Introduction to Junkanoo! A Bahamian Festival

6, 7, 8

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 concept of group cooperation and asks some questions for consideration: How do factions form? How are they helpful? How can they hurt a community?

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo to Three Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • locate the Bahamas on a globe and describe Junkanoo, the National Festival of The Bahamas.
  • define factions as "differing groups."
  • describe the positive and negative effects of factions.
  • describe design concepts associated with Junkanoo.
  • explain the importance of building trust and cooperation in a group.
  • design a Junkanoo headdress.
  • identify how slaves asserted their rights and defined their native customs through Junkanoo.
  • observe that artistic expression communicates a heritage.
  • Sample headdress, if possible
  • Pictures and/or videotape of Junkanoo (see Bibliographical References)
  • Historical Background/General Information for Teachers (Attachment One)
  • Copies of Junkanoo: Keeping a Community Alive (Attachment Two)
  • Globe
  • 12" x 18" Newsprint
  • Pencils
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 Bahamian Festival

Junkanoo on Grand Bahama Island

Junkanoo Spirit



  1. Anticipatory Set: Show any visual stimuli about Junkanoo that is available: a poster, headdress, Web sites, pictures, books, or videos.

  2. Locate the Bahamas on the globe. Establish that the climate is warm year-round because it is not too far from the equator. Lead the students to discover that 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. Using Historical Background/General Information for Teachers (Attachment One), 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 students 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 Web sites. Ask each group to discuss the Junkanoo style in terms of color (bright), line (defined), shape (many geometric), texture, size (large scale). Tell students that 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 factions. Brainstorm different ways that students can be sorted within the classroom: boys/girls, hair color, like certain sports, foods, books, etc. Do any of these groupings create factions? What can be the positive and negative effects of factions in the classroom? How do we notice when there are factions in the classroom environment?

  7. Vocabulary: Have individuals or pairs look up and write the definitions of the following words. Students may use a variety of strategies, including the Internet or a dictionary, or analyzing semantic or structural features of the words. Discuss the terms together. Allow the students to share and compare the results of their word study.

    • 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 students to write about how cooperative groups, behaviors, or elements of their school day contribute to the common good.

  9. Distribute Junkanoo: Keeping a Community Alive (Attachment Two). Read the page together and discuss the questions. Assign a writing exercise in which students write at least one notebook page discussing the topic: "Junkanoo: Working Together for the Common Good." They should use all of the vocabulary words in the writing. They should include ideas related to the Junkanoo festival and how it will relate to their own project of making headdresses in a group.

  10. Based on the research they have done, have each student draw sketches of a headdress in the Junkanoo style. Remind students that their work will be assessed on their ability to demonstrate the line, color, size, shapes and textures of Junkanoo.Give studentsthe newsprint and pencils. Ask students to share their designs with each other.

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

    • Allow groups to form naturally. Encourage students to accept anyone who wants to join their group. Students may work alone. When you debrief at the end of the unit, these students will provide a contrast to the benefits (and difficulties) of group work.
    • Have students vote on their favorite designs. Choose the top five or six and have the students work on the designs for which they voted. They may need to choose their top two favorites and allow the teacher to work out the exact teams.

For an informal assessment, check to see that the following was accomplished: 1. Students show interest in the project. 2. Students can name at least three facts about the Bahamas. 3. Student 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, At least a notebook page, All eight vocabulary words included and used correctly 

Philanthropy Framework

  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.