Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.22

The Committee

  1. Takes note that the Bahamas have nominated Junkanoo (No. 01988) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Junkanoo is the national cultural festival of The Bahamas. Dating back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was brought to The Bahamas by enslaved Africans who used their three-day holiday to recreate festivals from home. An outlet for creative expression, today Junkanoo is mainly celebrated through parades that retain many African elements and are a grand spectacle of indigenous music, performances, storytelling and craftsmanship. Junkanoo is a celebration of unity, bringing together thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds in the creation of towering, colourful costumes with cardboard and crepe paper. The costumes are prepared in ‘shacks’, where the practitioners display their craft and transmit their knowledge to younger generations. The knowledge and skills related to the performance and the creation of costumes are also transmitted within families. The entire community plays a part in preparing youth for their rites of passage into Junkanoo. Junkanoo is incorporated into every major national event as a celebration, as entertainment, and as a traditional cultural expression. It fosters a sense of community pride, identity, companionship, spirituality and unity. Junkanoo is a celebration of creativity that refines the art of making beauty out of junk.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The element is one of the foremost national cultural celebrations in the Bahamas and is an outlet for creative community expression in the form of a parade. A celebration of resilience and creativity, the element includes indigenous music, performance, storytelling, artistry and craftsmanship. Its preparation takes place over the course of the year, and includes costume designers, craftspeople, performers, artisans, marshals, administrators, timekeepers, judges, supervisors, invigilators and finance committees. Transmission takes place in spaces called ‘shacks’, where older community members pass on their skills to younger generations through rites of passage. Families also play an important role in the transmission of the element, as do schools, such as through the Junior Junkanoo programme.

R.2:   Inscription would bring visibility to the regional diversity of Junkanoo. Cultural offices will be opened, heightening visibility and awareness of Junkanoo and of intangible cultural heritage in general. Living heritage will be promoted as a way of developing the local cultural economy. Inscription would encourage the national government to promote visibility and awareness of intangible cultural heritage and of related workshops, seminars, meetings and other cultural events. At the international level, inscription would also promote living heritage in general and increase awareness of Junkanoo around the world. It would also result in job creation. Because Junkanoo is an integral part of the social and religious fabric of the Bahamas, inscription would also promote dialogue while instilling pride and fostering safeguarding efforts. It would help highlight different regional expressions of Junkanoo while acknowledging and valuing common traits. Additionally, inscription of Junkanoo would highlight this post-slavery expression of culture, empowering the African diaspora. It can also support sustainable development in the context of target 8.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals on policies to promote sustainable tourism.

R.3:   The element remains viable through its practice by Junkanoo Groups across the islands. There are community-based shacks which serve as studios and informal Junkanoo training institutions. The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture established a National Junkanoo Committee which advises the Minister and is in charge of Junior Junkanoo. A Secretariat on Junkanoo was created in 1992 and has organized expositions and summer programmes, provided sponsorship and coordinated research and documentation activities. Proposed safeguarding measures take into account threats such as the dilution of the craft and cultural appropriation. The measures entail supporting community-based Junkanoo initiatives, increasing the number of Junkanoo parades, funding academic research and preserving traditional Junkanoo. The State Party will provide funding and land grants and carry out legislative reforms. The Junkanoo Committee – which includes State and community representatives – took part in the nomination process, ensuring that Junkanoo groups and communities throughout the Bahamas were informed and engaged in the process. 

R.4:   The preparation of the file was accompanied by a cross-section of stakeholders such as the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the National Junkanoo Committee, the Junkanoo Committee New Providence and Junkanoo participants at large. The Committee actively sought the inputs and free, prior and informed consent of the communities, groups and individuals concerned. A large number of consent letters are attached to the nomination file. As a community-based activity, Junkanoo’s customary practices are handed down from generation to generation. Individuals might perceive certain aspects of their practice as secret, but this does not impede the nomination of Junkanoo as intangible cultural heritage.

R.5:   The inventory is included in the National Cultural Policy Working Draft. The draft is being amended by the recently formed National Cultural Commission and will be presented to Parliament to be formally adopted as legislation. The Division of Culture at the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture is the responsible body and was instrumental in assembling Junkanoo stakeholders to compile archival material, oral history and documentation for the national inventory. The inventory is updated every year, since Junkanoo groups document their annual participation and provide this information to the Division of Culture.

  1. Decides to inscribe Junkanoo on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Recalls the importance of using vocabulary appropriate to the spirit of the Convention and of avoiding expressions such as ‘unique’ and ‘authentic’;
  3. Encourages the State Party to pay attention to the potential risk of decontextualization and over-commercialization of the element, and to ensure that any unintended consequences are monitored and well-managed following the inscription of the element.