John Canoe, or Junkanoo, is the subject of this chapter. Once practiced as a festival here in coastal North Carolina, it is essentially a two-day-long party sandwiched between Christmas and New Years, involving traditional and modern dancing, ornate costumes, and plenty of music. According to one historian, Professor Stephen Nissenbaum of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, “it involved a band of black men—generally young—who dressed themselves in ornate and often bizzare costumes . . . accompanied by music, the band marched along the roads from plantation to plantation, accosting whites along the way. . . . In the process, the men performed elaborate (and to white observers, grotesque) dances that were probably of African origin. And in return for this performance, they always demanded money, though whiskey was an acceptable substitute.”
Nowadays, the festival continues in Nassau. Wealthy tourists of all colors come to the dancers, and arrive on the sleek ships docked in the harbor. They leave their tribute money with the merchants who line East Bay Street. This is the peak of the tourist season; the better the spectacle, the more money the locals make. It is one hell of a party.
Come celebrate with us. Immerse yourself in it here.