It is a sunny afternoon in Janjanbureh in the Central River Region. Sounds of drumbeats, singing crowds, clashing machetes and sharp cries can be heard far and near all around town. The excitement can be seen on the streets as young and old alike, brace up for the annual Kankurang Festival.
The Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival is a weekend that happens once every year for the past five years. It cocktails culture, fun and amazement.
As the sun slowly went down, almost everyone in Janjanbureh heads to the Tinyangsita Festival Ground. This is a large open field on the outskirts of the community meant to hold events, the magnitude of the Kankurang Festival.
A few people held buckets, sprinkling water all around the ground. This is done to calm the dust as the intensity around the venue rises. Before night fall, the venue was already surrounded by crowd and company.
As the host called them out, cultural troupes and their masquerades took turns, coming into the center. Each of them putting up performances, drumming and dancing that would get the crowd cheering, chanting and joining in the ambiance.
The Mandinka Jamba Kankurang dances its way in from behind the crowd, screaming and galloping toward a grass fire that was lit by those in its company. As it got closer to the fire, voices from the crowd started screaming and shouting in excitement with what they are about to witness.
The Kankurang ran around the fire, jumping and flagging its leaves. Suddenly, at the change in the rhythm of the drums, the Kankurang starts to strike the fire with the leaves it held by its head. Thick smoke and fire freckles filled the space as the Kankurang continues to strike and dance through the dying fire and thick smoke.
As the dust settles, the Hunting Society from Greater Banjul made an entrance with two beautifully decorated masquerades and a third that was dressed like a bride. This time, it was mostly the youth who took to the center to join in the dancing and chanting.
Toward the climax, the Jola Kumpo with another masquerade, a Kumbaayo, resembling a thick ape were ushered in. As the Kumbaayo was moving all around the center, the kumpo made the mesmerizing showcase. A fire was lit in the center and the kumpo stood over the fire, pinned its long stick in the ground and twisted itself in the fire. One would almost hear someone ask “how this is possible”.
This is a dance that amazed the crowd as camera lights flash all around.
Finally, four Zimba masquerades were greeted with chants and cheers even before they got to the center. From the songs to the drumbeats, the crowd seem to recognize most of it and would join in on the showcase. A little man, about the height of a 6-year-old came in with dance moves that got the crowd going wild with wonder and amazement.
While different troupes come and go, different parts of the crowd who seem to relate, would join in the center. Hovering over and around them would be thick dust from the dances on a ground that has forgotten the water sprinkled all around it.
The Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival is not just an event; It is a story. A story of the wealth of our culture, of peace, of love, of unison, of diversity. Witnessing such an event, even just once is a gift. A memory that is sure to remain, for a long time to come.
Authored by Abdoullah Jaiteh
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