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Junkanoo Confusion Ends & Starts The Year

tourism-junkanoo-rushoutThe old year has ended and a new year has started with the upsetting confusion surrounding the junkanoo parades – AGAIN!

I have newspaper clippings dated back to over 30 years dealing with the same story, different day! This can’t be allowed to go on any longer so I will attempt to analyze the challenges and propose several solutions in this letter.

It is not as if we have not been doing this for centuries! So why is there continually a problem? The main reason results from the diverse groups and the lack of communication/coordination between those persons who make the parade happen. There are three main categories of persons in the event:

(1) the members of the various junkanoo groups who number in the thousands;

(2) the parade organizers which consists of the various groups of persons who set up and administrate the event; and

(3) the audience, i.e. the general public.

Let’s examine each of the junkanoo-affected areas individually:

VENUE – Junkanoo has a deep rooted psychological and spiritual connection to the people of The Bahamas which should not be tampered with. Junkanoo parades have been happening on Bay Street since the 19th century and have undergone many changes over this extensive time period (check for an historical timeline of these occurrences).

The venue of Bay Street is also historically and socially significant and should not change, in addition to the fact that the buildings provide the perfect acoustical arena for the music. I would also like to remind readers of what happened in 1989 when government, in the person of Peter Bethell as Minister of Sports, tried to move the venue to the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre. My late husband, Jackson Burnside, was instrumental, along with others, in leading a huge public protest which quashed that idea flat and fast!

NUMBERS – The parade has grown exponentially, as is to be expected, and the introduction of the competitive nature of the event has also brought with it specific challenges. Yes, we know that the junkanoo Christmas parades do not make a profit – Dr Nicolette Bethel’s 5 year COB study exposes this clearly (and although the carnival crew is quick to mention this in their justification of their foreign imitation import event, it is a faulty argument) – but that is not the purpose of these parades. The Christmas junkanoo parades nurture the soul of the Bahamian people and rejuvenate their spirit and this should also not be tampered with! The challenges inherent in the numbers of participants and the size of the costumes came to a disastrous head this Boxing Day AGAIN!

The continual cry about the lags and gaps between the groups’ appearances can be easily fixed: establish a realistic maximum number of participants for the ‘A’ groups, as is done in the ‘B’ groups. Presently an ‘A’ group has to have a MINIMUM of 201 persons but there is no maximum number – cap it off at 300!

This will make the parade more manageable and  not only force the ‘A’ groups to weed out their members, but it will also create an opportunity for new groups to be formed to get rid of the constant stalemate rivalry between the Valley and the Saxons! It will also allow for a shorter performance timeframe for each group.

COSTS – Before the naysayers pipe up with: ‘how will these groups get sponsors?’ Well, for one thing Junkanoo has become much too expensive! Why? Because the groups are

(1) spending money on imported materials starting with the Austrian crepe paper to styrofoam, steel rods, contact cement, glitter, beads and baubles tricks, ridiculous amounts of ‘fedders’ (i.e. feathers), makeup etc etc….as the late Dr Offff so aptly stated ‘junkanoo’ should be created from ‘junk a-new’ – ol’ time junkanoo used old clothes, flour pap (flour and water and kerosene), newspaper, and discarded cardboard, old wood, plants, and anything else that was free to be creatively fashioned into costumes;

(2) costumes are huge and require more ‘stuff’ to cover them – make them smaller by far and solve that problem;

(3) music has changed to include expensive brass instruments that also have to be imported and paid for; persons teaching and playing the music expect to be paid as are the persons who are now ‘contracted’ to make costumes and carve the styrofoam to make the faces and bodies of the figures used in the parade;

(4) administration of a group also costs money and time – how many of those persons are paid? Several groups are being challenged by calls for the proper transparency of the accounts of the groups by members who are kept in the dark about how the funds are spent – do the sponsors ask for a proper accounting and are they satisfactorily produced in a timely manner?

FUNDING – Junkanoo groups should not have to be relying on sponsors (who are mostly large foreign-owned companies/businesses) to finance their efforts nor should they be going ‘hat in hand’ to ‘beg’ for funds. Again my late husband before he died urged junkanoo groups to finance their own parades by forming cooperatives and soliciting funds from their own membership to get their parade on Bay Street. Just like VAT should be forcing us to reevaluate our spending habits, so too should junkanoo groups be reevaluating how to cut back on the overspending of elaborate funding on the parades – scale down your budget to fit your means, become more creative in your endeavours, reduce, recycle and reuse, and make an effort to save money.

Competition should not be watered down to consist of who can put on the most elaborate ‘show’ with plenty fedders and sparkly accoutrements instead of solid artistry!

ROUTE – As the groups grew in size with more and more people performing, the route was eventually changed to a circular one utilizing Bay and Shirley Streets to accommodate the numbers. This worked for a while but the sheer numbers of persons and the increasing size of the costumes have presented challenges in the parade flow because there is not enough space to accommodate the groups at the point of entry.

Since Bay Street east of East Street is so dead these days, my suggestion would be to change the starting point further up to John Alfred Wharf where there is much more space since the shipping companies have moved. This will allow the groups to line up in order of appearance, the parade will flow seamlessly without gaps, and the parade will finish at a reasonable hour instead of dragging on forever. However I would hasten to add, one does not necessarily know what will be happening along this stretch in the coming year.

COMPETITION/JUDGING – Personally I think the competition is destroying junkanoo. Bragging rights are one thing but this ongoing rivalry within the ‘A’ groups is not healthy because the judging system is flawed! This all came to a head on Boxing Day when a ‘judge’ in an ankle bracelet was carted off from the parade by police and the scores were totally overturned with 3rd place becoming first place! Judging should take place along the entire parade route, not just in Rawson Square in front of the cameras. In spite of this age of sophisticated technology the scoring system is a joke, and it always has been, accountants or no accountants – because it seems as if the judges can’t be non-partisan and the accountants can’t add right regardless! If you can’t simplify the process, do without it!

RULES – Since the parades are competitive there are rules of participation which are quite specific and are easily available to all in hard copy or online. First and foremost you have the members of the junkanoo groups whose mandate is clear and if you are a leader, then lead! The groups need to prepare for the parades for two mornings which entail spending countless months each year getting their parade to Bay Street – coordinating with their junkanoo members who number in the thousands all told, their artisans, sponsors, suppliers etc to make it happen.

This is the one event for which Bahamians know they can’t be late! Everyone in the groups knows when they are supposed to be at the starting line – there is no excuse for delays! It is amazing that every year several groups in the ‘A’ group category have issues with getting to Bay, don’t have the requisite numbers, or have some other excuse – if these groups are getting ‘A’ category funds and not performing to standard, then they need to be downgraded! It is a waste of money, time, resources and effort! Solve that problem!

PARADES – There is no need to have two major parades within a week of each other! That is utter foolishness and totally fanatical for the groups to scramble to churn out two major parades in 7 days with double the expense!

Make the Boxing Day Parade the competitive one, if you want to retain the competition, and make New Year’s the fun parade – with rules but no competition– make New Year’s a first class ‘Scrap Parade’! It will eliminate stress, costs, confusion and controversy and start the year on a happy note! Personally, the New Year’s Parade can easily be turned into a money-making AUTHENTIC BAHAMIAN festival by inviting visitors to join in, but that’s another story for another time!

ADMINISTRATION – Then we move to parade administration which in itself isn’t coordinated as it comes from several different entities under the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture umbrella – and that’s another mix up because ‘Culture’ has been placed under so many different ministries over the years ‘it ain know if it comin’ or going’ and that’s just why it is in such a mess – if we were really serious about our Culture we would give it the respect and dignity of its own Ministry staffed by persons who KNOW what Culture entails (but that’s another story that will be examined in another letter very shortly – so watch this space!)

Then you have the Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence (JCNP) which is a semi-autonomous/quasi public/private entity which supervises these parades and is supposedly composed of a representative from each junkanoo group (but if they don’t come to the meetings they won’t know what’s going on!) Again in this age of social media there is no reason why this entity cannot reach the junkanoo masses effectively. Well, that all fell short on Boxing Day too!

Added to this is another government generated/mandated group: the National Junkanoo Committee, then you have the accountants dealing with the scores (and I am not sure who supervises them) with Mr Douglas Hanna who gives the results and I am not sure where he fits in the scheme of things! Why were the unofficial results announced before all the scores were received? Duh – again, simplify the process!

BLEACHERS – Then there is the entity who organizes the bleachers….this has gone through its own series of controversy – who is the company, who hires them, how are they paid, where does the money go? The Bay Street merchants have a right to complain about the bleachers blocking their stores for weeks on end at the busiest sales time of the year. As dead as East Bay Street is now, why not set up the bleachers only on Rawson Square and east of East Street in those ‘dead zones’ mentioned above, along with similar areas of  Shirley Street, which will not impede the activity for stores on Bay Street.

SECURITY – The police are in charge of security for the parades and their role is clear-cut and obvious. All of the entities involved with junkanoo have to coordinate their efforts in order to make the parade work. The participants and  the public expect to enjoy the parade in a safe and secure setting – the police have their duty to perform and they are the experts in this field and should have the final say – so every other entity needs to accede to the police plan – plain and simple!

ENERGY WASTE – Huge lights are put up by BEC for the parade – mostly, I expect for the television coverage. Do we need to have these lights blazing weeks before the parade – can they be wired to be turned on only for the night of the parade to save some much needed energy waste?

Just writing this letter has given me a headache! Why do things have to be so ‘mix up’? Why can’t we get it right? Plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more, practice, coordinate and communicate!

Pam Burnside

Posted in Opinions

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