The Kankurang Tradition

 From Mboka Festival information

"Janjanbureh is well known to be the birthplace of the Kankurang masquerade in the Gambia. The Kankurang masquerade tradition forms an integral part of Madinka initiatory rites and rituals. The term Kankurang is a combination of the Mandinka words “kango” and “Kurango” which literally translate as “voice” and “enforce”, respectively. These terms could be said to refer to the empowerment of the voice in order to enforce the rules set by members of Mandinka society. In essence, the Kankurang is a central figure in a complex ritual system which comprises traditional practices linked to the initiation of young people and the protection of society and the environment."

 

 
 

ByMuhammad L Saidykhan


"Every year the island settlement held their cultural festival in a form of three months initiation rites, where over 100 kids (boys and girls) are circumcised and kept at a hideout for months. The first cultural festival I witnessed was in 1998 when I was barely 7yrs old, however it is important to note that the island’s cultural festival was first held in 1946, from then it is hold every 5 years.
As part of efforts meant for the promotion, development and preservation of this somewhat rich and cherished, but fading traditional cultural practice, during my visit to Janjanbureh in October 2013 i caught up with the late Honorable Foday Manka, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Janjanbureh. Honorable Manka is, by all measures, a compendium for our traditional cultural norms and values.
The honorable National Assembly member observed that in traditional Gambian society, the community is given more prominence than the individual interest, and that it is obligatory for the individual to respect and participate in almost all activities of the community, failure of which is normally punishable with exclusion, which may have series of severe and untold consequences on the individual and his immediate associates in the community.
Thus the individual is forced to conform to the norms and values of the community. Circumcision is seen as a must for everyone, irrespective of sex, before being qualified for entry into adulthood.
The word “Solima” in traditional Mandinka cultural terms is applicable to someone who has not experienced the world of circumcision. Circumcision ceremonies in Janjanbureh was usually determined by good harvest and the number of people available to undergo the ritual initiation, followed by consensus and mutual agreement from community members to stage the event, Mr. Manka explained.
He revealed that the 1946/47 traditional circumcision rite was the largest and famous one ever held in Janjanbureh, which he said attracted more than 100 initiates, between the ages of 13 to 19, drawn from Janjanbureh and its Stateline villages. He delved on the circumstances that usually surrounded organization of the ritual circumcision, especially the night before the circumcision day, which is characterized by high profile parties, reassembling of the initiates in the home of their “Karambas” among other activities, throughout the period of the event.
The Janjanbureh National Assembly Member (NAM) spoke at length on circumcision from traditional cultural perspective, touching on different traditional cultural words such as Jujuwo, Nyansinbondoo, Kintagolu,Kangurang, Tamba Dokoo,
One significant and interesting feature in the entire period is the ‘’Kankurang” (masquerade) According to a definition given by Honorable Late Foday Manka, in his book on traditional cultural norms and values, the word Kankurang means a mask worn by individuals during ritual ceremonies. This mask is said to conceal the wearer’s identity, and that the hidden identity establishes that no ordinary man has the right to judge others. Therefore, the mask disguising the human form is believed to have the authority to act in the name and place of spirits. The non-human form of the masquerade has become the most important traditional cultural practice retained by the community.
During the festive period initiates are taking out every day for schooling where elders taught them the norms, values, and beliefs in society to a sacred place called ‘’Tinyansita’’. This is a place at the eastern side of the town, “ Tinyan means Rest Sita means a Baobab Tree’’.

The Kankurang is the main character throughout the entire period, it will usually come out at nights, rarely at day time but when the initiates began complaining about super natural powers (witches and wizards) attacking them because it is believed that the initiates are normally attacked by the peoples, so the Kankurang will be the protector .
Throughout the period the initiates would not take bath, neither would they see their mom’s because women are forbidden to set eye on male initiates. It is an intense period through adulthood for them. During the times, traditional songs would be learned and values would be taught.
After months in the hideout, the big day is set for the grand party, but before that the initiates would first be taking to a place called ‘’Birikiba’’ meaning a Big bricks, where they will be giving a bath, their cloths been washed and rest for a while before been escorted to the hideout. On this day celebrants from all walks of life will gather and usher the brave boys and girls from Birikiba to the hideout.  Drums and Kankurangs made this day special, the initiates are first taken to the chief residence for his blessing, this is done with less than two weeks before the big ceremony.
On the last day of the three months in hideout, the initiates would be taken to Birikiba for the final washing, at Birikima, traditional songs would be sung and good bye songs would be heard from them. After they are cleaned, a message would be sent to the elders to lead the women, drums and Kankurangs to go welcome the newly ordained adults to the society
After the welcoming gestures, the initiates would be taken to Tinyansita for the final rites. Whilst the rituals are on, women would all converge at one spot commonly the eldest woman's home for cooking and other things, whilst men would be busy decorating the ground for the evening’s show. Middle men in their part would all be busy masking their various Kankurangs.
At around 2 pm after lunches are served, the ground is set for the big day, onlookers, natives and guests would all made their way to Tinyansita for the cultural festival to see their sons and daughters for the first time after three months."

Click here to read about other masquerades throughout the country, including further details about the Kankurang from 'The Little Baobab' by, the sadly, late Simon Fenton.

 

West African Masquerades: the Kankurang, Simba and the Koumpo

 

"The kankurang is common amongst the Mandinka tribes, the largest ethnic group in the Gambia and very common in Abene and northern Casamance. It originated from the komo, a secret society of hunters whose organisation and traditions contributed to the emergence of the Manding. I have described  the Kankurang as a bloke dressed like Chewbacca – it wears the bark and red fibre of the faara tree. We have one of these and Khady hacked off a bit of bark to demonstrate it to me – this is now tied to Kermit’s rear view mirror. Who needs furry dice?

It’s main purpose appears to be associated with circumcision ceremonies. Most boys are circumcised by the time they are 15 and it is believed they are highly susceptible to evil spirits and witches during this time, so the kankurang protects them. One of the initiates will be given the mask by the elders and then retreat to the forest with other initiates. The kankurang will then undertake vigils and processions throughout the village. All of this generally occurs around August-September. The kankurang parades around surrounded by former initiates and other villagers who follow his behaviour and perform songs and dances, all whilst it wields two machetes and cries out in a high pitch squeal. If, despite his efforts, a cut child falls ill, a stronger kankurang – the Fambondi, is called via an offering of seven peppers, seven stones and seven kola nuts.

During the day, the kankurang is simply a man dressed up, teasing children with his machetes. This has  lead to attacks on people locally  in recent years – something the authorities appear afraid to address. During the night he thought to have real powers and can fly to the top of trees, duplicate himself and make himself invisible as he attacks the witches and evil spirits. Some kankurangs are thought to make a woman barren if viewed by her. Perhaps this is the thing – if it’s truly believed that he’s providing this protection and has these powers, how can they confront him about any misdemeanours?

The kankourang ensures order and justice as well as the exorcism of evil spirits. He’s there to ensure that complex knowledge and practices underpinning Manding identity are taught. The male initiates must learn about the medicinal value of plants, hunting techniques and so on although the practice is decreasing with urbanisation and cultivation of sacred forests.  At this point the ritual becomes more about entertainment and is trivialised."

Again by Muhammed L Saidykhan

 

 

 

Recount on Janjanbureh Cultural Festival as we brace for January 16th(2018 Kankurang Festival

Janjanbureh is a town, founded in 1832, on Janjanbureh Island in the Gambia River in central Gambia. It was formerly known as Georgetown and was the second largest in the country. It is now the capital of the Central River Region and is best known as home to Gambia’s main prison. It is also noted for being the site of the first Methodist church in the sub-Saharan Africa and the first high school.

The island is known locally as McCarthy Island, and is located in what used to be called McCarthy Island Division. The island is accessed by bridge from the south bank, and small boat ferries or government ferry on the north bank. In 1995, both the city of Georgetown and McCarthy Island were renamed Janjanbureh respectively. Janjanbureh is also the name of the district in which the town of Janjanbureh is located.

Every year the island settlement held there cultural festival in a form of three months initiation rites, where over 100 kids (boys and girls) are circumcised and kept at a hideout for months. The first cultural festival I witnessed was in 1998 when I was barely 7yrs old, however it is important to note that the island’s cultural festival was first held in 1946, from then it is hold every 5 years.

As part of efforts meant for the promotion, development and preservation of this somewhat rich and cherished, but fading traditional cultural practice, during my visit to Janjanbureh in October 2013 i caught up with the late Honorable Foday Manka, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Janjanbureh. Honorable Manka is, by all measures, a compendium for our traditional cultural norms and values.

The honorable National Assembly member observed that in traditional Gambian society, the community is given more prominence than the individual interest, and that it is obligatory for the individual to respect and participate in almost all activities of the community, failure of which is normally punishable with exclusion, which may have series of severe and untold consequences on the individual and his immediate associates in the community.

Thus the individual is forced to conform to the norms and values of the community. Circumcision is seen as a must for everyone, irrespective of sex, before being qualified for entry into adulthood.

The word “Solima” in traditional Mandinka cultural terms is applicable to someone who has not experienced the world of circumcision. Circumcision ceremonies in Janjanbureh was usually determined by good harvest and the number of people available to undergo the ritual initiation, followed by consensus and mutual agreement from community members to stage the event, Mr. Manka explained.

He revealed that the 1946/47 traditional circumcision rite was the largest and famous one ever held in Janjanbureh, which he said attracted more than 100 initiates, between the ages of 13 to 19, drawn from Janjanbureh and its Stateline villages. He delved on the circumstances that usually surrounded organization of the ritual circumcision, especially the night before the circumcision day, which is characterized by high profile parties, reassembling of the initiates in the home of their “Karambas” among other activities, throughout the period of the event.

The Janjanbureh National Assembly Member (NAM) spoke at length on circumcision from traditional cultural perspective, touching on different traditional cultural words such as Jujuwo, Nyansinbondoo, Kintagolu,Kangurang, Tamba Dokoo,

One significant and interesting feature in the entire period is the ‘’Kankurang” (masquerade) According to a definition given by Honorable

Late Foday Manka, in his book on traditional cultural norms and values, the word Kankurang means a mask worn by individuals during ritual ceremonies. This mask is said to conceal the wearer’s identity, and that the hidden identity establishes that no ordinary man has the right to judge others. Therefore, the mask disguising the human form is believed to have the authority to act in the name and place of spirits. The non-human form of the masquerade has become the most important traditional cultural practice retained by the community.

During the festive period initiates are taking out every day for schooling were elders taught them the norms, values, and believes in society to a sacred place called ‘’Tinyansita’’ this is a place at the eastern side of the town, “ Tinyan means Rest Sita means a Baobab Tree’’. The Kankurang is the main character throughout the entire period, it will usually come out at nights, rarely at day time but when the initiates began complaining about super natural powers (witches and wizards) attacking them because it is believe that the initiates are normally attacked by the peoples, so the Kankurang will be the protector .

Throughout the period the initiates would not take bath, neither would they see their mom’s because women are forbidden to set eye on male initiates. It is an intense period through adulthood for them. During the times, traditional songs would be learned and values would be taught.

After months in the hideout, the big day is set for the grand party, but before that the initiates would first be taking to a place called ‘’Birikiba’’ meaning a Big bricks, where they will be giving a bath, their cloths been washed and rest for a while before been escorted to the hideout. On this day celebrants from all walks of life will gather and ushered the brave boys and girls from Birikiba to the hideout, drums and Kankurangs made this day special, the initiates are first taking to the chief residence for his blessing, this is done with less than two weeks before the big ceremony.

On the last day of the three months in hideout, the initiates would be taking to Birikiba for the final washing, at Birikima, traditional songs would be sang and good bye songs would be heard from them, after they are cleaned, a message would be sent to the elders to led the women, Drums and Kankurangs to go welcome the newly ordained adults to the society

After the welcoming gestures, the initiates would be taking to Tinyansita for the final rites, whiles the rituals are on, women would all converge at one spot commonly the eldest woman home for cooking and other things, whiles men would be busy decorating the ground for the evening’s show. Middle men in their part would all be busy masking their various Kankurangs.

At around 2 pm after lunches are served, the ground is set for the big day, onlookers, natives and guests would all made their way to Tinyansita for the cultural festival to see their sons and daughters for the first time after three months.

WHEN IS THE NEXT ONE?

By Muhammad L Saidykhan

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