Although the Gambia is 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, in the concrete and corrugated iron enclave of a compound in the capital city of Banjul.
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 long-term project (sneak preview, below).
We’ve been busy these last couple of months, working predominantly on the portraits of victims and resisters in our second home of The Gambia. This is a work-in-progress, which we began two years ago. We also got asked to make a documentary for Amnesty International, which should be available to view in its entirety next month. See the trailer on our Vimeo page.
Along with making the portraits, we are filming the testimonies of all the victims and resisters of the Yahya Jammeh 22 year regime. More on this at a later date.
Dodou Sanyang in the room of his recently deceased mother. She was one of over a thousand elderly people abducted on the order of the former president, Yahya Jammeh in 2009. Groups of Jammeh’s paramilitary troops along with his youth brigade, The Green Boys and ‘magicians’ from Guinea went from village to village as part of a nationwide hunt for witches.
Touray was jailed for protesting during the Yahya Jammeh regime. An environmental activist, he was pulled from his house by President Jammeh’s henchman and jailed for protesting against illegal sand mining, run by Jammeh’s brother, that was having a devastating environmental impact and also destroying ladies vegetable gardens in Habib’s village. Jason Florio.