The new ‘king’ of Junkanoo is actually a queen

Over the course of many years, the “king of Junkanoo” crown passed between legendary Junkanoo leaders the late Winston “Gus” Cooper of The Valley Boys and Percy “Vola” Francis of the Shell Saxons Superstars.

In more recent times, other prominent male Junkanoo leaders have emerged.

But the return of the iconic cultural parades, the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw the rise of a “queen of Junkanoo” with Androsia Christina “Muffin” Fernander, who got her start with the Saxons as a girl, leading One Family to two consecutive wins.

The first was under the theme, “Battle Tested, War Ready”, in the 2022 Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade, and the second win in the 2023 New Year’s Day Junkanoo Parade under a more celebratory and playful theme, “Happy Hour”.

Both themes were impressively executed, judges and many who observed the parades concluded, with the group securing not only the overall victories, but also the coveted best music win in both parades.

The achievements were particularly timely as One Family celebrates 30 years this year since its formation when former Saxons members broke away from the group to start something new.

Arlene Nash-Ferguson, in whose home the One Family steering committee first met 30 years ago this month, recalled this is the first back-to-back Boxing Day and New Year’s Day wins for the group since the 2002-2003 parade season when Darren Bastian was chairman.

When the group was founded, the idea was that there would be no ultimate leader, but that the chairman would lead a steering committee.

Fernander is the first female chairman of One Family, and the seventh chairman since it was founded.

One Family is today a formidable Junkanoo contender, and the days of women playing only supporting roles in shacks have long passed.

When asked if she finds it difficult being the only woman chairperson in such a male-dominated arena, Fernander said she is not intimidated. 

“I grew up around a lot of boys, so I’m not intimidated at all,” she told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.

“Junkanoo is predominantly male oriented, but I got my start early, so I know the ins and outs. 

“So, I’m not at all intimidated by any of the males. I see them as my equals and I’m here to challenge them.”

However, as the only woman leader of a Junkanoo group, Fernander said there have been naysayers.

“There are some who are not receptive; there are many persons who tell One Family members, ‘Wow. You’re already letting a female lead you guys,’” she said.

“But you know, there are always males out there who believe that certain things are not for the females. But in this day and age with gender equality, there’s not much jobs or duties that are only for males or only for females. And I’ve proven this.” 

Fernander has broken through the Junkanoo glass ceiling with a type of humility that belies her force and stature as chairperson of One Family.

And while she credits teamwork for what One Family was able to pull off, her accomplishment as group chairman is not going unnoticed.

In a social media post, Prime Minister Philip Davis noted she is the first woman to lead a Junkanoo group to two consecutive victories.

“I celebrate your accomplishments and artistry, even as I know my Valley Boys will return as champs!” Davis stated.

On leading her group to two consecutive wins, Fernander said, “It’s a great feeling to be off for two years and to come back after all we’ve been through and emerge as victorious during both parades.”

The Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade was the first major parade to be held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Despite her current confidence, there was a period when Fernander almost did not return to Junkanoo.

“In 2014, Darren Turnquest was nominated for chairman and I was nominated to run alongside him as vice [chairman],” she said.

“We won the election. So, Darren Turnquest was chairman and I was his deputy. That same year, I lost my first born, my son. He was murdered that year at the age of 15.

“So, it was like that was the year that he was excited that his mom was now in a leadership role within the group, then he died that year. So, I was ready to give up.”

Fernander was in Canada at the time of her son’s murder, which, to date, has left her feeling incomplete as the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence and no witnesses.

She said that upon her return home, her family and friends had to physically pull her out of the house and take her back to the shack to take her mind off her son’s murder.

“I decided that I would come out because I knew that if he was here, he would’ve wanted me to continue,” she said.

“So, we went to Bay Street that year and we got a first-place [win].”

Fernander described that year’s win as both touching and ironic as the theme was “The Funeral”.

Having won every group election since 2016, the queen of Junkanoo said she has no plans to stop any time soon.

“Elections will be held next year March, so I will have to wait and see how that goes,” she said.

“But if the members would have me, then, sure, I would stay on.”

Nash-Ferguson, a well-known Junkanoo enthusiast, noted Fernander is the first female leader of a major Junkanoo group on New Providence.

“I am so proud of her,” said Nash-Ferguson, adding that it is difficult to put into words how she feels about One Family’s accomplishments under female leadership.

“In one way, it is overwhelming and in another way, it’s not surprising. I don’t know if there’s a contradiction there, but it is truly rewarding to see that this thing, this organization that we all sat down for weeks and weeks to plan, it is really gratifying to see where it has come and how it has encouraged and allowed young Bahamians, men and women, to reach their fullest potential.”

Nash-Ferguson recalled that when One Family started in 1993, Fernander was a youngster and many in her family rushed with the group, including her father, a lead beller.

“She was a choreograph dancer in the early years of One Family and to watch her develop and step in and take control of the structure of the group, I am truly impressed. I am very, very proud of her,” she said.

“I have listened to her being interviewed various times and she has conducted herself so very well and it’s just a testament to what you can do if you are determined. And I must say that what also impresses me is I don’t think many groups, if any others, would have chosen a female to start with, much less tolerated.”

As One Family gears up to celebrate its 30th year as a group in March, Fernander said she hopes to see more women leaders throughout Junkanoo.

“I would like to see in the future more females to step up and take leadership of more Junkanoo organizations,” she said.

And as The Bahamas gets set to celebrate its 50th year of independence, Fernander said there’s still more to be done.

“There’s still a lot of things that need to be ironed out in The Bahamas as a whole, as a country,” she said.

“But I think we are taking steps in the right direction. Culturally, as a country heading into its 50th, we need a home base museum. A lot of these pieces go to waste, after these parades.

“It’s millions of dollars that goes into the trash and we need to have a location to put these things on display and probably get sales and everything, so that we can stop letting people’s hard efforts and time go to waste and go to the trash.”

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