Today one can’t utter the word, ‘Junkanoo’ without instantly having their mind flooded with ideas and feelings; whether it be on the flashy costumes, the upbeat music, or the thrill of the experience with friends, all lead to the same elevated exhilaration reminiscent of childhood glee. Rarely does the average Bahamian contemplate how this event is able to run every year without fail, even when it is a well-known fact that this country is in serious debt. Even so, according to a study conducted by the then College of the Bahamas in 2014 on the cost of Junkanoo showed that it cost the country roughly $2 million annually, but the earnings from this cultural event never seem to come close to the price (Misiewicz 2015). In response to this, there have been those who have argued that Junkanoo should be advertised more and adjusted to where it could provide a reasonable source of revenue for the country. Consequently, others have risen up to object this idea, believing that Junkanoo should not be commercialized and it is the duty of both the government and Bahamians to uphold a part of our heritage, no matter the cost. This blog will attempt to explore the financial cost of Junkanoo as well as the idea of it becoming commercialized.
While it is difficult to pinpoint when and how Junkanoo first began in the Bahamas, it is agreed that it was born from an African-Retention of rituals and festivals. The name itself, whose origin is still disputed, was only applied to the festivals that occurred in Nassau; these occurred around Christmas time when slaves were given a few days off from work. Over the following century it would go unnoticed by the general public, besides the occasional scornful opinions of it by the Church and a few of the merchant elite, and wouldn’t gain real public notoriety until the Prohibition era. Much of the economic prosperity from Rum Running went into building the foundation of a new tourism industry in the country and Junkanoo was seen as a potential tourist attraction (Misiewicz 2015). Investments were made into reorganizing the festival into a flashy, spectators event and, though initially falling into decline which resulted in its ban in the early 40’s, it later paid off with a complete re-imagining of the festival. From the costumes which took on a brighter, colorful, carnival feel to the music which began to incorporate the sounds and rhythms of the Caribbean and the brass instruments of Europe; Junkanoo was turned into a spectacular festival offering both foreigner and Bahamian alike a taste of tropical entertainment. Upon the colony’s switch to an independent nation, the PLP labeled Junkanoo one of the main cultural components of a new people and took on the role of funding and organizing the festival.
Year after year Junkanoo takes place with mainly funds accumulated by the Government and also private sponsors. From research that has been done it was found that Junkanoo is mostly supported by Bahamians financial-wise. Most Junkanoo parades happen around the months of December and January which is a time tourist, college students abroad and family members come to the Bahamas for holiday/to be with family. Materials brought in from overseas for Junkanoo groups are duty-free also over a quarter of a million dollars is distributed each year to different Junkanoo groups to help cover the cost of materials, costumes and more; which is known as seed funding. Money is collected from food vendors and tickets for seating. The money that is generated from vendors and tickets are used towards monetary prizes for the winning Junkanoo group. Junkanoo has been proven to not be profitable and with the “new-born” of Junkanoo which is Junkanoo Carnival, makes people wonder what mutation of the original Junkanoo will be put in place next that will potentially increase the debt of this country or maybe even help save it.
With such a steep investment for so little revenue, a question that comes to mind is; should Junkanoo become a venture that both country and citizens could profit off of? Would trying to commercialize a cultural event for profit really be that terrible, or should we avoid changing the festival any further; knowing that the continuation of our heritage is worth the cost. It’s possible that the answer to this question lies in a real life example of a festival created solely for the purpose of financial gain, Junkanoo Carnival (Misiewicz 2015). A personal project of Perry Christie, according to the research of Gabrielle Misiewicz, Junkanoo Carnival was a combination of the Bahamian and Trinidadian cultural heritage events that was created to act as an “economic stimulus package” according to the then Minister of Youths, Sports, and Culture Dr. Daniel Johnson. Here was a festival designed for commercial applications, but advertised itself as providing Bahamian artists and entertainers a chance to display their skills and advertise their culture. In the end, however, it seemed as if the entire country took up arms against it. Following the adoption of Mardi Gras aesthetics in the logos and costumes over Junkanoo ones, flying in Trinidadian singer Machel Montano as the headliner and paying him exceedingly more than any native singer; it is obvious that in the government’s pursuit of a successful commercial venture they completely forgot the promise to stick to their cultural roots.
In conclusion, Junkanoo has changed over the years and will continue to change as this country grows and develops. The festival displays the African culture of Bahamians at its finest, paving the way for local inspiring artists, dancers and musicians to express their talents (Smith 2018). Although Junkanoo has adopted aspects of different cultures, it still retains an originality unique to the Bahamas which should be shared with the rest of the world. There is so much of the Bahamas that can be displayed through just this parade. Hopefully this parade will live on in the Bahamas creating new beneficial opportunities financially, historically, musically etc. not only for the country, but for the people that live here too.
Fig. 5 New Years Junkanoo Parade 2018 in Downtown Freeport, -Filmed by Target Video Productions on January 1st, 2018
Misiewicz, Gabrielle. “ “The Rapture is Really Coming”: On Tourism and the Creation of the Junkanoo Carnival. Dissertation . Wesleyan U. May 2015.
Smith, Jamaie. “Minister Rolle Emphasizes the Significance of Junkanoo.” The Freeport News, 12 Oct. 2018, thefreeportnews.com.