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Kankurang Masquerade

Masquerades   Kumpo      Simba

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 Koriteh, weddings, 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.

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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 role.

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.

Present Day:
Traditionally the Kankurang is an important binding influence on traditional Mandinka 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 local entertainment.
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