"Who In Da Mornin" is a journey to the heart of the Bahamian street festival of Junkanoo. Join Junkanoo Goddess Angelique McKay, historian Christopher Davis, and cultural expert Arlene Nash Ferguson as they uncover the festival's roots in Jan Kwaw, the warrior king of the Ahanta people of West Africa, at the first post-COVID Junkanoo celebration.
A street festival of West African origin, Junkanoo is a ritual of rebellion, encompassing the ideals of family, culture, and self-expression celebrated across the Caribbean and southern United States. Each Boxing Day in the Bahamas, this street parade that features music, dance, and elaborate handmade costumes, is where local family groups of up to 700 people compete to win prizes for their performances. The festival occurs in the middle of the night and the winning group is announced in the morning, invoking the question, "Who In Da Mornin'?" will win.
In December of 2022, at the first Junkanoo celebration post-COVID19, we meet Angelique McKay, Junkanoo Goddess, who leads a notable Junkanoo family group, the Genesis Warhawks, to compete at the festival. Angelique and her group are more than just enthusiasts, they are a group of anthropologists, cultural, and historical experts who have researched and uncovered important truths about the history of the festival. Unfortunately, not all Bahamians understand or value the festival as much as the Genesis Warhawks, and here in lies our characters central conflict: to educate their fellow Bahamians on the deep significance of the festival. Angelique, along with historian Christopher Davis and cultural expert Arlene Nash Ferguson, embark on a quest is to teach and preach the deeply important significance of what Junkanoo truly is: a space of connection and remembrance for all whose ancestors were kidnapped and forced into bondage, and a story of African people defeating their colonizers.
These are celebrations of rebellion, celebrations of connection, our celebrations of self-identification…
As Angelique McKay and Christopher Davis explain, what we are seeing and hearing through Junkanoo, and possibly other celebrations throughout the African Diaspora, is not just a party. These are the sounds of the great great great great great grandchildren of Jan Kwaw’s warriors, calling out to the ancestors in proclamation that his people are still here in the Caribbean, and that one day, they will come home. Come home soon.
While the connections might seem universally evident, even to her fellow Bahamians, Angelique and her colleagues struggle to show the value of a festival, with some questioning the value of having so many competing family groups. During a radio interview post festival, we hear Angelique call out to her fellow Bahamians imploring them to understand the intense labor that goes into preparing costumes and performances, and the deep cultural significance of the festival.
As told by Philip Williamson Jr...
"For years, I’ve always been a spectator of Junkanoo, one of the most important yearly celebrations on the islands of The Bahamas. It has kept me away from being on the streets performing with members of each group, but never kept me away from being directly connected, whether it be through family members, close friends, or friends of friends. We would consistently talk, or argue, of the importance, history, and some years the controversy of groups winning when they shouldn’t have. Watching my uncles and cousins prepare their costumes from scratch and practice their songs on instruments throughout the year just made me more curious to share the story of Junkanoo and the people who make it happen every year.
Going to church, going to Grammy’s house, and going to Junkanoo. Those three things were what I remember most growing up for eight years in the Bahamas before moving with my family to the United States. Even after visiting every year, we ensured we did those three things during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
I’ve always understood going to church during Christmas, that’s self-explanatory. Going to Grammy’s house during the holidays is what every person who celebrates the holiday does, right? What I didn’t understand was, why do we celebrate Junkanoo during that same time period? What is the history of the celebration? Why the cow skin drums? Why the elaborate costumes? Why should we begin our trek to Downtown Nassau at 11p Christmas night and stay until the early morning of Boxing Day and the same for New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day? How is Junkanoo linked to the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, Carnival in Trinidad and Brazil, and other celebrations in West Africa?
A few years ago, I began researching more and found how much of a connection it has to the African Diaspora."