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‘Bahamian Mardi Gras’ will require shift in thinking

Tradition and cultural identity should not be compromised
  • The Saxons junkanoo group as they performed on Bay Street and Rawson Square during the 2012 Boxing Day Junkanoo parade. AHVIA J. CAMPBELL

Guardian Managing Editor

Published: Jun 01, 2013

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To establish the kind of ‘Bahamian Mardi Gras’ the government announced earlier this week will require a shift in the thinking of Junkanoo leaders, artist Antonius Roberts told Guardian Arts&Culture.

Roberts said that while the establishment of a week-long festival modeled after the famous Carnival in Trinidad and Mardi Gras of New Orleans is a step in the right direction, the move will also require a commitment to embrace opportunities to transform the art of Junkanoo into the business of Junkanoo, without compromising tradition and cultural identity.

“There are a few groups and Junkanoo organizations,” he said, “who have for years made every effort to effectively engage the youths of their respective communities with a desire to transform and sustain lives, in the creative, productive and disciplined environment of ‘The Shack’.”

He said the week-long celebration could be a good thing, provided the celebrations are not Bay Street centric but more inclusive, supportive and focused on an interdisciplinary Bahamian cultural explosion in every park and on every block.

In his 2013/14 budget communication, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced

earlier this week that the government will spend $1 million to help develop a major, week-long national cultural festival.

The festival is targeted for start-up in 2015 and could incorporate a cultural village, public processions and song and costume competition, said PM Christie. The $1 million will be allocated to the festival next year and will be a joint effort between the public and private sector.

“We believe that this stimulus to Bahamian music, art, entertainment and other cultural forms will reap inestimable rewards for generations to come,” he told MPs.

“Various (Junkanoo) groups, such as the Saxons or the Valley Boys, could become corporate entities.”

PM Christie also pointed to business opportunities to sell costumes.

He emphasized that there will be specific stipulations that a certain percentage of the contents of costumes will be made of straw and sisal, which he said would stimulate and provide a much-needed boost to those domestic industries.

The government is foreshadowing a burst of entrepreneurship from cultural tourism including costume design and creation, writing and performance of music, dance and choreography, visual arts, lighting, stage design and the protection of related intellectual property.

“We also note that, as well as crime statistics decreasing during the Junkanoo months, Junkanoo promotes teamwork and teaches compromise and other important social skills,” said Christie. “We believe that these same benefits can be transposed to the Pre-Lenten Mardi Gras or Carnival.”

The prime minister said that once fully operational, the festival is expected to provide a significant boost to the tourism sector. It is also hoped to create hundreds of full-time employment opportunities for people engaged in the design and fabrication of carnival costumes.

Cultural activist and director of Educulture Bahamas Arlene Nash-Ferguson said the celebration must be one that is “uniquely Bahamian”.

“We have a very rich culture, and it needs to be exposed to the fullest. As a tourist destination, we need to ensure that when our visitors come to The Bahamas they leave having had a uniquely Bahamian experience,” said Nash-Ferguson.

“I know there are festivals around the world and it’s okay borrowing good ideas, but when all is said and done, it must have a uniquely Bahamian stamp on it.”


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