About the Celebration: The tradition dates back hundreds of years and was widely indulged by slaves as part of their principal holiday celebration. John Canoe was at its peak in the 18th century but was suppressed by authorities who wanted to dismiss the possibility of slave uprisings.
After emancipation, John Canoe suffered further decline due to non-conformist missionaries who attempted to stamp out pagan amusements and rituals. The John Canoe riots of 1841 resulted from the Mayor of Kingston’s banning of the John Canoe Parade.
Over the years, John Canoe has significantly died out, except for performances at some organized social events. The John Canoe masquerade involves players wearing masks and costumes, and recognition by the public of the characters they represent.
The common characters include the King, the Queen, the man with the house on his head (Ku-Ku), the devil, Belly Woman, the policeman, Cow Head, Head, Warriors, and Dancing Ladies. John Canoe costumes are brightly colored and decked with ribbons, with head-dresses of wire and colored paper. The King and Queen wear costumes of shiny materials and crowns of cardboard covered with silver paper.
The John Canoe tradition is kept alive today mainly through government-sponsored events such as the Jamaica festival.
• Lead Person: Vincent Kwame Boakye