Kankurang is a tradition of the Mandinka ethnic group in West Africa, especially in Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Conakry. The Kankurang is a character played by a person who disguises himself. The person who interprets the Kankurang is completely masked with barks and / or tree leaves.
The history of Kankurang is linked to the Mandinka origin and tradition.
In Komo, in the ancient Mali Empire, the origin of the Mandinka is established. They were a secret society of hunters with their own organization and tradition.
The Kankurang can be dressed only with the red fiber of the Faara tree and is known as Kankurang Faara. You can also use the red fiber along with the mahogany tree leaves, called Kankurang Jamba.
The red fiber is obtained from the Camel Foot Tree because the leaves of that tree resemble the footprint of a camel.
The bark is removed and the red fiber is extracted for use in the dress of the Kankurang.
This character is characteristic in most of the ceremonies of the Mandinka ethnic group in the Gambia and other West African countries.
In the Mandinga tradition, during the circumcision ceremony the Kankurang is a protector.
Protect children who are going to be circumcised from evil spirits and witchcraft.
Currently, most children are circumcised between 10-15 years. In the past, the ceremony took place around the age of 15.
Within the tradition, it is believed that at these ages young people are highly susceptible to spirits and need protection from the Kankurang.
An initiate will receive the mask of the elders and then retire to the forest with the other initiates.
The Kankurang is there to ensure that the knowledge and complex practices that support the identity of the Mandinka tradition are taught.
Male initiates must learn about the medicinal value of plants, hunting techniques, etc.
A ritual of initiation to maturity.
Then, the Kankurang returns to the village where he will carry out rounds throughout the town and will remain in vigil.
They sing and dance around him. He carries two machetes that he uses to collide with each other, while emitting high-pitched cries.
Kankurang, West African tradition
The kankurang guarantees order and justice, as well as the protection of people from evil spirits. At present, the practice of the initiation ritual is diminishing due to the increase of urbanization and the decrease of sacred forests in the territory.
Therefore, the ritual becomes more entertainment, since most values, customs and traditional are no longer as relevant as before.
Currently, the Kankurang appear at parties as an animation of traditional Mandinka sign. For example, in festivals, national celebrations or anniversaries. And even, it is quite common to find some Kankurang on the street in urban areas (Banjul or Serrekunda) raising money for some association, to organize a party in the neighborhood …
KANKURANG, World Heritage Site by UNESCO
UNESCO has declared the Kankurang as a World Heritage Site.
It is considered a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity since November 2005
This declaration prompted a joint project proposal between Gambia and Senegal to preserve this Mandinka tradition.
Recently, in The Gambia, there is a Kankurang Festival in Janjanbureh.
Janjanbureh is the capital of the center of the fluvial region of Gambia, that before was known like Geogetown. This Festival starts to promote tradition and cultural values.
During the festival there are different kankurang costumes. Garments of all kinds dancing to the cultural rhythm of the Mandinka ethnic group.
The main objective of the festival is to show the unique cultural expression of Kankurang and other West African cultural traditions.
Traditions such as the Zimba, Kumpo, Mamapara and others, which we will talk about in another post …
The island of Janjanbureh has gained visibility and attracts more and more visitors who want to know and experience a unique cultural heritage.
Last weekend (January 19 and 20) the Kankurang Festival was held.
Welcome to The Gambia to experience the next Festival in 2020!
* Special thanks to Bubacarr Dibba for the photographic material, since most of the images are provided by the State Tourist Information Center called About Gambia.