Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020
HomeOpinionOp-EdPerson of the year Arlene Nash Ferguson: The sound of fire

Person of the year Arlene Nash Ferguson: The sound of fire

“We rushing, we rushing, we rushing through the crowd.

We rushing, we rushing, we rushing through the crowd.

We standing, we standing, we standing tall and proud.

We standing, we standing, we standing tall and proud.

Ain’t nobody can take it from you.

Ain’t nobody can take it from you.

Kalick, Kalick, Kalicking Kalick…

Iron, iron, iron can’t stop us now

Iron, iron, iron can’t stop us now…

Steel, steel, steel, we strong like steel…

Ain’t nobody can take it from you.” – Tony McKay, Exuma, The Obeah Man

At the end of a bleak and dismal year, Junkanoo lifts our spirits. The spirit and joy of Junkanoo is passed from one generation to the next by those who possess its magic in their soul, like Arlene Nash Ferguson.

The delightful cadence and timbre of her voice, which makes her an extraordinary story-teller, should not be mistaken for velvet. She is a woman of iron and steel. She knows who she is as a proud Bahamian, who loves her country passionately and exuberantly.

Nash Ferguson is a master teacher, a former teacher at Government High School, and principal at St. John’s. After leaving the classroom her field of instruction expanded to a radio program about Junkanoo, which she has co-hosted since 1998.

With her husband Silbert, she runs Educulture, an experiential education platform showcasing the history and artistry of Junkanoo.

She has written a book about Junkanoo entitled “I Come to Get Me: An Inside Look at the Junkanoo Festival”. The name of the book was inspired by the young men who referred to their involvement in Junkanoo as, “I come to get me.”For these men and generations of Bahamians, Junkanoo speaks to their identity and sense of belonging.

When Nash Ferguson talks about Junkanoo, one hears the sound of the fire that heats the goatskin drums that helps to give the festival of hope its emancipatory fury. The luminescence of the fire that makes the sound of the goatskin drum sharper resonates in every fiber of Nash Ferguson who started rushing at the tender age of four.

Following the 1942 riot Junkanoo was banned. Arlene’s uncle Ivern Bosfield, along with Cyril Richardson, Rev. Prince Hepburn and others, petitioned to have the festival start up again for New Year’s 1948.

Costumes

As a child Nash Ferguson had her costumes pasted and prepared for her. During Arlene’s teen years her mother did not think it appropriate for a young lady to rush, so she attended as an honorary marshal.

But back home for the Christmas holiday from university she started to rush in a scrap group. In 1976 she started rushing formally, and in 1983 she was rushing with the Saxons. In 1993 she began rushing with One Family. She now rushes with Conquerors for Christ and has passed on her Junkanoo legacy to her children and grandchildren.

For Nash Ferguson Junkanoo highlights the struggle and transcendence of those who survived slavery and freed themselves from the colonial yolk.

For her Junkanoo is a door to the past, celebrating the African heritage of the Bahamian experience. She sees it as a pathway to healing and remembrance. It is a foundation of identity for those uprooted from their ancestral origins.

She exclaims that Junkanoo is not primarily a parade or completion. It is not solely entertainment to be monetized. Nash Ferguson insists that Junkanoo is about a triumphant people celebrating their history and culture.

Junkanoo is an essential part of the history of struggle and transcendence for slaves and freed slaves in The Bahamas, a cultural expression which helped unite various tribal groups into one people.

No other country in the world has preserved or developed Junkanoo as has The Bahamas. It is associated with no other country as much as ours, done with so much operatic brilliance.

Magic

The brilliant Trinidadian carnival artist Peter Minshall has visited The Bahamas on several occasions and enthused about the unique qualities of Bahamian Junkanoo, including the creation, design process and production of costumes, and the amount of work done by hand. He has spoken of the magic of Junkanoo.

A year ago at Christmas and New Year’s, Osbourne Chin, a professional with Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism, visited The Bahamas. He was enraptured with Junkanoo. Here are his extended remarks on his experience, a foreigner’s view which might help focus the checkered vision of some who do not fully appreciate the brilliance of Bahamian Junkanoo, a unique expression among the cultures of the world.

Chin writes: “I arrived in Nassau on Christmas Day and was instantly informed that I had to visit Junkanoo later that night… In all honesty, at first I really didn’t care too much about this Junkanoo because I have always known that the longest history of any such parade was documented in Jamaica.

“I also know that the Jamaican ‘Jonkunnu’ parade had already died. I decided to do a little bit of research and found that the entire region has always had this African Christmas tradition dating back to slavery where ‘… it was conceived as a festive opportunity afforded the slave class by the planter class, as Christmas was one of the few periods when the slaves were relieved of their duties…’

“One could simply call it ‘a ritual of rebellion, a politico-cultural movement, or an annual invocation of the luminal’.”

Chin continues: “It is often said that Junkanoo receives the most attention of all the ‘national symbols’ in The Bahamas. From my experience it seems that this historical tradition has transcended time and transformed into a powerful force, constructing the many different Bahamian identities as depicted by the diversity of their costumes…

“I am indeed impressed with the strength and tenacity of the Bahamian people – those who participated in the parade and those who came out in their droves to watch, cheer, dance and support…

Chin further observes: “Popular Bahamian visual artist, Brent Malone, in an article called “Reflections on Junkanoo”, states that Junkanoo in The Bahamas is recognized as art and a uniquely Bahamian form of cultural expression. He goes even further to state that the yearnings of slavery that gave birth to Junkanoo was at the very beginning a shout of freedom, and a celebration of life.

Freedom

“So although slavery is of the past, the Bahamians still possess that deep down spiritual need that cries out for freedom and this is expressed at Junkanoo. Their way of connecting with this past and their expression of it is what makes their version of Junkanoo so unique and special.”

Analysis aside, Chin felt the drums, the cowbells, the horns, the rush, the crowd, the pride, the cacophony of Bahamian talent and unity amidst the competition, and much more: “I was invited to the Boxing Day Parade to see how the ‘Bahamians do it’. When I got there I was quite surprised. I was impressed. I was simply blown away at the absolute awesomeness on display.

“The atmosphere, the excitement, the energy… was simply unbelievable! It was electric to say the very least. They displayed so much talent, camaraderie and strength! (After all there were some really huge costumes being carried on the shoulders of only one person.)

“The love and support for this cultural festival was unlike anything I have ever seen. I can only imagine the amount of time and energy that went into the preparation.

“There was a certain magic about the whole experience. It was almost as if I was lost in another world (though in retrospect I was). The cowbells, the whistles, the drums, the dancing, the music, the large colorful costumes… that reverberated through my soul and had my body moving all night long!”

The magic and brilliance of Junkanoo is passed from one generation to the next by beautiful souls like Arlene Nash Ferguson, who affords us hope and reminds us of the nobility of spirit and endurance resident in the hearts and imagination of so many Bahamians.

How fortunate we are to have such a fine master teacher who, to paraphrase Tony McKay, knows that nobody can take the essence of who we are from us if we stand tall and proud as Bahamians.

frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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