If you do not know the term ‘junkanoo’ then you are either not Bahamian or have never been to The Bahamas. But, during the Christmas and New Year period, little else animates Bahamians more than showing vociferously where their hearts are in support for the groups that grace the annual street parades.
Each year, or so it seems, a new twist occurs in administering organization of the parade. But, selling the tickets online; having special arm bands (“You band now, so you can go through” does sound like an oxymoron, but such is the wonder of living English); having bleachers with clearer numbers (I remember years when numbers were duplicated); having better separation between sections; whatever it takes to make it easier for people to buy tickets and see the parade. None of that can overcome whatever the groups do to get the parade on the road, so to speak. This year, the weather came into play again. A cold front was in the area, and that came with wind and a hint of rain. Each and both have wreaked havoc before. Thermometers could try to convince us that the temperatures were over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the howling winds and seating at higher levels, it felt much closer to 40 degrees. All the cold weather outfits were in evidence, but also some bravado with sleeveless outfits, bareback outfits, people without hats or hoods. Some laughed that I had gloves and a scarf around my neck, but they were sought after no long after the wind came kissing our cheeks.
Then, the groups did their thing. Or, really, they did not do anything much at all. We arrived around midnight for the parade, which was due to start about then, and waited…and waited. We had seen groups struggling with the wind to get their bigger costumes and pieces onto the street. We knew that things would not be easy. But, it never is, and the groups should not be surprised by forecast bad weather. Yet, by 1am, no group had appeared. By 2am, we had seen one major (A; many more help) group. By 4am, we had seen a few scrap (no sponsor and little interest) groups and some B group (sponsored, but smaller than the major groups), yet still seen only one major group. By 5am, it was still only one major group. Time to think about going home. Then, we heard that another major group was up ‘next’. Year-end is close, so next could be 2011. But, as the spirit began to flag and the keys started to jangle, the strains of the ‘next’ group came into ear shot. Well, put off leaving.
No matter that no feeling was in toes or fingers, legs started to move, not with a tremble, but with what seemed like rhythm. The trash talking got wilder. Eyes were popping and two ladies squared off ready to bring it on to each other: “Miss, don’t make me come down there.” Men, often provocateurs, became peace makers. A chant went up: “Oh! They scared…The Valley Boys coming.” The crowd, though full of partisans, started to sway together, and jump on the bleachers to make them rock. Dancers on the street wound themselves around imaginary poles and shook parts that bounced mightily. Saxophonists and buglers blew as if they could move the wind. Drummers pounded as if they could break the concrete pavement. Cow bell ringers shook and clanged as if they could outdo the sounds from any church spire. Within the half hour that it took for the group to pass, many (not all) feelings of resentment about the wait had gone. We had been satisfied, in a manner of speaking. We could wait to see each major band come past, but that could not happed before midday, if the past five hours were any guide. Too much, man!
The walk back to the cars helped bring more blood and life into limbs. It was now nearly dawn, about 6am. Beds beckoned and welcomed all with open warmth. Never again?
The next morning would be the start of post-mortem analyses of performances, and the results. Whatever reassessment of the parade will go on may change nothing about how it takes place. Penalise them? Threaten them with other sanctions? Ideas like that may take hold for a few days or weeks. But, in reality, it’s the audience who tolerate the delays and the waiting? Unless I slept though it, there was little audible protest about any of that. Muttering, yes, but nothing much else. Are Bahamians really filled with so much patience? Maybe, but perhaps only for junkanoo.