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BAHAMAS: Local Customs

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The diverse heritage of The Bahamas has left behind an equally diverse culture rich with customs that continually remind travelers of the Bahamian love for celebration and community.

Many Bahamians have an artistic side, which they express through their colourful art, infectious music or exuberant dancing. When you visit The Bahamas, take time to view the local artwork. Not surprisingly, you'll see brightly coloured art that reflects the beauty of the people and their islands. Use your international cell phone rentals to locate a museum near you.

The traditional music of The Bahamas is goombay, which combines the musical traditions from Africa with that of the European colonial influence. Goombay, the Bantu word for "rhythm," also refers to the type of goatskin drum used to produce the rolling rhythm of this type of music.

Rake and scrape bands have been playing goombay music since the time of slavery, when African slaves had few resources to create musical instruments. Typically, rake and scrape bands had a drum fashioned out of a pork barrel and goatskin, a carpenter's saw that was scraped with a metal file, maracas, rhythm sticks and a homemade bass violin (a washtub with a string through it that was tied to a three-foot stick).

Traditionally, rake and scrape music is used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the Heel and Toe Polka dances -- another example of how African and European influences have blended together.

Today's rake and scrape bands use saxophones, electric guitars or other instruments in addition to saws and goombay drums. However, they still retain the original rake and scrape style.

Use your cell phone rental to reserve a hotel near the Junkanoo parade, where you'll hear a louder, more boisterous version of goombay music. You'll also get to watch the parade participants rushin'. Not quite a dance, rushin' is more of a lively parade march consisting of two steps forward followed by one step back.

Like rushin', the Jump-In-Dance has its origins in West Africa. Dancers -- led by one person -- dance in a circle while a solo dancer performs in the centre. There is clapping, singing and sometimes drum rhythms. After a few minutes, the centre dancer chooses someone else (usually of the opposite sex) to take his or her place in the centre and the spirited dancing continues in this fashion.

Some consider Bahamian sacred music, which has been influenced by colonial domination and American culture, to be its best cultural expression. Religious hymns resemble the American slave songs brought to The Bahamas during the Loyalist period. It is also common to hear contemporary African-American gospel and European classical harmonies in places of worship. In all but the strictest churches, congregational singing is accompanied by hand clapping, rhythmic possession and spiritual dancing.

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