Gambian Traditional Kankurang Masquerade

The scary looking, wild and mysterious, sword-wielding Kankurang and its ceremonial role forms an integral part of the rich Gambian cultural tradition. The heavy costume is usually worn by young agile men. Kankurang can often be spotted daytime roaming the streets and it can also be heard during night time making a lot of noise, rattling his sword to keep evil spirits and witches at bay and frightening little children as a result. In the Gambian culture when young boys get circumcised the months-long healing process is also part of an important spiritual coming of age ritual, during which children are not allowed to be seen by their parents. Organised by the Juujuo, groups of boys are taken by adults to the bushes supervised by volunteering adults, where they live and heal together passing time by drumming and chanting traditional songs. At night it is the combination of the drumming and the brave Kankurang that ensures children survive the ordeal. Rare deaths caused by infection are blamed on evil spirits or humans who transform into witches to cast spells or even feed on children’s flesh. In true reality, the Kankurang may seem like a folkloric tourist attraction, harmlessly demanding “terrified” visitors to hand over some small change in tourist areas, but to this day many Gambians believe it to be a serious deterrent, the difference between the life or death of a young child preyed upon by ungodly evil from this earth or beyond.