Jonkonnu is back
Saturday, February 25. The temperature was sweltering. Yet, there were many masqueraders, most of whom were covered from head to toe in Jonkunnu costumes marching from the plazas along Constant Spring Road in St Andrew to Nelson Mandela Park in Half-Way Tree where a party of sorts lingered and then fizzled. It was Jonkonnu Saturday.
The event was one of several slated to be manifested this year by the Institute of Creative Training and Development, in association with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) and the CHASE Fund, to revive the dying art of Jonkunnu masquerading, which has its roots embedded in slavery-day plantations. It was a respite from the drudgery of enslavement, and a form of passive resistance.
At the launch of the Jonkonnu road march and party at the Louise Bennett-Coverley Garden Theatre on Tuesday, December 20, it was revealed that a year-long revival programme would consist of training of existing Jonkonnu bands, the formation of new ones, two road marches – one to Mandela Park, Half-Way Tree, and the other to Emancipation Park, New Kingston – a music and dance competition, an awards ceremony, and a symposium in May. The year climaxes on December 21 with a grand Jonkunnu road march and party from downtown Kingston to Emancipation Park.
On Saturday, December 24, 2022, The Gleaner reported that “Educator and entrepreneur, Kenny Salmon, the chairman of the major organising group, the Institute of Creative Training and Development, told The Gleaner that he also wanted Jonkonnu to get into both schools and hotels”. But, until then, about 80 masqueraders took to the streets, dancing to the music of fifes, drums and graters on February 25 in the first of the two road marches.
Various characters, including Pitchy Patchy, Horse Head, Belly Woman and The Devil, were depicted in the march that lasted for about an hour. As much as the masqueraders tried to engage onlookers, not many of them opted to join the revellery, choosing instead to watch from the periphery. The stage performance by the players during the party at Mandela Park was quite a treat. And, like in years gone by, there was a little girl, with terror stamped all over her face, dashing all over the place, screaming, as a player approached her family.
In assessing this, the first road march, Yasmin Salmon Russell, co-director of the Institute of Creative Training and Development, and public relations and marketing director of the Jonkonnu Road March and Party, said, “Jonkonnu road march, competition and party have totally evolved into something bigger and more inclusive than was originally envisioned.”
“The institute, in October 2022, made an effort to stage a Jonkonnu road march, competition and party, as a part of the Jamaica 60 Celebration. The competition was to be held in December, which is the real Jonkonnu time. We knew it was late to secure sponsorship but we gave it a wild shot. The entities approached were very excited about ‘bringing back Jonkonnu’, but were unable to commit within the short time given …. We went back to the drawing board and the event evolved into a yearlong activity, culminating with the major activity in December 2023,” Salmon Russell further explained, “This was basically a teaser.”
“You don’t think the participation from the general public was too low-keyed?” was a question which The Gleaner asked regarding the lukewarm response to the widespread publicity that the event got.
“While we cannot say there was a massive turnout, we are happy that we not only engaged shoppers who happened to be in the plazas and in Half-Way Tree, but persons actually came out with their children on the route to see and take photographs. Our biggest win was to see the children interacting with the players and not running away from them, and the look of nostalgia on the faces of the older onlookers. We were aware of the major activities such as Gibson Relays taking place at that time also. So we are not at all disappointed with our engagement on that day,” Salmon Russell replied.
So, who were the winners? She said, “The competition will be held in December, but the winners on February 25 were CHASE Fund, JCDC and all the players who came out from south St Andrew, St Mary and Portland to work together as a group to test the waters for the year-long event, and to make true the statement that Jonkonnu is back!”