Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let's Junkanoo

By: Jennifer Nzegou
Edited by: Erica King

The Bahamas is a country composed of multiple islands on the Caribbean Sea. Due to its heavy dependency on tourism and offshore banking, it's one of the wealthiest Caribbean islands. The tourism market is perhaps the biggest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. A country’s Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) is an overall measure of its economic activity. Tourism in The Bahamas accounts for 60% of the GDP.

Tourism is so large of a market that it also it also accounts for 49% of the country’s labor force. It currently serves as the leading market for employment, with other services including finance, business, agriculture and industry jobs trailing behind it.

Nassau is not only the capital city; it is also the biggest urban area, with its population count at 267,000 people. This large island is home to perhaps the country’s biggest celebration/tourist trap: Junkanoo!

Junkanoo is a cultural celebration, whose origin has many interpretations. The most common story for its origin dates back to the days of slavery. It is believed that Junkanoo started during the days of slavery when the slaves were given three days off around Christmas time. They celebrated by singing and dancing in colorful masks, and traveling from house to house, often on stilts.

Modern day Junkanoo takes place twice annually on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The parade is no longer the way it was because of the country’s desire to appeal to tourists. Nassau being the largest island, has the biggest celebration. The difference in the celebration in Nassau is that in recent years, it has become mainstream. While it’s still a showcase of The Bahamas’s culture, it has started to cater to the needs and desires of the tourists it attracts.

Jamell Strachan is a Bahamas resident who has experienced the Junkanoo parade for years. His recount of the celebration was this:

“When I was younger, say 7, Junkanoo used to be, it still is maybe, don’t get me wrong, that the groups were large and organized enough to finish two laps of the parade before the day break. It also wasn't so much marketing using the public fact, it was more about the culture. Now the groups are too large, politicians want to be in the parade now to show face. Some are there to show face, some might be there to genuinely enjoy, I’m not sure. I prefer the way it was in the past. As a tourist, you will definitely enjoy it, and I enjoy it as well. I just like when it was more focused on the culture of The Bahamas.”

The Junkanoo celebration is so massive, that one might assume it's the reason tourism accounts for 60% of the GDP.

According to Monique Brennen, this is not the case,

Bahama natives celebrating Junkanoo
“I don't think they make as much money because the costumes are hand made by groups, or whoever they choose to work with. For example, there’s a method called pasting where you take a pair of pants, or whatever it might be, that you already own and you take crepe paper and glue it to your pants to make fringes; or one could cut cardboard and paint it to create the desired image. For the most part these things are done as preparation for Junkanoo. Other than that, restaurants and food vendors would be making money from selling food leading up to and during the celebration.”

Kenji Sands, a choreographer and Junkanoo dancer, provides a different perspective on the economics side of the parade. She has been dancing in the parade for three years now, and sees a different aspect to Junkanoo than the other interviewees. Kenji acknowledges that shops that sell Junkanoo merchandise and supplies for the parade make a lot of money. While they pay someone to “paste” their costumes, they typically decorate the rest of their costumes themselves. She believes that local businesses profits in a big way from the Junkanoo celebration. Her experiences with making costumes have shown her first hand how much money local Junkanoo shops profit.

Considering the effects of Junkanoo on the economy, local business owners believe the economy in The Bahamas increases during the winter months regardless. Among other reasons, this is why he does not keep his shop, Avista Coffee Shop and Lounge, open on the day of the Junkanoo parade.

“Junkanoo is a hidden jewel. I feel like tourists don't know about it. It should drive a bigger crowd. The crowd is 95% locals. Everyone knows about Carnival, but not everyone knows about Junkanoo. Carnival is commercialized, but Junkanoo is still a local thing. It originated from the days of slavery; it still has its authenticity and people would appreciate that if they knew about it more.”

Tourism is a major leader in the economy for several reasons and currently Junkanoo is just a small contributor to the bigger picture. As far as Junkanoo is concerned, local vendors that sell food during the parade, dancers, big corporations and small businesses that contribute to the parade, all benefit from the tourist aspect of this celebration.

In a country like the U.S., where the leading industries range from industrial outputs to petroleum, there is an exponential difference in how tourism impacts the economy.

Arlene Nash Ferguson from The Ministry of Tourism, however, believes Junkanoo has the potential to be an entity of its own one-day. The profit from the celebration could be a lot greater than it is now.

“Junkanoo has enormous potential to raise it's own money. It needs to get to the point where it is able to support itself. I think this is possible with creativity, hard work and sacrifice. Junkanoo could be larger than it is if it were self-sufficient. The money comes from corporations that support it and from selling bleacher tickets.”

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