Jonkonnu (spelled a number of different ways, including John Canoe and Junkanoo) is a street parade in some ways reminiscent of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras. Dancers wear costumes to represent characters out of folklore, religion, and history. Musicians play a range of instruments, including traditional African drums and European flutes and fifes.
The dances also combine African and European traditions, and are meant to evoke and express many emotions. Watchers are meant to feel joy, fear, anger, sadness, and more. Intensity is key in the music, the physical movement, and the vividness of the dancers’ costumes and makeup.
See a short video featuring Jamaica’s Kingston Jonkunu Dancers.
The Jonkonnu tradition began as a way for slaves brought to the Caribbean from Africa to hold onto a remnant of their cultural heritage. Plantation owners often tried to stamp out slave traditions, to force the people to forget their identities and the places where they came from. Along with this, people brought from many different parts of Africa didn’t necessarily share languages, religions, or rituals, so they found it hard to hold onto their individual cultures.
By combining different kinds of music and dance, and paying tribute to characters from different histories and legends, Jonkonnu became a way for slaves to share their histories with each other and find common ground. The tradition spread, allowing generations of enslaved people the chance to express their real selves.
In many parts of the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas and Trinidad, Jonkonnu is still an active and much-anticipated festival. In Jamaica, it’s become less popular in the cities, but is still important in the rural areas. The festival connects a people to their heritage, with all its sorrows and triumphs. At the holidays, generations of families come together to make sure that the old traditions are not forgotten.
Home isn’t just about a place: it’s about having roots that link you to your antecedents and that link future generations to you. Roots are easier to maintain, though, in the context of a home, a place where people can share their stories and memories.
At Creators of Hope, we want all families to have the space and safety to share their holiday traditions and root their children in their cultural heritage. That’s why our mission is to build homes for Jamaica’s rural poor, who need this most essential source of security and wellbeing.
Learn more about us and our mission, and consider giving us a gift in the New Year, to help us make a difference in the lives of more families!