Junkanoo Carries That Weight

A whole lot of competition, noise, and crepe paper

Around 5:00 a.m. on the east end of Bay, One Family finally begins to "roll" -- to shift the boom of the bass into double-time. The dancers in the red zone wow the crowd with what Rolie Fresh calls the "split in the middle." The Ram Heads and the Spear & Shield dancers part ways as Fresh's twelve-year old daughter, Rhonda, tosses flower petals before the feet of the advancing African Queens. Close behind, the dancers in the yellow zone strike a warrior's pose, then rotate at the waist, drawing arcs from Heaven to Earth with their white feathered headdresses. At the very back, behind hundreds of fantastically costumed musicians, little girls seven and eight years old dance circles around "The Origin of Junkanoo" every time the giants who carry the massive costume stop to switch shifts. "It's over," declares a policeman from the sidewalk, not needing confirmation from the judges' tally. "One Family has it won."

A few hours later, in the heat of the sun, the Davis Shack hosts a sleepless celebration. The opulence of the costumes now piled against the wall contrasts sharply with the dilapidated buildings and mangy dogs roaming along Taylor Street. "Most of us grew up in the ghetto," says co-founder Rory Saunders. "We didn't want our involvement with the people still here to end with the parade." Junkanoo groups today carry on a tradition inherited from the mutual aid societies of West Africa at the time of the slave trade. Watching a group of neighborhood children beat drums in the dust, Episcopalian minister Father Tyrone McKenzie reflects on One Family's mission, "We have a summer camp for kids. We get involved in issues of teen pregnancy and substance abuse. And when a member dies, we give him a junkanoo funeral."


Parade is free. For information call 305-234-0803.
Begins at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 15, from the corner of Homestead Ave and SW 184th St, west to SW 104th Ave, then north in West Perrine.

For 23-year-old Leonardo Godet, who has rushed junkanoo since he was 4 years old, the prospect of a crepe-paper coffin looms all too large. In the thrill of triumph, Godet could find no one to help him take off his seven foot by seven foot costume. He slid out while leaning against the wall. Collapsed on the ground, he describes his burden: "Starting off it's light. But taking it all that distance and bouncing up and down.... It's a strain on your back and your shoulders. We have a saying, though: If you love something, let it kill you."

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