As a warning that the Kankurang is coming, sharp sounds of clanking machetes cut the air. Children fearfully run inside their homes as the scary being approaches, chuntering. Out of curiosity, others risk a closer look at the man dressed to represent the spiritual figure.

The Kankurang is the guarantor of order and justice as well as the exorcist of evil spirits, as such, he ensures transmission and teaching of a complex collection of know-how and practices underpinning Manding cultural identity.

The traditional Kankurang is an initiate who wears a mask made of the bark and red fibre of the Faara tree and is clothed in leaves, and body painted with vegetable dyes. He is the central character of the circumcision ceremonies and initiatory rites.

This initiation rite is practiced by the Mandinka ethnic groups in Gambia and neighbouring Senegal. There is a small procession of teenagers and young men who are accompanying four young boys getting to the end of month-long-initiation rite following the Kankurang.

In an article on independent.co.uk, Mamadou Jallow who led one of the ceremonies and looked after the boys during a four-week initiation period said: “This is the place where we trained them (the boys) how to respect people and how to respect elders and so on”.

He said that the Kankurang is a spirit and humans do not have his power, although some men dress like the Kankurang during the ceremonies to chase away evil from the boys.

At the end of the rite, families, friends and neighbours gather to celebrate and for the presentation of the newly initiated boys, each of them dancing in front of the crowd, wearing collars made of candies and money bills.

Musicians play traditional drums, joyfully dancing and the community welcomes the boys as men who will carry on with their traditions.

Despite it being a traditional and cultural belief, the Kankurang was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which proclaimed it a cultural heritage.

However, according to UNESCO, it said the traditional practice is at risk of retreating because of the rapid urbanization of most of Senegal and Gambia.

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