Merry Christmas Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners!
For the twentieth year in a row, we played some of the greatest and occasionally rarest Christmas ska, mento, rocksteady, and reggae for you to put you in the holiday mood. We also kept our long-standing tradition of sharing with you all some of the holiday traditions of Jamaica.
There are many Christmas traditions that celebrate the holiday in Jamaica. We’ve talked about the treats at the Christmas market in the past. We’ve also extensively discussed the outrageously delicious treats served at Christmas time, including the Christmas fruit cake and sorrel. And this year, we’re going to focus on a Christmas time tradition that has seen a little less prominence recently but has a rich history that deserves some attention: Jonkonnu!
With its origins from Africa, the Jonkonnu has transformed over the centuries that it has been performed. It is mentioned in Jamaican history accounts as early as the 18th century, and it also has variations on the performance and characters in its different versions in the Caribbean and in various diasporas from the Caribbean. The modern day format seen in the major cities in Jamaica blends the original African tradition with English theater and music, but the original tradition still has remnants in Nassau and St. Elizabeth. At a high level, the Jonkonnu performances involve a group of ornately masked and costumed dancers who dance and play music.
Originally, the key instrument of the Jonkonnu was a box drum known as the gumbay, and the ceremony has a ritual and spiritual purpose. However, the modern day incarnation of the dance is usually performed with a fife and drums and additional percussion instruments such as rattles, bottles, and graters, and it is more of a secular tradition to be performed during the Christmas season. There are many characters in Jonkonnu, and we’ll learn more about them throughout the show
- King & Queen – The King and Queen symbolize two forces that had in power in Jamaica: the English royalty and the English aristocracy.
- Devil – The Devil is an original character who dances and pokes at the crowd with a pitchfork.
- Pitchy-Patchy – Specific to Jamaican Jonkonnu, Pitchy Patchy is the crowd control character whose costume is made of many colorful strips of fabric. He is masked, and he often uses a whip to make sure that the crowd does not get too rowdy.
- Belly Woman – The Belly Woman is a pregnant woman who dances and shows off her curves to the crowds.
- Cow Head – The embodiment of the rolling calf duppy that is said to haunt Jamaica.
- Policeman – The Policeman originates from the days when the Jonkonnu performances were prohibited. Originally, it is believed that a policeman would arrive to a performance, but he would get lured into the music and join the dance. Consequently, the policeman over time became a fixed character in the Jonkonnu.
- Horse Head – The Horse Head teases the audience with a lance. The origins of when he appeared is uncertain, but given the allusions to jousting, we could guess that Horse Head is a newer character to the Jonkonnu cast who was added as the performance took on some European influence.
- The Wild Indian can be male or female, and the character is responsible for providing a specific rhythm and dance. They stomp in an arched posture, have a cane and bow & arrow, and are often clad with pieces of mirror and a silver heart on a necklace.
- House Head – House Head is one of the original characters of Jonkonnu and is consistent in most versions of the performance. House Head tends to be the leader of the group of dancers.https://www.mixcloud.com/bovineska/generoso-and-lilys-bovine-ska-and-rocksteady-our-20th-jamaican-christmas-fantastical-12-11-2016/