‘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
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.
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.