Jonkonnu, (pronounced John Canoe) is an African American holiday celebration whose roots can be traced back to Jamaica and to the slave ships from West Africa. Historical records mention celebrations of Jonkonnu taking place near Edenton, N.C., as early as 1824. And, except for a single 19th-century historical reference to a Jonkonnu celebration in Suffolk, VA, historians have been unable to uncover any evidence that it was ever part of the culture in North America outside of North Carolina.

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The celebration was brought back to life as part of a broad effort by the Tryon Palace staff to research the little-known history of African Americans in New Bern. A celebratory fusion of music and dancing, Jonkonnu is now offered as one of Tryon Palace’s special programs. Performances are held during the Candlelight Celebration in December, and a summer workshop is held for children interested in participating.

Jonkonnu workshops are held every Tuesday in the Waystation auditorium from 1-3 p.m. from June 21 to August 9. Call 252-639-3592 for more information. 

What can you expect during a Jonkonnu experience?

“They see a lot of different costumes – a ‘ragman’ wearing a costume made entirely of colorful rags that represent each family’s spirit, a ‘fancy man’ in formal attire who leads the singing, and many other men, women, and children in colorful costumes who sing, dance, and play drums,” says Sharon C. Bryant, Tryon Palace’s African American Outreach coordinator. “It’s a very lively celebration of African American culture and you really have to be there because it becomes even more exciting when members of the audience join in the fun.”

Are you interested in joining Jonkonnu? Download our brochure for more information or call 252-639-3592.