The Kankurang Traditional Masquerade, The Gambia, West Africa

The Faara Kankurang, a tradition masquerade holding machetes, stands on the porch of a hut whilst a small child looks at him, and a woman cooks food over an open fire. The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Jason Florio

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.

A young boy dressed up as a Kankurang - one of many traditional masquerades - holding two machete's standing amongst trees, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Jason Florio
‘The Kankurang’ Traditional Masquerade – wearing a hand-made costume of dried bark, from the red fibre of the Faara tree – The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Jason Florio

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.

Masquerades

'The Hunting' traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio photography
‘The Hunting’ Traditional Masquerade -Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

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.

Words by Helen Jones-Florio. Images ©Jason Florio

Media - The Zimba Masquerade, the Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio for Brussels Airlines inflight magazine
Brussels Airlines (Page 9) – The Zimba Traditional Masquerade, the Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

‘the non-human form of the masquerade gives the viewer the impression of a spirit being…’ Jason Florio – BInspired/Brussels Airlines inflight magazine (page 9).


Watch the masquerades in action: Fête de la forêt, Casamance, Senegal, West Africa. Video & stills by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio for United Purpose, NGO(formally, Concern Universal)

#DocumentingGambia

Photographer/videographer, Helen Jones-Florio, films the 'Zimba', one of The Gambia's many traditional masquerades, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio
Photographer/videographer, Helen Jones-Florio, films the ‘Zimba’, traditional masquerade, Kembujeh, The Gambia. Image © Jason Florio

Current location: The Gambia, West Africa

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Published by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

Award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Jason Florio (floriophoto.com), and photographer, producer, videographer and writer, Helen Jones-Florio http://www.rivergambiaexpedition.com/ http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/ https://www.facebook.com/floriophotostellstories Twitter @floriophotonNYC Instagram https://www.instagram.com/floriotravels/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/jasonflorio/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/florio_gallery/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/doors_facades_florio/

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