Yearning for the Sea and Junkanoo

What’s an island girl to do when home is calling? Find a way to answer the call! 😁🍹

I’ve been longing for the sea, but not just any sea, the Caribbean Sea. The longing was not about relaxing or swimming in balmy waters. It was more about seeing it everywhere I turned, feeling its presence. Digging my feet in the sand as the sea water laps around my ankles. Seeing its vast expanse as I eat. Watching the waves and ripples. Smelling the salt in the air. Looking at the various shades of blue and guessing which spot of water would be cold or warm, shallow or deeper.

I can’t fully explain the longing, but for the last week I felt like I could finally breathe deeply again. My breaths were actually different, more effortless. More relaxed, more unburdened. Maybe that was more mental than physiological, but it’s been 10 months since I was last in the region and the way I feel now is surely a sign that I shouldn’t let another 10 months pass before I head back home for another dose of renewal and reconnection.

I started to feel this need to be by the sea in August. Perhaps I was missing Cropover and home a lot more than I realized and my soul was expressing itself through a longing for the sea. Perhaps six months away is my limit. Maybe it’s a newly formed anxiety about another long stretch of time away from Barbados and the Caribbean (because 2 years away were hard to bear). It’s hard to forget that period of time from March 2020 to January 2022 when I didn’t physically touch anywhere in the Caribbean. The longest time in my life that I’ve been away from the region. I know it’s not just about being away from Bim. Wherever I land in the Caribbean I am able to renew/refresh/reconnect. The Caribbean is in my bones; in my soul; in my very being.

So back to August when this longing kicked in. I envisioned spending some time by the sea where I could sit and reconnect, or write, or stroll or do anything, as long as I was by the sea. I tried it in Ventura for labour day weekend at the beginning of September. I had a lovely time and it helped, but it didn’t fix the problem. Then once the fall semester got going, I had a lot more to keep me busy. That also helped, but the yearning for my Caribbean didn’t go away.

In early November I was offered the opportunity to facilitate a virtual course as part of a festival tourism accelerator programme for participants throughout the Caribbean. My engagement in this course over a 6-week period, ramped back up my longing for home. The participants were practitioners working with a range of festivals across the region and they inadvertently did an excellent job of reminding me of what I was missing by being away (NB, I didn’t need reminders). Then on the final day of class, before the session started a few of us were chatting about Junkanoo and it was too much. I decided right then I was going home – to the Bahamas that is – for Junkanoo.

That was December 6th. On Christmas eve I boarded a flight for Nassau. Two weeks may seem like a lot of time to decide on a trip and make it happen. Two weeks before #BackOnBay, the first Junkanoo since 2019? Not so much. Getting to Nassau was not the problem, finding a good place to stay in Nassau was. The last time I went to Nassau for Junkanoo was 2015/2016 (Junkanoo takes place Boxing Day and New Year’s Day) and I’d been looking for a hotel from October. So you can appreciate what it was like to do it just two weeks before the event. It cost more than I wanted to spend. The location was great but the hotel was not ideal (the hotel staff were tops though). I reconnected in multiple ways: with place, friends (on island and across the region), the natural environment, the Caribbean Sea, culture (Bahamian and regional), food and beverages, industry, research (I can’t always turn off my brain), and more. It. Was. Worth. Every. Penny.

There is a sentinel on an islet close to Junkanoo Beach. That sentinel, a lighthouse on a slip of land felt like a beacon to me, as if it had beckoned me and then lit my way back to Nassau. I don’t recall noticing it on any previous trip. Maybe I’ve seen it before, but wasn’t as drawn to it as I was during this visit. Other than Junkanoo, I probably took more photos of that lighthouse than anything else during the week I was there. Imagine what tales that lighthouse could tell. It stands in a position to witness much of what happens along that coast of New Providence Island. It certainly witnessed my reconnection to the waters of the Caribbean Sea.

I didn’t do a whole lot last week. In fact, I stayed on pacific time and because I wasn’t working on this trip I was basically like a vampire, the folks at the front desk saw me late afternoon and onward, usually close to sunset. The one time they saw me in the morning was the day I left. I didn’t go to any of my research sites. I didn’t go sightseeing. It just wasn’t that kind of trip. I rested well; went over the street to the beach in the late afternoons and to the Tiki Bikini Hut Restaurant; walked around Bay Street during Junkanoo set up on Boxing Day and on one other day; and went to Junkanoo.

On my last night I went to a party with friends. We went around midnight and stayed until 4ish … good times and reminiscent of very good times. It was as if the DJs were playing just for me: old dub, dance hall and reggae (no soca, but I didn’t hold it against them because I’d heard it all week on the beach 😊), and the company of my friends who have changed, yet at the same time remain the same. Unfortunately, I left Nassau on Old Year’s, so I missed one friend’s NYE fete. I also missed seeing another friend, but we’re already making plans to fix that.

An aside. Even when I’m truly on vacay, my mind is never quite at rest. It’s hard to “shutdown” when I travel for vacation because travel and tourism have been my profession for so long. Throw in the social scientist in me and I come up with some mental deliberations that sometimes stay in my head and sometimes make me reach out to friends for some stimulating conversations. That happened on this trip and my Madhouse crew basically told me to stop thinking and relax, but we did have a great chat about tourist arrivals, types of tourists, etc. However, before I reached out to them about my research ruminations, I came up with this gem: I am a Cohobblopot. I’ll get to that after we Dance to the Junkanoo.

Dance to the Junkanoo

Why Junkanoo? What makes it so special? A few things. For me, great memories are often tied to a coalescence of timing, event/activity, and people – essentially, being in the right place and the right time with the right people. I have great memories of Nassau/New Providence Island because the aforementioned elements coalesced there to form them. My roommates from Nassau are still my very good friends today. The five of us don’t see each other often as a group, but we keep in touch. It’s them who told me last week to relax and turn off my brain 😁. Plus I got a light telling off for going to Nassau on vacay without them. It was last minute!😇 I’m actually messaging with them while finishing up this post. I also have Bahamian friends that I’ve stayed in contact with and try to connect with every time I visit (CF the partying til 4 am).

I was pre-disposed to at least like the Bahamian celebration of Junkanoo because of my wonderful memories of other things Bahamian. Like Nassau, Junkanoo is special to me because of a coalescence of factors. Junkanoo has its roots in slavery and is celebrated in a few countries in the Caribbean. Junkanoo in the Bahamas is the most well-known. In fact, it is globally renown. It is said that the enslaved were given a few days off around Christmas and their celebrations during those days were the foundation for Junkanoo (Saunders, 2003). Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are the days when it is usually celebrated in the Bahamas, though there’s also a summer celebration in which children and youth are central.

I thought I was late, but it was about 30 minutes or so before the first group reached Parliament Square where I was sitting.

On Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Junkanoo starts at midnight, my kinda time. It’s an awesome display of creativity, craftmanship, artistry, colour, vibrance musicianship (especially with the cowbells, you can guess why my video is sometimes shaky), stamina (they carry the floats, they’re not on trucks), etc.. Group (not band) members paste their own costumes and this can be a year-round activity. You can’t simply go to a group shack and buy a costume to join the parade.  I love that!

Saxons, one of the oldest and largest groups, was the first to rush. These are some of their larger pieces. Theme: In praise of nature. They got 2nd place in the New Year’s Day parade, but with a different set of costumes.

Tourists are welcome to participate in the main events, but usually as observers. Last week at the Boxing Day parade there were few obvious tourists around, but there was a sea of Bahamians engaged in and enjoying their culture. This was one of the topics during a very stimulating conversation with my taxi driver on the way to airport on the day I left.

In cultural-heritage tourism, we analyze authenticity of experiences and products. When I think about Junkanoo as I’ve experienced it (in terms of costuming, participation, etc.), the authenticity score is high. But of course, that is the perspective of an outsider observing. A conversation with their cultural gatekeepers would undoubtedly yield different perspectives.

I love the thought that goes into theming and creating the brilliance I’ve seen on parade during Junkanoo, though for one particular big group, my friends were very disappointed and wondered what depth of thought, if any, had gone into their preparation. “They had two years and this is what they came up with?!” Trust me, the comments were actually not that banal, they were as colourful as the costumes 🤣. When the parade is in full swing, the atmosphere is ‘lit’, literally and figuratively. It pulses and thrums. The spectators in the bleachers move as if they too have choreographed their performances (again, if my video is a bit shaky, know that I still remember how to move, even though it’s been 6 years 😉).

I love that revelers “rush” in full costume for 2-3 circuits of Bay Street and its environs that constitute the parade route, so though the event starts at midnight, it lasts well beyond sunrise on the day. I’ve been to Junkanoo three times. This last time, the Boxing Day iteration was postponed from 12 am to 6 pm on that day because of the heavy rain forecast (it rained nonetheless). I arrived around 6:30 pm and the first group got to my location just after 7 pm. I left after 3 am the next day and that was just the end of the first circuit. Hopefully you get the picture.

Some of the bigger, more well-known groups are The Valley Boys, Saxons, The Roots and One Family (winner for A groups for both Boxing Day (deservedly so from what I saw) and New Year’s Day parades). Within each group there are different types of costumes and floats, with musicians playing live as they rush. They’re also sections of each group that perform choreographed dances. These and other elements are judged at different points along the parade route.

Highlights of One Family Warriors who won the Boxing Day Parade

The Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades are separate competitions and the floats, costumes, etc. are not repeated. Each competition is in two categories: A (big groups) and B (small groups). The people I chatted with during the parade couldn’t give me cut off numbers for the groups. There are also groups that are called scrappers, but are likely more in keeping with how Junkanoo groups were many years ago. I love the rivalry amongst the groups, especially the big groups. I also love that children and teenagers are able to rush with these groups.

One aspect of this event that I saw a lot of during last week’s parade and did not like, was how the media sometimes blocked the route and prevented a group from moving. They also tended to walk through some B groups and scrappers as if those groups were not important.

Here’s a catchall to remind that most of Junkanoo was excellent!

Another downside to Junkanoo that I’ve experienced is the sometimes lengthy period between the groups rushing. It’s understandable given the size of some of the floats, but still. Of course there are DJs and other entertainment during these sessions. I like the deejaying, the other entertainment (like hoop competitions), not so much. During one of the interludes I heard some old and new Bahamian music. The following tune is one of my favourites from the old ones.

A high note before rushing to the Pot. If I heard the announcer correctly, some years ago this group was the one that introduced a full brass section to the parade.

I am a Cohobblopot

One of the basic concepts in the study of tourism is the definition of a tourist. A typical definition looks at distance travelled (50/60 miles or more), time stayed (overnight, more than 24 hours), and activities during the stay. We look at international tourists (e.g. travelling from Barbados to the Bahamas or from California to the Bahamas) vs domestic tourists (travelling from Cat Island in the Bahamas to Nassau, New Providence, also in the Bahamas). Then there are typologies of tourists: ecotourist, cultural-heritage tourist, adventure tourist, diasporic tourist, etc..

In tourism studies we also categorize tourists as short-stay (a few days) vs long-stay (over a week); short-haul vs long-haul. For the sake of the natural environment, the long-stay/long-haul combination is preferred. A critical concept is visitor spend and the effect of how tourist spending generates economic activity; simplified, how many times a dollar spent by a tourist circulates through the local economy (multiplier effect). So it’s particularly important that tourists spend money locally and that there is local ownership of tourism businesses and services.

In some countries in the Caribbean, we refer to people as being from ‘foreign’, meaning from other countries, typically North America and Europe. So, tourists are from foreign. Consequently there is this notion of tourists being foreigners or strangers.

During one of my days relaxing at the beach (I think), I tried to develop a typology for me and answer the question, am I a tourist in Nassau, in the Bahamas? My response was no, I am not just a tourist, I am a Cohobblopot. This is akin to how my friend Andrew is a tourism pracademic vs a tourism professional or academic, but that’s a tangent for another day. I’ve categorized myself as a Cohobblopot because I’m too many things to be just a tourist. Here’s why:

  • I travelled over 2,500 miles from Los Angeles to Nassau (long-haul trip). I stayed for 7 nights (longish-stay). My primary purpose for the visit was to experience Junkanoo and I also engaged in other activities. I did not do any work for which I was paid locally, but I certainly spent money in Nassau. By definition I am a tourist, more specifically, a cultural-heritage tourist. However,
  • I’m not from foreign and I’m not a stranger. Although, I’m not Bahamian, I studied in the Bahamas for two years (students are not categorized as tourists) and have visited many times since then. I have a connection to the country, especially Nassau, that a simple visitor would not have.
  • I have research sites in the Bahamas and I’ve been conducting research there since 2015. Much longer than that if I consider lived experiences and how those have influenced my research.
  • There is kinship with the Bahamas. The country is a part of the Caribbean and is part of Caricom. We have shared ancestry and historic relationships. I’m a Barbadian and Caribbean national. Though I’m not currently residing in the Caribbean, those facts doe not change.
  • I am a part of the Caribbean diaspora and therefore, a Caribbean diasporic tourist.
  • I am a Caribbeanist and I feel at home in the Bahamas (does that count?).
  • Interestingly enough, when my paternal grandmother migrated to the US, she did so via the Bahamas. I don’t know how long she stayed there before moving on the US. I have a familial connection to the Bahamas.

I am a Cohobblopot . You’ll need to visit Barbados for a deeper understanding of that word, but to provide a frame for understanding why it is suitable to describe my typology and since I’m talking about types, definitions and so on, I’ll help a bit. A cohobblopot is a pot-pourri or “a brew of things” (Barbados Pocket Guide). It was the term that the enslaved in Barbados used for “a stew with a variety of ingredients” (Collymore, 1970). It is similar to what Harrichellette Rawlins calls “wha dey, wha dey” food – whatever is available goes into the pot or becomes part of the meal. As an event, Cohobblopot was the penultimate major event and one of the highlights of Barbados’ Cropover Festival for almost 40 years. It was an extravaganza that included the Kings and Queens of the bands competition, along with a showcase of the best of the entertainment acts from the current and previous festivals.

When I considered my “findings” about being categorized as merely a tourist, Cohobblopot was the word that first came to mind to capture my type. I hadn’t had any Kalik … yet. The word just fit. While it is rich with symbolism and depth, it is also nuanced. Barbados is the only place I’ve ever heard Cohobblopot used, yet I’m using it to describe myself in the context of being a tourist, or not, in the Bahamas. I think anyone who was at Junkanoo on Boxing Day would give me a bligh, after all, the group that won was One Family, and the tune they were kicking was Togetherness by the Bajan band Square One.

This concept of Cohobblopot as a typology is worthy of further study and therefore requires additional trips to the Bahamas to collect more data. Such data would then need to be refined and analyzed, perhaps necessitating additional trips to the Bahamas for further data collection. I’ll then need to triangulate my findings … back to the Bahamas. Since I’m a Caribbeanist, and feel similarly at home in various countries across the region, I’d have to test the typology across the region. I’m sure you get the drift. Academics and pracademics have received research funding for less sound research ideas. Since I’ll need to make tracks to the Caribbean in about 6 months for a top up on renewal and reconnection with the Caribbean Sea, the final questions to ponder are where next should I collect data on my Cohobblopot typology and who can I get to fund this research?

Uh gone! Back tuh de islands!

#IslandGirl
#CaribbeanLust
#BackOnBay
#itsbetterintheBahamas

2 thoughts on “Yearning for the Sea and Junkanoo

  1. I admire your love for the Caribbean. Whenever this foreign gets to go, I would need a Cohobblopot like you to show me everything—including how to stay up all night for the Junkanoo!! 🫣

    Thank you for sharing! The pictures are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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