Junkanoo is a street parade with music which occurs in many towns across The Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year's Day and, more recently, in the summer on the island of Grand Bahama. The largest Junkanoo parade happens in Nassau, the capital. There are also Junkanoo parades in Miami in June and Key West in October, where the local black American populations have their roots in the Bahamas. In addition to being a culture dance for the Garifuna people, this type of dancing is also performed in Jamaica on Independence day and other historical holidays.
The origin of the word "junkanoo" is rather obscure. Some people believe it comes from the French "L'inconnu" which means "the unknown," in reference to the masks worn by the paraders. Junkanoo may have West African origins, as the costumes and conduct of the masqueraders bear similarities with the YorubaEgungun festivals.
It is believed that this festival began during the 16th and 17th centuries. The slaves in The Bahamas were given a special holiday around Christmas time when they would be able to leave the plantations to be with their family and celebrate the holidays with African dance, music, and costumes. After emancipation this tradition continued, and junkanoo has evolved from its simple origins to a formal, more organized parade with sophisticated, intricate costumes, themed music, and incentive prizes.
Parades in Nassau are judged in various categories; A (or Major) Category, the B Category, Individual costume, and fun groups. The A category groups involved in the Nassau Junkanoo include The Valley Boys, The Music Makers, Roots, Saxons, One Family and The Prodigal Sons. Groups of the past include The Vikings and Chippie and the Boys. In the B category, groups include The Redland Soldiers, Colours Entertainment, Fancy Dancers, Original Congos, Conquerors for Christ, and Body of Christ Crusaders. Fun groups include The Pigs, Sting, and Barabbas & The Tribe.
A Junkanoo parade is featured in sequences of the James Bond film Thunderball that occur in Nassau. The celebration was staged specifically for the movie since it was filmed at the wrong time of year, but local residents were enthusiastic, creating elaborate floats and costumes and involving hundreds of people.
In Top Chef: Allstars Season 8, episode 13, "Fit for a King", the chef-testants danced at the Junkanoo parade, learned about its history, and competed to make the best dish for the Junkanoo King.