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Fanals in Gambia
Culture & Traditions    Religious Festivals    Christmas 
Gambia's Fanals at Christmas Time:
Fanals are 2/10ths elaborate boat constructs made of bamboo with white paper hung over it and decorated with internally with candles or electric lights. It is then either set on wheels or carried by people who parade it in the streets accompanied by music, joyous celebrations and groups of followers behind. Peoples houses are visited by group who expect donations which are used later for a huge party. They are held mainly in the Kombo area usually at Christmas time but can also be held on some other significant holiday. The Fanal parade (aka Lantern Festival of Senegambia).

In the 1400s Portuguese navigators came to explore West Africa and over time some settled down in St. Louis. From 1659 onwards soldiers and traders from Bordeaux  settled in the encampment of St. Louis, Senegal, working mainly as merchants and traders. Over time they 'inter-married' on a short-term basis with the locals and had Mulato (mixed race) children known as the Seńoras / Signares. These women grew to be wealthy and privileged in society and as a means of flaunting their status they initiated the Les Fanals, the festival of decorated lanterns.

In the 18th century, on Christmas Eve, the Signares would go to the midnight mass dressed with large quantities of their finest jewellery and accompanied by their chamberlains and servants. They were later accompanied by lanterns of scaled down models of their townhouses illuminated internally by candles. The Signares would walk along the streets of the island in a slow procession to midnight mass.

In the 1820s some of these Senegalese Seńoras accompanied the French merchants to Bathurst where they settled mainly in  the section of the island called Portuguese Town. They brought the tradition along with them. It has been celebrated ever since in St. Louis and Gambia.

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