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Making of a Junkanooer

Nassau & Paradise Island

It had always been on my bucket list to one day rush (this is when we hit the streets and parade around in our costumes), not sure how I was going to or who would make my costume - but I figured I'd worry about that when the time came, if it ever did. Well, the time came and I was nowhere prepared or close to Junkanoo ready. Luckily for me everyone involved in Junkanoo are informative and helpful, it’s the Bahamian way.

I got in contact with Stephen “Eggy Boom” Bain of the Paradise Games Valley Boys, explained to him what I needed. Right away he agreed to help me - well actually show me how to do it with just a little input from me. I honestly had no idea how he was going to create a fabulous costume for me to rush in the Junkanoo Summer Festival in three weeks, but I was excited to find out. To be completely honest, this task scared me just as much as it excited me. I’m not a visually creative person, in fact, drawing a straight line gives me anxiety and now I’m expected to create a costume?! Goodness, gracious.

As mentioned before, people preparing for Junkanoo, work for countless hours in dilapidated buildings (affectionately called Junkanoo shacks), and this one was no different. I pass this building every day and had no idea it was used as a shack. Imagine an abandoned government building that everyone forgot about, well, except for a few people who use the lot for parking.

Yes, that was one of the shacks I was invited to. The outside looked as expected—abandoned, with bottles and cardboard strewn about - but inside told a different story. I made my way in through the entrance on the side of the building and was met with an almost magical site - bright colours, glitter, and larger than life characters. Costumes from past parades, seats and work tables transformed the space from a rundown building to a vibrant cultural workshop. There was a hole in the roof left behind by Hurricane Matthew. Now it served as ventilation, as you can imagine there is no electricity in the building. It looked as if persons spent hours, days and months getting their costumes to perfection. Inside smelled of hard work and musk, and after a conversation with Eggy Boom that is exactly what went down in that Valley Boys shack.

Like a gracious host, Eggy Boom brought everything we needed to build a basic costume and laid them out on the table. These items included: Wire – which he described as being the bone of the costume, Elmer’s Glue – an adhesive to hold it all together, Shearers – to cut the cardboard, Cardboard – because what did you think costumes were built of, a razor blade, a sharpie – to create the markings, a clipper – to cut the wire and a staple gun – for times when you just want to fit the costume. While not officially needed for the costume, in the Valley Boy way, a thin piece of wood is also needed (they call it a one by - don't ask), and gave the costumes the crease.

First, he visualized the masterpiece and then sketched the costume in detail from my headpiece to skirt, the lines on the drawing indicating the crease that would eventually be made by the thin piece of wood. He then moved into the actual building process, which consists of him cutting the cardboard precisely for each piece and entering the wire to maintain the structure. 

This is when I truly understood that no piece of cardboard would be wasted as every part could be used for something fantastic on a Junkanoo costume. To say I completely understood what was going on would be me totally misleading you as I have never seen art come together so quickly. Eggy Boom drew, cut, creased and pasted at an astounding speed, explaining as he went along. It was easy to see that he was a master of his craft, as he swiftly stapled without questioning his spacing technique, his hands glided over the product as if he could do this with his eyes closed, truly a sight to see. Behind every piece, was a meaningful method that represented quality handicraft. In a matter of minutes and a few staples my headpiece was created, followed swiftly by my skirt and tail. 

Then came the easy part or so I thought, pasting. You know when you looked forward to coloring in primary school and eventually pasting? Maybe this was solely a favorite of mine but pasting for Junkanoo is an entirely different art. The only thing pasting in kindergarten prepared me for was remaining in the lines. As pasting with Eggy Boom was another lesson. Pasting for Junkanoo is about accuracy with no room for error. Spacing is also vital to having the best costume on Bay. It’s important to paste within 1/8 of everything. Something else that made no sense to me as it involved numbers. Yet watching him add the paste to the fringed crepe paper and gently adding it to the costume without any doubt, made me want to know so much more than what he was saying until I had to do it. It was then I realized I felt more comfortable watching him work. Pasting is a process that could take the average Junkanooer several weeks and someone like me more than a year. So instead of waiting for me to complete it, Eggy Boom sent me away with homework. Which meant preparing to “streak” (not what you’re thinking) however, I soon learned it simply meant adding the final touches.

While streaking is indeed important, I first needed to learn how to successfully get through a half of dance routine for my debut at Junkanoo Summer Festival. This is where it gets funny, stay tuned and thanks for reading!