Junkanoo is a street parade with music, dance, and costumes in many towns across the Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day (January 1). The largest Junkanoo parade happens in the capital New Providence. There are also Junkanoo parades in Miami in June and Key West in October, where 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 The Bahamas on Independence day and other historical holidays.
Dances are choreographed to the beat of goatskin drums and cowbells.
Igbo masked dancer from the early 20th century depicting a spirit of a girl.
The origin of the word junkanoo is disputed. Theories include that it is named after a folk hero named John Canoe or that it is derives from the French gens inconnus (unknown people) as masks are worn by the revelers. Douglas Chambers, professor of African studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, suggests a possible Igbo origin from the Igbo yam deity Njoku Ji referencing festivities in time for the new yam festival. Chambers also suggests a link with the Igbo okonko masking tradition of southern Igboland which feature horned maskers and other masked characters in similar style to jonkonnu masks. Many of the colonies Jonkonnu was prominent, Bahamas, Jamaica, Virginia, had a relatively high percentage of Igbo people among the enslaved African population. Similarities with the YorubaEgungun festivals have also been identified.
The festival may have originated several centuries ago, when slaves on plantations in The Bahamas celebrated holidays granted around Christmas time with dance, music, and costumes. After emancipation the tradition continued and junkanoo evolved from simple origins to a formal,organised parade with intricate costumes, themed music and official prizes within various categories.
In television show Top Chef: Allstars Season 8, episode 13, "Fit for a King", the contestants danced at the Junkanoo parade, learned about its history and competed to make the best dish for the Junkanoo King.