christmas-season tradition in the Anglophone
Caribbean is Jankunu, also spelled “Jonkonnu,” “Junkanoo,” or
“John Canoe.” This tradition is very popular in the Bahamas but
also exists in Jamaica, Belize (in Central America), and, with a
different name, in the small island of Nevis in the northern
Leeward Islands (see following map and photographs).
Jankunu was also practiced by enslaved Africans in North
Carolina during the 19th century but eventually died out there.
John Canoe in Belize and Boxing Day Masquerade in Nevis
No one knows the origin of the
word “Jankunu.” One theory is
that John Connu was an African
merchant who operated during
the 18th century on the Gold
Coast, in what is now the
country of Ghana. Africans who
were enslaved and brought to
the Americas may have heard
legends about this powerful
Christmas Festivity in the Caribbean
Before emancipation in the 1830s, British plantation owners
and government officials typically granted enslaved Africans
greater freedom during the Christmas season. Africans
received a break from work for a few days and were often
able to hold their own parties and celebrations.
These African celebrations featured masquerade, music,
and dance traditions, such as Jankunu.
African Festive Traditions
Among the sources of Jankunu
were festivals and masquerades in
West Africa.
For example, the Yoruba people
have an Egungun festival in which
masqueraders represent the spirits
of ancestors of the community.
Egungun masquerades include fullbody costumes, consisting of layers
of strips of cloth, and a headpiece.
Egungun masqueraders dance to
the accompaniment of drumming
and are a medium through which
the community interacts with
ancestral spirits.
British Mumming Traditions
Another source of Jankunu is a
British folk drama tradition
called “mumming.” During the
Christmas season, troupes of
mummers parade through the
streets and stop in outdoor
public places or in taverns to
perform short skits, which also
feature music and dance. One
play includes the death and
miraculous resurrection of a
The mummers shown here from
southwestern England make
their costumes from multicolored strips of paper.
Christmas Masquerades – Creolization
West Africa
Christmas Masquerades – Creolization
In the Caribbean, enslaved Africans gradually combined
Christmas mumming masquerades from Britain with their own
West African festive masquerades. This process of creolization
was logical, since both traditions involved public processions,
costuming, drama, music, and dance.
There are even parallels in the actual design of the costumes.
Both British mumming and West African festive traditions
included the creation of costumes with layers of organic matter,
cloth, or paper.
The greatest amount of historical documentation of early
Christmas festivity in the British Caribbean comes from Jamaica,
where there were several distinct masquerades (see following
Jamaica: John Canoe
In Jamaica, “John Canoe”
referred both to a whole
Christmastime tradition and to
a specific masquerade. The
John Canoe character wore a
quasi-military uniform, a white
mask, a wig, and a house
Jamaica: Actor Boy
The Actor Boy masquerade
included a full-body costume,
white mask, wig, and decorative
headdress. This character carried a
fan and a whip, which he used to
clear his path.
Notice that Jonkonu masquerades
were accompanied by fife and
drum music.
Jamaica: Set Girls & Jack-in-the-Green
Jamaica: Set Girls & Jack-in-the-Green
During the Christmas season in Jamaica, female performers
were organized into competing groups known as “Set Girls,”
each with matching dresses and jewelry (see previous
Also shown in this drawing is a character that the British
called “Jack-in-the-Green,” named after a similar figure that
appeared in May Day (May 1) celebrations.
While Jack-in-the-Green in Britain was covered in evergreen
branches or other foliage, this figure in Jamaica wore palm
This type of masquerade also has roots in West Africa,
where there are various types of festive performances
involving full-body costumes made with leaves and other
organic matter.
Jamaica: Pitchy Patchy
A later version of the Jack-inthe-Green character is Pitchy
Patchy. The Pitchy Patchy
costume replaces palm fronds
with layered strips of fabric of
various colors.
Note the resemblance of this
masquerade to both the
Yoruba Egungun costume and
the mummers costume of
southwestern England (see
slides 6 and 7).
Jankunu in Pre-Emancipation Jamaica
During the Christmas season,
Jankunu troupes paraded
from plantation to plantation
in the countryside. Periodically,
they stopped at the homes of
plantation owners (like the one
on the right) to present
performances that included
dancing and dramatic skits,
accompanied by music.
These performances involved
symbolic commentaries on
relationships of power
between people of African and
European descent within
Jamaica’s plantation economy.
Jankunu in Contemporary Jamaica
Since the 19th century, there has been a decline of Jankunu in
Jamaica, though some groups still perform. The below two
videos show performances in the capital city of Kingston.
Video: Jankunu Group, Kingston. Watch: 0:00-1:15.

Video: Jankunu Group, Kingston. Watch: 0:00-1:15.

Kenneth Bilby Article
Bilby, Kenneth. “Surviving Secularization: Masking the Spirit in
the Jankunu (John Canoe) Festivals of the Caribbean.” New West
Indian Guide 84, no. 3-4 (2010): 179-223.
Today’s reading assignment is an excerpt of the above article. In
this article, anthropologist Kenneth Bilby cites the recently
deceased Barbadian historian/poet Kamau Brathwaite.
*Question: What is Kamau Brathwaite’s thesis concerning
Jankunu? What is Kenneth Bilby’s goal in this article in relation to
Brathwaite’s thesis?
Send email response to
Kenneth Bilby Article
In addition to the study question in the previous slide, be
prepared to discuss the following questions in our Zoom class on
Wednesday, 04/15:
Why did Bilby carry out ethnographic research on Jankunu to
supplement evidence from historical written sources?
What did Bilby learn about Jankunu in Coker, a small rural
community in St. Elizabeth Parish in western Jamaica?
What is myal?
The following slides offer some images related to the above
St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
Myal Woman with Jankunu Band
St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
House Headdress in Myal Ceremony
St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
House Headdress in Myal Ceremony
St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Junkanoo in the Bahamas
While Jankunu has a relatively
small presence in Jamaica and
other parts of the Anglophone
Caribbean at present, it
continues to thrive in the
Bahamas during the Christmas
Bahamians generally use the
spelling “Junkanoo” to refer to
their tradition.
The Bahamas: Historical Notes
17th and 18th centuries –
settlement by the British and
enslaved Africans.
1838 – emancipation.
ca. 1900 – development of
1973 – independence from
Nassau (right) is the capital of
the Bahamas and the center of
Junkanoo in the Bahamas
The main Junkanoo events in
the Bahamas take place on
Boxing Day (the day after
Christmas) and on New Year’s
Junkanoo groups (some with
hundreds of members) parade
through the streets of
downtown Nassau.
Early Junkanoo in the Bahamas. In the early 20th century, Junkanoo costumes
were sometimes made with sponges (left). By the 1940s, strips of crepe paper
(right) were commonly used to make costumes. Note the design similarities
to the costumes of the Jamaican Pitchy Patchy, Yoruba Egungun, and English
Junkanoo in the Contemporary Bahamas. Each Junkanoo “group” (the local
term) is based in a particular neighborhood. A group’s base of operations is
called a “shack.” In advance of the Christmas season, groups use their shacks
to design and make their costumes, rehearse their music, and socialize.
Junkanoo Costumes. Groups make costumes from such materials as
cardboard, cloth, crepe paper, feathers, and “tricks” (plastic jewels and other
ornaments). The Junkanoo aesthetic emphasizes bold and flashy designs.
Junkanoo Music. The foundation of Junkanoo music consists of drums and
cowbells, which provide a hard-driving rhythm that propels groups through
the streets. Groups also use whistles, foghorns, and brass instruments.
Junkanoo Street Processions
On Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, the streets of downtown
Nassau are crowded with Junkanoo groups and thousands of
Groups refer to their traditional choreography as “rushing,”
rather than “dancing.”
When the energy level reaches a peak, groups call this “runnin’
hot.” Some Junkanoo performers say that runnin’ hot is an
ecstatic, spiritual-like experience.
Below are videos of two top groups: One Family and Saxons.
Video: One Family. Watch: 0:00-0:48.

Video: Saxons. Watch: 0:00-1:30.

Krista Thompson Article
Thompson, Krista. “Junkanoo Rush.” Caribbean Beat 82
(November/December 2006).
The reading for Wednesday, 04/15, is by art historian Krista
Thompson. Be prepared to discuss this article in our Zoom class
on 04/15. A few of the questions that we will address during
class are:
How has Junkanoo in the Bahamas changed from the early 20th
century to the present?
What has been the impact of the tourism industry and the
Bahamian government on Junkanoo?
What are scrap groups and how are they different from regular
Junkanoo groups?
Caribbean Beat
Issue No. 82 – November/December 2006
by Krista Thompson
In the early twentieth century, Bahamas Junkanoo — or John Canoe — was considered a danger to polite society.
Today, this Christmas season festival with roots in former New World slave societies has become a celebration of
Bahamian culture. Krista Thompson explains the evolution of the festival
In 2004, a Bahamian theatre group, the Dust Track Theatre Company, took to the
streets of downtown Nassau during the annual Junkanoo parade. Four characters dressed in costume
processed ceremoniously down the road next to a coffin containing a personification of the Junkanoo. After
displaying the interred Junkanoo to the crowd, the troupe of actors performed a mock public trial, trying to
determine who killed Junkanoo. The corporate sponsor of the parade (represented by a character dressed in
his business suit) and the politician (donning the familiar colors and insignia of both major Bahamian
political parties) stood accused of the festival’s death, and were solemnly found guilty.
Dust Track’s unusual skit decried the death of Junkanoo at the hands of political culture brokers and
business interests. But, ironically, the performers’ use of the parade as a form of critique signalled anything
but the demise of the centuries-old celebration. Instead, their spoof represented a contemporary
manifestation of the Junkanoo’s longstanding form as a performance of provocation, parody, and play in
Bahamian society.
No one knows exactly when Junkanoo (originally spelled “John Canoe”) began, or where the name comes
from. Historians have suggested that the celebration honours a successful black merchant by the name of
John Connu or Conny, who lived along the Guinea Coast of Africa around 1720. More generally, the earliest
forms of the masquerade appear to draw on performance traditions from West Africa. Masqueraders,
according to the earliest reports of John Canoe in the Bahamas dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, wore masks with large tusks on their heads, dangled on tall stilts, or tied cow’s tails to their
rumps. Through the masked performance, Africans brought by force to the New World could remember,
reincarnate, and reinvent Africa in the Americas. The tradition found expression across Britain’s colonies in
the West Indies and in the southern United States, from South Carolina to Jamaica. Unlike the pre-Lenten
Carnival traditions in other Caribbean isles, John Canoe historically occurred during the Christmas season
(on Boxing Day), one of the very few times of the year when masters gave slaves a reprieve from work on
the plantation.
John Canoe developed distinct local variants in different places. In Jamaica, the masquerade originally
centred on a single masked figure called the “John Canoe”, who wore an elaborate headdress in the shape of
a house-boat. The headdress was constructed of pasteboard and coloured paper, and ornamented with
beads, tinsel, spangles, and glass. One of the earliest drawings of the John Canoe in any context comes
from Jamaica, and was created by the London-educated Jamaican artist Isaac Belisario. A print from 1834,
on the eve of Emancipation, shows the John Canoe donning the elaborate headdress and European attire,
complete with a St Louis-style jacket, striped pants, and gloves (unlike the earliest descriptions of animal-
inspired costumes). The masked figure was often accompanied by a small entourage of band members,
who, with drums and percussion instruments in hand, followed the John Canoe with noisy enthusiasm. John
Canoe referred simultaneously to the specific figure with the headdress, to other masked characters, and to
the musical accompaniment. In Jamaica, the John Canoe troupe travelled from plantation house to house
imploring (or extorting) monies from plantation owners for their performance. The John Canoe, in which
participants wore white faces and fine clothing, provided a rare opportunity for slaves to inhabit and imagine
life outside of bondage.
John Canoe in the Bahamas was different from its counterparts in Jamaica and other
places, since it appears that the masquerade was not a form of entertainment on plantations. Nor did John
Canoers receive any remuneration for being a part of the performance. In comparison to other places, the
earliest form of John Canoe in Nassau resided uneasily in Bahamian society. It was a tradition that those in
authority tolerated, but seldom supported, and often viewed as a palpable threat to the status quo.
A large part of this suspicion and fear of John Canoe stemmed from where it took place, in the main — and
predominantly white Bahamian-owned — business district of downtown Nassau. Every Boxing Day, in the
dead of night following Christmas, masqueraders from the surrounding black communities, known locally as
“over the hill”, transgressed the island’s unspoken racial boundaries by congregating in masks en masse in
the heart of the Bay Street area. In the late nineteenth century, many of the John Canoers organised into
groups according to their African ethnic affiliations, including Ebos and Yorubas, and these factions left their
neighbourhoods and frequently clashed downtown. They wore costumes composed of rags, sponge, or
newspaper torn into free-floating strips. In essence, the costumes used the debris and discarded material of
The masqueraders covered their faces with wire mesh masks, concealing their identities behind
expressionless painted-on white faces. They came armed with cowbells, which served not only as
instruments but as weapons against rival groups or persons. The earliest newspaper reports, often alarmist,
cast the masquerade as a free-for-all and a dangerous space for “respectable” citizens and visitors. One
tourist who wanted to witness the John Canoe in 1916 was warned by a local woman not to take her
camera. She was cautioned that the last person to aim a camera in a John Canoer’s direction had his ear
bitten off.
By all accounts, John Canoe at this period was not an event for the faint of heart — the John Canoers owned
the space that day, and spectators, locals and foreigners alike, attended at their peril. It was not until the
late 1920s and 30s that John Canoe started to change into a parade, one in which cameras and tourists
were welcome. Tourism promoters and officials in the colony decided at this time — cognisant of the global
craze for black culture — to encourage the John Canoe, albeit in a transformed version. They offered cash
prizes, paid for by local businesses, for the best costumes, hoping that John Canoers would be persuaded to
trade in their rags for potential riches. They also drummed up a police band to head the
Just in case the older forms of behaviour threatened to reappear at the event, the authorities made sure to
line the streets with police, armed not with drums but with batons. The new organising committee also
aimed to change the date of John Canoe from its traditional occurrence on the day after Christmas to New
Year’s morning, rationalising that the secular celebration should not occur so close to the religious
commemoration of Christ’s birthday.
John Canoers responded to these efforts with a mixture of opportunism, satire, and creativity. Interestingly,
while many participants showed up on the newly designated morning for the parade, they continued to
gather without sanction for the traditional Boxing Day celebration. Indeed, the John Canoe in Nassau
continues to this day to take place on the two days. Many masqueraders did participate in the prize
competition, shedding their costumes of “junk” in favor of prettier and more colourful paper creations,
sometimes in the shapes of various objects — flowers or conch shells — or personifications of people, such
as Haile Selassie. Some used the opportunity to parody the very processes of control and co-optation
evident in the tourist board’s initiatives.
In 1929, several masqueraders patrolled around the parade site dressed like policemen, the very authorities
enlisted to control the parade. One tourist expressed surprise that a local commandant seemed nonplussed
by the masqueraders’ mocking of authority. Another masquerader dressed like a British military attaché,
striding around the streets solemnly with an umbrella and book. In both instances, the parade participants
dressed and mimicked the mannerisms of those in authority, and commanded a space where in everyday
life black Bahamians had little control. But not all the masqueraders subscribed to the new and improved
John Canoe. Some of them — with instruments in hand and without costumes — made their presence felt
and heard both at the official John Canoe and, as newspapers lamented, before and after the parade.
Although the authorities moved towards a self-interested acceptance of the new John
Canoe, they remained suspicious of the subversive potential of the gathering of
masked black men, conscious that the open parody of authority might one day result
in an actual challenge of the status quo. Thus in 1942, at the time of the Burma Road
Riots — unrest following labour disputes with an American company hired to construct
music and
the airport — the authorities quickly cancelled the parade for several years. It seems
they were fearful that the revolutionary spirit evident in the protests — marches that
involved the singing of John Canoe songs and the beating of drums — would ignite
during John Canoe. During these years, John Canoe, despite law enforcers’ efforts to
cease all public gatherings, continued to take place in the black “over the hill”
In 1948, in par …
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