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Jonkonnu Returns -- Rebirth of a Historic Holiday

(c) Bellamy Mansion Museum
Wilmington's resurrected Jonkonnu celebration took place at the Bellamy Mansion's slave quarters.

By Peter Biello

Wilmington, NC – Jonkonnu, an African-American holiday celebration unique to Southeastern North Carolina, returned to Wilmington this year for the first time in more than a century.

The holiday was celebrated in Wilmington's black community as far as 1820. The festival has roots in West African and Caribbean traditions and was usually observed on one day between Christmas and New Year's.

But Jonkonnu disappeared from the city shortly after the 1898 race riots, when the city council banned the use of face paint and masks.

This year, actors from New Bern resurrected the tradition, celebrating Jonkonnu in the slave quarters of Wilmington's Bellamy Mansion Museum. The museum's Madeleine Flagler coordinated the event.

"It's really something that is historically celebratory, and for them to be able to very openly and joyfully participate in that was really a very interesting aspect of this."

According to Flagler, Bellamy Mansion makes a good venue for the re-introduction of Jonkonnu.

We have one of the few in tact slave quarters, urban slave quarters from that time period. Never had electricity and running water. And we're using that as a vehicle to interpret African American history.

Flagler says the Bellamy Mansion Museum received a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to fund this Jonkonnu celebration.