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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

An Interesting Researched Report of the Second Kankurang Festival by Aldith Gauci

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Fara Kankurang’s crooked standing position: Photo by Aldith Gauci

A fascinating and in depth report by

Aldith Gauci (who) is a performance studies researcher interested in virtuosic bodies in world traditions and practices. She holds a MA in World Theatre from Aberystwyth University. Gauci, who was born in Malta, worked as Artistic Director for NGO Opening Doors (Malta), an arts organization for adults with learning disabilities. In Beijing (China), she created “Our Little Library,” inviting young children to explore storytelling and performative play. She is now living in The Gambia and pursuing her doctorate studies on Jola’s Kumpo performance.

Aldith's report is full and researched and the result of a personal visit and extracts are published here with her permission.

" The village of Janjanbureh was vibrant with energetic people playing music, warmly welcoming visitors and preparing for the three-day celebration. The arrival of so many tourists and Gambians from urban Banjul and other villages was indeed an event. On large grounds outside the newly established Kankurang Museum, and just up the road from the center of the village, a large crowd began to gather. As the masquerades arrived, all with their own dancers, whistles, beats and tempos, onlookers, families and supporters, the grounds became occupied by an organized chaos of simultaneous and very different masquerade performances. Once the display began, different cultural groups took center stage and one at a time presented their music, dance, song, and masquerade. Onlookers cheered wildly for their relatives, danced and sang loudly, participating in their favorite masquerade performance. Often during the program spectators broke off from the crowd to join in the dance, offer money to the masquerade, or be a closer participant in the performance. The organizers separated performers from onlookers with rope, but it was of little use in controlling audience participation. The participatory style of performing was expected and somewhat instinctual for the spectators. The audience practiced very little self-control, as did the performers, who danced blissfully without taking the schedule under much consideration. Each of these dances would have been performed for a much longer duration and were adapted, shortened, and somewhat choreographed for the festival stage. [ii] With the different virtuosic elements, the captivating music, loud cheering, larger-than-life masquerades, steadfast dancing, and the continuous begging on the microphone from the organizers for performers to keep to schedule, the festival proceeded with an ecstatic program of events."

—Essamaye and Kumpo. Photo by Aldith Gauci.

Open the link above to read about the variety of Kankurang represented Fita Kankurang, Fara Kankurang (Ifangbondi), Wuri Kankurang, Jambajabally, Maamo, Senko, Jamba Kankurang, and Dembaningnyako.

The Kumpo and Essamaye, Zimba, The Fairy and Hunting also receive detailed accounts.

—Zimba and dancers in the background. Photo by Aldith Gauci.

Aldith concludes by reporting

"The festival achieved its purpose in showcasing local culture and tradition, supporting local enterprise and tourism. It celebrated the masquerades of some of the different ethnic groups in the area. Each masquerade spoke of its different purpose and history, territory and aesthetic. It reveals the masquerade’s strong ties with its environment (1) through its occurrence in order to protect its surroundings by intervening for harvest, rain, and maneuvering the community to take care of the territory; and (2) through its physical appearance. The materials the masquerade is made of refer back to the regional areas from which the masquerade originates: branches and leaves of the mahogany tree, the bark of the camel foot tree, animal skins, mud, leaves of the rhun palm tree, even the collection of urban items used for the Fairy masquerade. Because of the lack of natural resources, the Kankurang is today often made of synthetic vegetable sacks to replace the natural fabrics used. In the Kankurang Festival, tourism, employment, urbanization, tradition, and innovation are at a crossroads and major factors in the safeguarding of masquerade tradition. However, it is the significance and occurrence of the regional natural materials that complete the masquerade, making deforestation one of the biggest threats to this performance practice."

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