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 is also
known as the '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
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.