Walking along the beach, near Brufut, on Sunday, Jason and I happened across a Mandinka initiation ‘Coming of Age‘ ceremony – a traditional rite of passage. Three young boys had been brought to the beach, to be ceremonially washed by older boys, former initiates, as part of the final stages of their circumcision process.
The Kankurang – whose identity is always a closely guarded secret – is an integral part of the ceremony. Surrounded by the former initiates, he struts around the young boys, menacingly wielding two machetes, clashing them against each other, gesticulating, and often emitting a high pitched cry. All is part of teaching the young boys the rules of behaviour, the importance of tradition, cultural identity, and a sense of community, as they enter into manhood.
Despite the bombardment of urbanisation, these age-old traditional masquerade ceremonies remain widely practiced throughout Gambia – not just in rural areas but also in urban areas, particularly by young men. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for us to walk out of our compound gate, on the outskirts of urban Bakau, to see (and hear!) a group of young boys, clapping and singing, beating sticks on a cardboard boxes, as they follow in the wake of a kankurang – whilst keeping a respectful distance. Who knows when the mysterious, shrouded, one will turn around and run at them, clashing his machetes.