Machete Boy, traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa

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Masquerades – The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

 

The three boys turned up with a couple of rice sacks, a bunch of leafy branches, and what looked like a few scraps of bright red fabric. Within half an hour, they were transformed into Kankurangs, and  fully in character – jiggling branches, menacingly clashing machetes together… ‘ Read more here

 

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‘Masquerades’ West Africa

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Weekend photos: Traditional Masquerades, The Gambia & Senegal, West Africa

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‘Faro Kankurang’ (made from leaves and tree bark), The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

 

The Kankurang – a secret society – used in traditional Mandinka initiation rites, whose rituals can be seen all over The Gambia and Senegal, West Africa.

Images from an ongoing photo series.

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Image © Helen Jones-Florio, Bijilo Beach, The Gambia, West Africa – masquerade made from scraps of fabric

 

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Image © Jason Florio, Bijilo Beach, The Gambia, West Africa – masquerade made from recycled rice sacks

 

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‘Agomalah’ – traditional masquerade, the Casamance, Senegal – Footage © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Click here or on image to view video

 

HJF & JF

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HJF & JF © Gerald Sowe – Teaching portrait photography to Gambian students, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Related Post:  Photographing Gambian masquerades with Jason Florio, with an audience 

 

Recycling plastic: The Kankurang masquerade – ‘Coming of Age’ ceremony, The Gambia. Image © Jason Florio

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Kankurang masquerade – Image © Jason Florio – Brufut beach, The Gambia, West Africa

 

To read more about the machete wielding Kankurang, and why this particular Mandinka masquerade was on the beach – made from recycled plastic rice sacks – in The Gambia, West Africa, please see previous post.

 

Instagram: Kankurang – traditional masquerade, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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Image © Helen Jones-Florio Instagram/Floriotravels

 

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.

Photographer, Jason Florio, and I are currently working on documenting the masquerades. We’ll be posting more on these traditional practices again shortly.

Helen Jones-Florio

Traditional Masquerades, Gambia - Image © Jason Florio
Traditional Masquerades, Gambia – Image of HJF and the ‘Fairy’ Masquerade © Jason Florio