John Canoe’s origins remains a mystery, however one thing is certain, Bahamians perfected it. These Islands turned John Canoe into high culture and rebranded Junkanoo into an art form.
Junkanoo, whatever it once was, is unquestionably ancient. The rhythm hits you in the chest. It’s hypnotic. Your heart beats faster. Each beat becomes ten thousand years. It’s the drums you see. That ancient sound. It’s the sound of evolution, civilisation, all mankind.
In 1950, we still called the merrymaking by its ancient name John Canoe. The spelling was officially changed, before 1957, as it became a tourist draw, during the winter hotel season.
“Song of the John Canoes” by Dorothy Kernochan 1950
The cowbells clang and the whistles blow
And the dark crowd surges to and fro;
For the old year now is dead and gone
And firecrackers greet the dawn.
The sun is opening red-rimmed eyes,
And he gazes down in mild surprise
At the headdress of the John Canoes
So gay with reds and greens and blues.
A fire dancer draws the crowd,
And the watchers clap and laugh aloud;
For the years may pass and culture come
But the jungle-beat is in the drum.
And hands that once their message sent
Through the throbbing beats from tent to tent,
Now pound their rhythmic wild tattoos
For the dancing of the John Canoes.
But now the time is getting late;
Cathedral bells are striking eight;
Police come marching up the street
And the crowd roars off on dancing feet.—
Back to their homes across the hill;
And Bay Street once again is still
Nothing left of the jungle-mutter
But firecrackers in the gutter.
Who was Dorothy Kernochan?
Dorothy Kernochan was an American, who came to The Bahamas, probably in the high hey day of the Westward Villas era, as an exclusive subdivision of second homes, for Americans. She travelled between her homes in Nassau and America. Dorothy seemed to fly by private charter, landing at Oakes Airport, when the airport used to be where Oakesfield is today.
Dorothy Kernochan had a brother who was an airplane pilot named Clifford Louis Kernochan. She flew with him in and out of Nassau.
Lawsuit to stop Texaco building a gas station in Westward Villas 1969
In 1969, Dorothy Kernochan and other residents of Westward Villas in Nassau, successfully stopped Texaco from building a gas station on six lots in Westward Villas. The case went all the way to the Privy Council in 1971 and wasn’t finally adjudicated until 1973.
Dorothy Kernochan died 21 December 1976 in Los Angeles.
Kernochan, a unique name.
Kernochan is such a unique name. In The Bahamas, there is only one other Kernochan, that comes up. His name was Leonard Kernochan Davis, a black man, from Kool Acres. He died on 12 February 2018 at age 63. This means he was born in 1955, around the same time as Dorothy Kernochan and her brother Clifford Kernochan lived in The Bahamas.