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What is Jonkonnu?

What is Jonkonnu

When we decided to homeschool we determined several goals that were important to us: 1. Reduce their anxiety 2. Hands on learning 3. Teaching to their culture and history.

US history is steeped in oppression and transgressions towards people of color. But, how do I teach this without taking the joy from their lives? I want to give them an honest view of US history.

The East Coast is rich with history, and historical sites to visit, and in many ways a homeschoolers dream. The reenactments include what ‘everyday’ life looked like during this time. There is a noticeable void. A white-washed sterilization that has taken place.  The African-Slave narrative is noticeably absent.   It’s dishonest, and I have a hard time exposing my kids to the dishonesty.

When an opportunity came up to participate in a unique summer program that taught African American Slave history. We jumped at it. For seven weeks we drove 4 hours round trip once a week to participate in Tryon Palaces’ Jonkonnu workshop.

Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC has a dedicated African-American history department that offers many programs on the life, history and contributions of African Americans.

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What Is Jonkonnu? (pronounced John-Canoe)

Johnkonnu is a festive tradition! It  is a Christmastide tradition unique to North Carolina, specifically Wilmington and New Bern (which were both home to slave markets). It first appeared in Jamaica in colonial times, then spread to Caribbean Islands, Bermuda and eventually North Carolina. Jonkonnu mixes west African and English traditions like caroling, dancing, drumming and parades.

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Once a year, the slaves were allowed a celebration, and they chose Jonkonnu. Many would dress in masks and multi-colored costumes.

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The Parade

They would travel from house to house clapping , singing and dancing. Sometimes this was the only time of year that they would see their family that had been sold to other plantations.

They would perform until the home/plantation owners would come out and greet them, and often pay them in coins.

The Ragman

The Ragman dresses in a suit of colorful rags. Each rag in his suit was donated from families and pieced together to create a beautiful suit of color.

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The Fancy Man

Dressed in a top hat and his finest, the Fancy Man leads the parade.

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The Songs

The songs were often coded to make fun of the Masters, or as messages for the Underground railroad.

Come along Moses, don’t get lost, don’t get lost,                                                             Come along Moses, don’t get lost, We are the children of God!

 

What Happened to Jonkonnu?

By the late 1800’s, Jonkonnu celebrations in the US became less frequent due to Jim Crow laws. By 1900 the celebration of Jonkonnu had disappeared due to increasing racial tensions.

Today Tryon Palace (the former capital of North Carolina) in New Bern, NC celebrates Jonkonnu during their Candlelight Festival in December. You can also see a Jonkonnu performance in January during the African American Cultural Festival, at the NC Museum of History. 

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