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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

The Kankurang Festival in Janjanbureh (The Gambia) – The Landscape of the Year as a Catalyst

Updated: Aug 27, 2021


Already for the second time Naturefriends participated in the Kankurang Festival in Janjanbureh (Gambia), on the occasion of a group trip of Naturefriends Baden (Germany) to the Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia. This time the Festival lasted three days, from Friday 18 to Sunday 20 January 2019. The highlight was, on Saturday evening, the presentations of 15 groups – “real” Kankurangs and other masquerades like Zimba, Fairy, Kumpo, Hunting Devil and others. The supporting programme included guided tours in and around Janjanbureh, as well as craft and cooking workshops.

The Kankurang tradition

In the Mandinka tradition (Senegal and The Gambia) a Kankurang is a figure costumed from head to toe, whose identity is not recognizable and who has to provide for the protection of the initiates during initiation and circumcision rites, but also for order and security in the community in general. He (there are only a few female Kankurangs) embodies the spiritual and moral values of the traditional Mandinka society and is surrounded by many secrets. On the occasion of its inclusion in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2005, it was emphasized that the Kankurang „is a factor contributing to social cohesion, and to the transmission and teaching of a complex collection of knowhow and practices underpinning Manding cultural identity which is guarded by the initiates“.

The Kankurang Festival So much for the traditional ritual background of the masquerade. Current Kankurang masquerades appear in a different setting, they are „performances“, „shows“, which in the eyes of many have contributed to the banalisation of tradition. Through the commercialisation and touristic „use“ of the Kankurang tradition, which thus becomes common property, the originally ritual processions lose their aura. Thus, the Kankurang Festival is also to be seen as a performance, as a „show” and is a tourist attraction for Janjanbureh and Gambia’s Central River District. It dates back to 1983 and was held regularly until 2008. After a ten-year break, it was reactivated in January 2018 on the occasion of the kick-off event of the Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia and is now included in The Gambia’s national cultural calendar as an annual event in the second half of January. The Landscape of the Year can, therefore, be considered as a catalyst for the preservation of traditional cultural assets in a new context.

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