Johnkankus, The Forgotten Holiday Tradition Of The African American Christmas Brought Over From African During Slavery

3 Posted by - December 17, 2015 - Holidays And Birthdays

Have you heard of the strange African American holiday celebration called Johnkankus? There aren’t many places in the world where the tradition survived, but if you look hard, you just might find it. With origins along the West Coast of African, this tradition is mostly found in the Caribbean. Today the tradition includes a street parade with dance and mime-style performances.

The History of Johnkankus

Although there are no written records, Johnkankus is believed to have come from West African nations and is either named after a popular king, John Koner or a folkloric witch doctor. During the celebration, African slaves used whatever materials they could find to create masks, and created elaborate processions set against homemade drums.  Other instruments were made out of bones sticks, and whatever else they could find.

Celebrations in the United States  

Although this tradition largely remained popular in the Caribbean, there were also recorded street celebrations among American slaves. There are records of cities in North Carolina, Virginia and New Orleans that celebrated Johnkankus festivals to go along with the holiday season during the mid-1800s.  In Africa, the tradition was observed earlier in the slave trade during the mid-1700s.

 The Johnkankus Tradition

There is nothing quiet about this tradition. It is a spectacle of colors, dance, and music set against grotesque masks. Those watching the parade are often entertained and frightened at the same time. Parade participants dress in costumes and masks and dance vibrantly for communities thankful for a break from work. It was the celebration for those who could not afford traditional forms of entertainment.

A Forgotten Memory

There were very few Johnkankus celebrations after the Civil War, mostly because it had been associated with slavery. In the early 1900s, future generations would refer to the practice as Coonering – a misspelling of Koonering, a title many slaves had given it. And because the masks were always so ugly, no one wanted to be associated with koonering anymore. As white society began to adopt the practice into childhood antics, the African American tradition died out.

Reviving A Lost Tradition

The tradition of John Koner is not completely lost.  Celebrations are still held in the Bahamas. You can even read about the American slave experience in the children’s story, Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade. Through festivals like these and stories that continue to carry on, the history of the African American Christmas tradition continues for generations to come.



  • Ikalean Wilkerson December 17, 2017 - 9:31 am

    Thank you for this very informative information.

  • Nana Yaa December 24, 2017 - 3:02 am

    Love it. I’m in Ghana now and there are boys who walk around in brightly colored costumes with elobarate masks and beat drums around this time, I think a local name is Kolikoliko (sp). I have photos but don’t think I can upload into this message.

  • gamefly free trial May 3, 2019 - 2:31 am

    Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply
    placing the other person’s web site link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do same in support of you.

  • minecraft free May 13, 2019 - 3:44 am

    After I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment.
    Is there a way you are able to remove me from that
    service? Thank you!

  • May 28, 2019 - 6:34 pm

    Is this really possible?

  • EllEffemn June 4, 2019 - 2:36 pm

    Boutique Levitra En Ligne Purchase Medicine Brand Viagra Overnight Delivery Buy Valtrex Canada Online cheap generic accutane Cialis Moins Cher Paris

  • son dakika yalova haberleri June 7, 2019 - 5:32 pm

    Zune and iPod: Most people compare the Zune to the Touch, but after seeing how slim and surprisingly small and light it is, I consider it to be a rather unique hybrid that combines qualities of both the Touch and the Nano. It’s very colorful and lovely OLED screen is slightly smaller than the touch screen, but the player itself feels quite a bit smaller and lighter. It weighs about 2/3 as much, and is noticeably smaller in width and height, while being just a hair thicker.

  • EllEffemn June 12, 2019 - 10:52 am

    Real Dutasteride Low Price Medicine With Free Shipping Keflex How Long Used For Acheter Baclofen Des Medecin Prescripteur Baclofene Lyon Levitra In Farmacia Senza Ricetta

  • mpl pro fruit chop mod apk download June 12, 2019 - 11:20 pm

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your webpage? My website is in the exact same niche as yours and my users would really benefit from a lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Appreciate it!

  • ops June 16, 2019 - 2:53 am

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  • Colton Sings June 18, 2019 - 2:22 am

    This is a cool post thanks a lot.