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

New photo project: Masquerades, The (#ebolafree) Gambia, West Africa

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©Jason Florio

 

Now that we are back in The Gambia, we’ll be continuing with a photography project, based on the traditional masquerades of this region of West Africa. Despite the Gambia being a predominantly Muslim country, the animist fuelled masquerade ceremonies pre-date the arrival of Islam and are still tolerated and practiced around the country. Animism is an intriguing subject – the belief that animals and inanimate objects, such as trees, possess a soul, or a spiritual essence.

Also, the juxtaposition between the urban environment and these ancient traditions is fascinating – just like ‘The Hunting’, pictured above (©Jason Florio), in the concrete and corrugated iron enclave of the capital city of Banjul.

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Jason Florio and ‘The Hunting’ – © HJF – screen grab, taken from film footage.

 

Whether it be a circumcision ceremony, celebrating a successful harvest, chasing away evil spirits, enforcing village rules, or simply for entertainment, each particular masquerade plays a central and significant role in many parts of West African society.

Most of the masquerades we’ve seen so far are based on animals. However, the traditions are being hauled into the 21st century, modernised by the use of synthetic fabrics and ornaments, such as Christmas tree baubles, adorning ‘new-style’ masquerades. However, more on those particular masquerades as we move on with the project (sneak preview, below).

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

The Florios – Helen & Jason

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HJF hanging with the ‘Fairy’ masquerade, Banjul, The Gambia © JF

Photographing Gambian masquerades with Jason Florio… and an audience

Work in Progress.

We can hardly wait to get back down to West Africa, to carry on working on our personal projects – one of which is a photographic anthology of the traditional masquerades of The Gambia, West Africa.

As a photography producer,  my work takes place behind-the-scenes of assignments, ensuring that everything runs as smoothly as possible for and during shoot days –  often a lengthy process from pre through to post production.  Perks of the job? Watching Jason Florio at work – his knack of putting all those he works with so quickly at ease is continually inspiring – you can see, from the end results, how well he does this. There is another aspect of our work together, which I enjoy in equal measure – watching the fascination, amusement and, often, bemusement on the faces of those people you don’t see in the final edit… those outside of the frame.

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The ‘Cumpo’ warms up – Casamance, Senegal

 

Image © Jason Florio - the 'Cumpo' in full swing - Casamance, Senegal
Image © Jason Florio – the ‘Cumpo’ in full swing – Casamance, Senegal

 

Light reflecting - Kembujeh village, The Gambia
Light reflecting – Kembujeh village, The Gambia

 

A sneak peek 'Small Devil' masquerade © Jason Florio - Kembujeh village, The Gambia
A sneak peek ‘Small Devil’ masquerade © Jason Florio – Kembujeh village, The Gambia

 

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Don’t get too close to the ‘Fairies’! Banjul, The Gambia

 

Here comes the bride - Banjul, The Gambia
Here comes the bride – Banjul, The Gambia

 

On guard! Banjul, The Gambia
On guard! Banjul, The Gambia

 

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There is a photographer somewhere in this photograph – Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa

 

There is always time to interact with the kids - Kembujeh village, The Gambia
There is always time to interact with the kids – Kembujeh village, The Gambia

 

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Locals stay well clear of ‘The Hunter’ – Kembujeh village, The Gambia

 

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Street photography -Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Jason's camera is loaned to a budding photographer - from a Malian masquerade group, Banjul, The Gambia
Jason’s camera is loaned to a budding photographer – from a Malian masquerade group, Banjul, The Gambia

 

I do, however, think that I can safely add ‘security person’ to my résumé now – when on so many of our shoots, I regularly have to keep thirty curious kids from jumping in front, gesticulating madly (double thumbs up, gangsta style backwards peace sign, and smart military-like salutes, being the top three), of Jason’s lens!

 

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A very typical scenario on our shoots in West Africa – these kids were determined to get in on the action! @Helen Jones-Florio/Expedition Africa

 

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Thanks for stopping by

Helen Jones-Florio

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Hanging out with the ‘Fairy’ Masquerade, Banjul, The Gambia © Jason Florio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Africa – a sneak peek at personal photography and film projects: traditional masquerades and Togolese artists

After Jason and I finished our inaugural ‘Photos Tell Stories: teaching photography – a visual language‘ photography workshops, in Gambia, West Africa – the culmination of which was an exhibition of the young Gambian students work at Alliance Française – we began to look around for new photography projects in the region.

Both of us have always been fascinated by the traditional Gambian ‘masquerades’ – after having seen many over the years, throughout the country and in neighboring Senegal – dynamic, wonderfully mysterious, and sometimes down right dark and scary!

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Image © Jason Forio – the ‘Asamayo’ or ‘Agomalah’ for NGO Concern Universal – Forest festival, Koudioubé, in the Casamance, Senegal

 

Whether it be a circumcision ceremony, celebrating a successful harvest, chasing away evil spirits, enforcing village rules, or simply for entertainment, masquerades play a central and significant role in many parts of West African society.

Before we left The Gambia last month –  a short hiatus to spend time with family – we began to work on the masquerade project…

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Image © Jason Florio – ‘Little Devil’ a sneak peak at one of the masquerades, Kembujeh village, The Gambia, West Africa

 

We’re also working closely with the Gambia National Centre for  Arts and Culture – to produce a series of masquerade portraits for an exhibition in the near future. There is an abundance of masquerades – from the ‘Cumpo‘, ‘Kankurang‘, ‘The Hunter‘, ‘Agomalah’, to the stilted ‘Monpara‘. We look forward to exploring these more fully, when we return to West Africa in the coming months – delving deep into the origins and traditions of each one we meet; to create a photographic anthropology of the traditional masquerade

 

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Image © Jason Florio – Amigoe at home, surrounded by his paintings.

 

On the opening night of the Photos Tell Stories exhibition, we were very fortunate to be introduced to highly accomplished Togolese artist, Amigoe Dieudonné . During further meetings, Amigoe – an articulate, charismatic man – began to tell us the compelling story of his life, since leaving his Togolese home and family at 19 years old, living as a disabled artist, in various countries in West Africa. And, how his travels have shaped the very distinctive art he produces today.

We began to film and photograph Amigoe – again, shortly before we left The Gambia – who invited us into to his home and studio, to fully share with us the rich and vibrant tapestry of his life. We look forward to continuing this story too, when we return.

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Image © Jason Florio – Amigoe at work in his studio, The Gambia, West Africa

 

If you would like to receive updates, simply add your email address to the box in the left hand column of this page – you may also like to check what we are up to on FB, twitter, and Instagram

We would like to extend our thoughts to all those, in West Africa, who have been affected by the recent Ebola crisis, and we pray that it does not spread further.

More news soon…

The Florios – Helen & Jason

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Helen & Jason – opening night of the Photos Tell Stories exhibition – Gambia TV & Radio (about 47 seconds in!) – click image to view footage

Traditional Kankurangs, in motion, The Gambia, West Africa

 Kankurangs of The Gambia

– we happened upon this scene, whilst visiting old friends in Kembujeh, on our way back from Kanilai. We’ve been photographing these traditional masquerades for a number of years now, so it’s always great to happen across another version of the Kankurang; in the creative way that the boys use different kinds of materials to make the outfits. See more of our work on masquerades here 

footage ©Helen Jones-Florio

Follow us – @floriotravels/Instagram – for regular photo updates from The Gambia, and other travels

Boys Hanging out at King Kai’s Barber Shop, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa

BOYS AT THE LOCAL BARBER SHOP KARTONG © HELEN JONES-FLORIO
BOYS AT KING KAI’S LOCAL BARBER SHOP KARTONG, THE GAMBIA, WEST AFRICA © HELEN JONES-FLORIO

 

We first met ‘King Kai’ – a young local entrepreneur from the village of Kartong (also known as Kartung), which borders Senegal, in southwestern Gambia – a few years ago, when he had recently opened his small barbershop/hairdresser, which also served the community with cold drinks and expertly hand-crafted (by King Kai, himself) models of traditional masquerades. Never one to rest on his laurels, when we returned a year or so later, KK had expanded his business empire to include an amusement arcade, to entertain the youth of the village – apparently, much to the consternation of the village elders and Koranic scholars, who felt this to be unIslamic behaviour for young boys.

To see more from our West Africa travels, please visit ‘River Gambia Expedition 1044kim source-sea African odyssey‘  and ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Youtube: Forest Festival, Casamance, Senegal, West Africa

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VIDEOGRAPHY © JASON FLORIO AND HELEN JONES-FLORIO . CLICK HERE OR ABOVE IMAGE TO VIEW FOOTAGE

 

Late last year, Jason Florio and I traveled the short distance, south, across the border from our home in The Gambia, into the Casamance region of Senegal, West Africa – on assignment for a local NGO, Concern Universal; who we had worked with on previous projects.  The purpose of the assignment was to document a celebratory ‘Festival des Forêt‘, taking place in the village of Koudioubé; a juddering (hold-onto-something-fixed-down-and-mind-your-head-whilst-you’re-at-it) 20 minute drive down a deeply rutted ‘road’, through the bush – which, we were told by the driver, is often  impassible during a heavy rainy season – from the small Senegalese border town of Diouloulou.

The festival was particularly important, in the fact that it brought people together, from neighbouring communities whereas previously, due to a 30 year old civil war, they had been too afraid to mix and gather, in large numbers.

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Jason Florio photographs the ‘Kumpo’ – traditional masquerade – festival des forêts, Casamance, Senegal. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

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Helen Jones-Florio: “These bundles are seriously ‘acouliatah’ (heavy)!”  – image © Jason Florio  

 

We were also accompanied by our friend, and adroit writer, Louise Hunt, who was covering the story for The Guardian:

We have been dancing all night together. In the past, people did not even attend funerals in neighbouring villages,” says a community leader, Bakari Jallou.

Casamance is Senegal’s most ethnically diverse region, separated from the rest of the west African country by Gambia. But it is not ethnic or even religious differences that have divided people for decades, it is whether they are pro-government or support a separatist movement to become an independent state.

The 30-year civil war, Africa’s longest-running conflict, has killed thousands and displaced many more. Senegal’s extensive hardwood forests were battlegrounds for the rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) and the army.’ Louise Hunt for The Guardian – read the entire feature here.

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Helen Jones-Florio

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Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio working for Concern Universal NGO – Koudioubé forest, Casamance, Senegal