Junkanoo is a national festival in The Bahamas, the only place where it holds such an honor. There is even a museum showcasing Junkanoo costumes, art and artifacts in downtown Nassau–a cultural highlight.
The origin of the word Junkanoo is obscure. Some say it comes from the French “L’inconnu” (meaning the unknown), in reference to the masks worn by the paraders; or “junk enoo,” the Scottish settlers’ reference to the parades, meaning “junk enough;” or “John Canoe,” the name of an African tribal chief who demanded the right to celebrate with his people even after being brought to the West Indies in slavery.
It is believed that this festival began during the 16th and 17th centuries. The slaves were given a special holiday at Christmas time, when they could leave the plantations to be with their family and celebrate the holidays with African dance, music and costumes. After emancipation, they continued this tradition and, today, Junkanoo has evolved from its simple origins to a formal, more organized parade with sophisticated, intricate costumes, themed music and incentive prizes.