[Ads-l] Etymology of Jonkanu / "John Canoe"

Z Rice zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 24 19:38:54 UTC 2020

The Native Black American holiday street processional tradition of Jonkanu
/ "John Canoe" is documented from Virginia, southward.

I've heard several strange origin theories for it, with the most popular
origin myth being 'a Jamaican celebration of an enslaver named "John
Canoe"' being cited as its putative point of origin. However, it seems
absurd to imagine that enslaved people would celebrate - even dance for -
an African enslaver; moreover, the theory seems to be based purely on
phonetic affinity as opposed to anything factual or logical.

Also, the Jonkanu / "John Canoe" tradition is found in several countries,
including The Bahamas, and among the Garifuna (who reside in Nicaragua,
Belize, and Honduras) - the latter of whom refer to it as Yancanu. The fact
that it is found among so many formerly enslaved populations strongly
suggests an African point of origin for the word and tradition.

Etymology for the Native Black American, Bahamian, Garifuna, and Jamaican
word / tradition is as follows:

(Native Black American)  Jonkanu / "John Canoe"
1) to promenade, wander the streets/roads, stroll about

1) a processional street celebration in which participants roam the streets
and roads while playing music, dancing and singing - most notably at
2) a participant in such a procession


Kikongo zuŋgana 'to wander around, walk without a destination, wander about
in many directions, go here and there, travel around'

Kikongo zuŋguna 'to promenade, go for a walk or stroll'

Kikongo luzungunu 'procession, promenade, tour' (from lu- 'Kikongo Class 11
prefix marker' + Kikongo zunga 'to walk around' + -an- 'a Kikongo
reciprocal infix' (via vowel harmony)

Zola Sohna

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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