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
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.
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.