The Classics| Remembering Jonkonnu
Jonkonnu, a fusion of African masked dances and British folk plays, used to be prime street-side entertainment in Jamaica at Christmas. In colonial days, these bands would move from house to house, enjoying gifts of food and drinks or coins from the wealthy.
One of the earliest descriptions of the masked dancers appeared in Edward Long’s History of Jamaica (1774).
Long supposed that the Jonkonnu dance was named after a West African merchant known as ‘John Canoe’ or ‘John Conny’, from Axim, West Guinea:
“In the towns, during the Christmas holidays, they have several robust fellows dressed up in grotesque habits followed with a numerous crowd of drunken women, who refresh (them) frequently whilst he dances at every door, bellowing out John Conny’ This dance is probably an honourable memorial to John Conny.”
Jonkonnu bands play drums, rattles, fifes and even bottles and graters. Traditional Jonkonnu features costumed characters such as King, Queen, Devil, Pitchy-Patchy, Belly Woman, Cow Head, Policeman, Horse Head, Wild Apache Indian, Bride and House Head.