Introduction to Junkanoo! A Bahamian Festival
  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.8 Identify and describe examples of community/social capital.
      2. Benchmark MS.9 Identify pro-social behavior in different cultures and traditions.

Junkanoo is a Bahamian Festival that takes place in December. The festival was started by slaves who were restoring some of their native customs that they left behind in Africa. Junkanoo is a nice example of artistic expression communicating aspects of a culture. This lesson introduces the historical, geographic, and social aspects of Junkanoo. It also deals with the concepts of group cooperation and factions.

PrintOne 50-Minute Session
  • define factions as "differing groups."
  • describe the positive and negative effects of factions.
  • explain the importance of building trust and cooperation in a group.
  • observe that artistic expression communicates a heritage.
  • sample headdress, if possible
  • pictures and/or video of Junkanoo
  • facilitator copy of Historical Background (handout)
  • copies of Junkanoo: Keeping a Community Alive (handout)
  • access to maps
Home Connection: 

Inquire if parents have been to Junkanoo and invite them to share their experiences.

  • Bethel, E. Clement. Junkanoo: Festival of the Bahamas. London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1991.
  • Cousins, Linda. This Man Can Cook. Cultural Travel Publications, 1997. ISBN: 0930569040.
  • Greenfield, Eloise. Under the Sunday Tree. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. ISBN: 0064432572. (Available on
  • Junkanoo
  • Junkanoo!
  • Junkanoo Bahamian Festival
  • Junkanoo on Grand Bahama Island
  • Junkanoo Spirit
  1. Anticipatory Set: Show any visuals about Junkanoo that are available: a poster, headdress, websites, pictures, books, or videos. Talk about the festival and its purpose.

  2. Locate the Bahamas on the globe. Note that the climate is warm year-round because it is close to the equator. The hot temperatures, even in the winter, make it desirable to start the Junkanoo parade at 4:00 in the morning to avoid the sunlight. Compare the climate of the Bahamas with your location. 

  3. Referencing the handout Historical Background, explain some of the history of Junkanoo, its tradition and spirit, and the fact that it has African roots. If possible, compare Junkanoo designs with some West-Coast African designs for any similarities. Stimulate thought about how a culture changes when people migrate, or are forced to migrate, to a new location. Junkanoo started as a time for African slaves to express themselves and to preserve elements of their cultural heritage. Compare this with slave life in the United States. How did slaves in America try to keep cultural heritage alive? (Spirituals, quilting, storytelling, drumming.)

  4. Arrange the youth into groups. Provide resources with pictures of Junkanoo costumes. If possible, allow each group to explore on the Internet to find pictures. See references below for a list of websites. Ask each group to discuss the Junkanoo style in terms of color (bright), line (defined), shape (many geometric), texture, size (large scale). Tell them they will be designing headdresses of their own in the Junkanoo style.

  5. Explain that Junkanoo includes a competition where people work together in groups for a year to design regalia, dances, and music. In the Bahamas, competition is serious. This leads to factions, or groups of people working together, often in opposition to another group.

  6. Discuss the meaning of factions. Brainstorm different ways people can be sorted: gender, age, hair color, favorite sports, favorite foods, type of books they read, and so on. Look over the list. Do any of these groupings lead to factions? What can be the positive and negative effects of factions? How do we notice when there are factions in an environment?

  7. Vocabulary: Have individuals or pairs look up and write the definitions of the following words. Discuss the terms together. 

    • commonwealth: the shared good of the whole group of people
    • community: a group of people living in the same area and under the same government; a class or group having common interests and likes
    • community capital: banked good will built up within and between groups
    • cooperative: willing to cooperate with others
    • individualism: a fundamental belief in the protection of the rights of the individual against the incursions of the state and of political power
    • pluralism: the coexistence of distinct cultural, ethnic, or religious groups within a single society
    • tolerate: to recognize and respect the opinions and rights of others; to endure; to put up with; to suffer
    • faction: a group of persons forming a cohesive, usually contentious minority within a larger group; conflict within an organization or nation; internal dissension: "Our own beloved country . . . is now afflicted with faction and civil war." — Abraham Lincoln.
  8. Define and discuss what is meant by the common good (resources shared for the collective benefit of the whole group of people). Ask how cooperative groups, behaviors, or elements of their day contribute to the common good.

  9. Assign the reading Junkanoo: Keeping a Community Alive (handout) and a writing exercise discussing the topic: "Junkanoo: Working Together for the Common Good." They should use all of the vocabulary words above in the writing and include ideas related to the Junkanoo festival and their own project of making headdresses in a group.

  10. Based on the research, participants draw sketches of a headdress in the Junkanoo style. It should demonstrate the line, color, size, shapes and textures of Junkanoo.

  11. Form groups that will design and create headdresses. Following are two options for forming the groups:

    1. Allow groups to form naturally, with the requirement that they include anyone who wants to join the group. Individuals may choose to work alone, with the understanding that they will provide a contrast to the benefits (and difficulties) of group work.
    2. Participants vote on their favorite designs. Then participants work on the designs for which they voted. They may need to choose their top two favorites and allow the facilitator to work out the exact teams.

For an informal assessment, check to see that the following was accomplished: 1. Participants show interest in the project. 2. Participants can name at least three facts about the Bahamas. 3. Group designs are in a similar style to the Junkanoo pictures.

Formal assessment: The writing exercise can be scored using the following rubric: Length, vocabulary, participation, all eight vocabulary words included and used correctly 


How do groups working for the common good help the community? How can factions help and hurt cooperation?