Savannah Meets Bahamian Junkanoo via Barrabas and the Tribe
It’s pretty well known that St. Patrick’s celebrations are over-the-top in Savannah. Our parade is generally considered to be the second largest in the U.S., behind only New York City, and in addition to the half-million people who come out to watch the parade are bands, dancers, troupes and floats from far and wide.
Perhaps the most exotic participants, returning to Savannah and Tybee for their 12th consecutive year in 2017, are a colorful band of performers from the Bahamas, Barrabas and the Tribe. Adorned in glitter, sequins and feathers, they are the modern embodiment of a carnival tradition that reputedly stretches back to slavery times, when slaves spent the three holiday days around Christmas dancing, singing and playing music. After emancipation the tradition continued and Junkanoo evolved into a formal, organized parade with intricate costumes and themed music.
Junkanoo is celebrated in many Bahamian towns every Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and New Year’s Day, with music and dancing in costumes that take months to make. Some trace the name to John Canoe, a legendary West African folk hero. Others say it comes from the French “gens inconnus,” which translates as “unknown” or “masked people.”
Junkanoo dance troupes, groups of up to 1,000 participants, rehearse their routines for months. The musicians practiced the rhythms they'll perform with goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles and horns. Elaborate costumes also take months to hand-craft.
As the Junkanoo parade moves through the streets in the early hours of the morning (generally from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.), the energy of the dancers and the beat of the music motivate spectators to start moving too. At the end, judges award cash prizes for the best music, best costume and best overall group presentation.
The Junkanoo presence here has become so popular that on March 18, 2011, Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman declared that date “Barabbas and the Junkanoo Tribe Day.” The group also received the key to the City of Tybee Island, and they have been made Honorary Deputy Sheriffs of Chatham County.
Barabbas and the Tribe is led by Quinton “Barabbas” Woodside, a well-respected member of the Bahamian Junkanoo community. The group earned the title of “Most Indigenous” in the first-ever Bahamas Carnival. He also founded and operates the Junkanoo World Museum and Arts Centre in the Bahamas, which seeks to preserve costumes, head pieces and face masks.
Barabbas and the Tribe are hosted by Tybee Island’s Crab Shack. They will be performing in Tybee Island’s Irish Heritage Parade Saturday, March 11 at 3 p.m. All week they will be entertaining at The Crab Shack. Their performances culminate in Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 18. Check for specifics on their schedule at The Crab Shack’s Facebook page.