The Gambia's Kankurang
dance is a
Mandinka masquerade who is dressed in leaves, bark and ochre coloured
tree fibre with a machete in one hand and a stick in the other. His
whole body is often dyed deep orange using vegetable dyes.
Among the Mandinka of the Gambia today there are two basic forms of
costumes for these masked dancers, the Fara (shredded or torn bark
from the camel foot tree) and the Fito (leaf) Kankurang.
Often he may
chew on bark while performing his menacing dance. His
traditional purpose is to round up young boys who are due for
circumcision and guard them against evil spirits by waving his machete
while they are being initiated into manhood in the the sacred bush.
This initiation rite normally takes place during August and September.
They will also make a ceremonial appearance at
naming ceremonies and at
Christmas when he ceremonially parades the
streets in a fierce and intimidating manner followed by lots of
children and accompanied by his former initiates beating drums and
carrying sticks. See
Today, in an around the Greater Banjul
area, it is difficult to see authentic Kankurangs as some
people in this area simply put together strips of rags and
synthetic fabrics to dress up and roam the town acting menacingly
for money. To see the real thing
you need to head off further inland or go to south Gambia.
They spend most of their time living in the bush and come
out when called upon.
Some say that the
Kankurang originated in the Mandinka's Kaabu Empire of West Africa
back in the 12th century. Other historians say that it was part of a
hunting secret society called the Komo which made a contribution
towards the emergence of the Manding nation. This period in Kaabu's
history also saw the emergence of other important masquerades such as
the Tinirinya (Tintirinya) and Mamoo (Maano).
There are several types of Kankurang each serving a different social
He is invisible to the human eye and acts to shield boy initiates
from evil during the night time.
This masked dancer is responsible for making sure that village society is
orderly and disciplined through his enforcement. This type can be seen
at social occasions such as weddings and also welcomes the newly
initiated young men back to the village.
It is supposed to protect circumcised boys from evil
spirits, wicked people and witchcraft.
Kankurang is an important binding influence on traditional
society as he served to disseminate to the circumcised the rules of
social behaviour, the importance of brotherhood, hunting practices and
the medical uses of plants and herbs. However, modern ways of living
and deforestation has sadly eroded much of this tradition as well as
his authority and today the masquerade is mostly seen as a form of