The Kankurang is a secret society of traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa, used in traditional Mandinka circumcision and initiation rites, whose rituals can be seen all over The Gambia and Senegal, West Africa.
It is not uncommon here in The Gambia to see fledgling Kankurangs boldly strutting along in the middle of the road, surrounded by a gang of former initiates (like his protectors), brandishing a pair of machetes. As you approach, the Kankurang stands stock still in front of the car so that you have little choice other than to stop. The ‘protectors’ then surround the car, dancing, singing, and beating out a rhythm with sticks on battered old plastic water containers – ‘donations’ are expected for their performance, whether you wanted it or not. Even after all the years of witnessing such scenes, I still find the Kankurang’s high-pitched screeches and clashing together a pair of rusty old machete’s, at close range, intimidating. However, once you put a few dalassi on the tip of one of the Kankurangs machetes, the gang are happy and smiling, shouting thank you’s, as they stand aside and wave you on, striding up the middle of the road again, looking for the next car.
During initiation ceremonies, the Kankurang – with his former initiates/protectors – is joined by the villagers who dance and sing around them. Always keeping a respectful distance because, at any given moment, the Kankurang can turn around, clattering his machetes, shrieking at the top of his voice, running at the crowd. We have observed (and filmed up close, in Casamance, Senegal) this for ourselves, and the fear is palpable as the villagers scatter, screaming, in every direction! The secret societies of masquerades are entrenched in tradition and are thus highly respected.