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Open Access Surviving Secularization: Masking the Spirit in the Jankunu (John Canoe) Festivals of the Caribbean

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Surviving Secularization: Masking the Spirit in the Jankunu (John Canoe) Festivals of the Caribbean

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image of New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

Jankunu (Jonkonnu, Junkanoo), an Afro-Caribbean Yuletide tradition centering on masked dance, is generally characterized as a secular festival. This article presents contemporary ethnographic evidence showing that certain older variants of the tradition remain closely connected with African-derived religious concepts and practices. On the basis of this new evidence, the author argues for a reexamination and reevaluation of the historical significance of this tradition, which even today, despite its ostensible secularity, has vaguely "spiritual" associations for many in the region—including some of those who represent it as "secular." The article interprets this apparent contradiction as the result of a historical process of secularization (in response to the stigmatization of African modes of religiosity) that was only partly successful.

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