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The Kankurang

I remember a time growing up and being fascinated buy the different masquerades our country had to offer. Being a kid around Christmas time seeing the Kankurangs. The Zimbas, Kumpo and Mamapara were my favourites. Africa is a continent rich with culture and diversity.

The Kankurang is an initiatory rite practiced throughout the Manding provinces of Senegal and Gambia, mainly corresponding to the Casamance, and in the city of Mbour. According to tradition, the origin of the Kankurang is to be found in the Komo, a secret society of hunters whose organization and practices contributed to the emergence of the Manding.

The central character in the Kankurang, is an initiate who wears a mask made of the bark and red fibre of the faara tree and is clothed in leaves, his body painted with vegetable dyes. He is associated with circumcision ceremonies and initiatory rites. His appearance is marked by several ritual stages: the designation of the initiate who will wear the mask and his investiture by the elders, his retreat into the woods with the initiates, the vigils and processions through the hamlet of the new initiates. The whole ritual generally takes place between August and September. The Kankurang always parades surrounded by former initiates and the villagers who respectfully follow his behavior and gestures, and perform dances and songs. It displays a dance as he wields two machetes and utters piercing cries.

The Kankurang is the guarantor of order and justice as well as the exorcist of evil spirits. As such, he ensures transmission and teaching of a complex collection of know-how and practices underpinning Manding cultural identity. A ritual that has spread to other communities and groups of the area, it is the occasion for young circumcised boys to learn the rules of behavior for the ordering their community, the secrets of plants and their medicinal values, and hunting techniques. Their traditional practice is in retreat because of the rapid urbanization of most regions of Senegal and Gambia and the decreasing extent of sacred forests, which are transformed into cultivated land.


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