Cultural ComparisonsCulture

Culture Swap: Massin’, Junkanoo and Gombeys

A comparison between certain aspects of our culture in the Turks and Caicos with that of the Bahamas and Bermuda.

The culture of the Turks and Caicos Islands has always been a topic of much conversation. At WAVES Magazine, our goal is to prove that creativity and culture is not dead in the TCI. In my belief, you cannot have a culture without creativity. What makes us so special is the way our people are able to create something out of what they have and make it unique and exciting. For us in the TCI, I’ve always been aware of how similar our culture is to the Bahamas, but I realized how we are quite similar to Bermuda as well.

We Go Way Back

Circa 1788, Mary Prince was born into enslavement in the country of Bermuda. In 1806, she was sold to a slaver in Grand Turk who wanted her to work the salt ponds. She was not the first slave brought to these islands from Bermuda, and she definitely was not the last. The slave trade brought those from Africa to the West Indies, where once there, they were faced with horrendous conditions. Nonetheless, they remained creative. The result of that creativity has been carried across Bermuda, the Bahamas and here in the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

Massin’ v Junkanoo v Gombeys

David Bowen in Massin’ attire | Image via Mario Ingham (@digitalhandprint)

A 2008 article written in the Times of the Islands, went in-depth regarding the origins of Massin’ here in the TCI, with the earliest account being written on Christmas Day in 1811. Like many other countries in the region, Massin’ occurred during the one time of the year where slaves were able to go out and publicly celebrate and express themselves. The counterpart to Massin’ in the TCI, are the Gombeys in Bermuda and Junkanoo in the Bahamas (though Junkanoo has also been brought over to the TCI). 

Members of the Roots Junkanoo Team | Image via Instagram (@rootsjunkanoo)

If we were to compare Gombeys and Junkanoo to Massin’, it is clear that they have much overlap. Between Gombeys and Junkanoo, elaborate headpieces are worn, which is not necessarily the case for the traditional masqueraders in the TCI. Meanwhile, the style of the attire between the Gombeys and masqueraders is also quite similar. A common thread amongst all three however, are the bright colours worn.

Gombeys performing in Bermuda | Image via Jayde Gibbons (@queendom_heights)

Our conjoined histories even follow to more recent times, where in the 1900s, there was an immigration of numerous families from Bermuda. In particular, the Lightbourne, Stubbs, Taylor and the Bean families (going by “Been” in the TCI and “Bain” in the Bahamas) were those listed as travelling to and from Bermuda and the TCI. 

Does TCI have a specific culture of its own?

The last article written in this series showed that there are unique aspects within the language used in the TCI. What makes the culture of the TCI unique is that it is ours. Now, it may not always be visible to those who are not from these islands or haven’t lived here in quite some time, but nonetheless our culture exists. Of course, it is most evident during certain times where we choose to embrace tradition, but the culture also exists through our day-to-day experiences here in the country. 

Loren Hall

WAVES Correspondent

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