WARNING: no pictures only a lot of text, because this ceremony is so sacred that pictures are forbidden. You can look online, but all the pictures are indeed protected so I can’t just copy and paste the picture here. But here is a video on youtube that shows you some of what happens around minute 1 Le Kankouran
In my last post I spoke of the Kankouran ceremony and I realized that it is too big of a subject and much to interesting for me not to tell you more about it. Briefly a Kankouran ceremony is a ceremony to chase away bad spirits from newly circumcised boys. And here is my experience with it.
When Aziz was telling us and preparing us some for what we would see, I imagined it like a Native American pow-wow traditional and sacred, but also open for tourists. There would be dancers, drummers, and a guy in a mask who occasionally interacted with the audience and tried to scare them away. This was not the case at all.
We drove through the streets in a big bus seemingly randomly searching for crowds of people. Once we found the crowds, the bus was immediately swarmed. People were pounding on the sides, shouting “toubabs” and making motions to go back. Eventually Aziz got out and explained to them we were students. Whereupon the crowd changed their yelling from “go away” to yelling “don’t you dare take pictures”. Boys mimed through the window taking a photo, then drawing a line across their throats. We got the picture.
Once we got off the bus we were immediately more accepted by the crowd. Smaller groups of us followed our Senegalese ‘guides’ into the enormous crowd of mostly younger people, lots of boys, but a surprising mix. Everyone seemed to be in the streets. Finally my ‘guide’ pointed off into the middle of an intersection where there was a much denser crowd of people and in the middle was a guy in a red/orange costume dancing around. That was basically all I ever saw of the Kankouran because it started moving in our direction from a block and a half away and the entire crowd bolted away and around the corner. My adrenaline pumping we slowly made our way back, but every time the costumed Kankouran turned our direction, everyone ran. It became sort of a game.
As I learned later, it is a game, but a very dangerous one. The Kankouran is chasing away bad spirits with a grotesque mask and a machete. Drummers surround him and boys with long sticks surround the drummers and chase away the audience with long sticks that they use to hit the crowd away from the Kankouran. So really I was running less from the masked spirit chaser than the little kids with sticks. If someone unfortunately gets within the circle of the Kankouran it becomes a challenge between you and him. From what I understand, you will not win.
The ceremony is for the boys who were circumcised that month (it only happens in September). Here all Muslim boys are circumcised and this is how the Mandinga ethnicity celebrates this passage into manhood. Boys from the ages of 3-7 are circumcised in August or early September and participate in the Kankouran every Sunday of September. In this tradition the newly circumcised boys are vulnerable to bad spirits, so the Kankouran has to chase the spirits away for them. These boys wear all white at the ceremony and try to get as close as they can to the Kankouran. Boys hitting long sticks together and surround the Kankouran are protecting the Kankouran and audience from each other.
In some Kankouran ceremonies bad spirits come out and all the women watching have to hide their faces. Here our professors talked about how the Kankouran is a man in a mask and costume doing a job. But in other cultures, the Kankouran itself is an inhuman thing called to by the spirits to do a job. The Cassamance (S Senegal) is where the real Kankouran’s live.
My family went to the last Kankouran of the year in Mbour last Sunday. I asked if my sister got to see it and she said “oh, did I get to see it”. Apparently it was at the front door when she got out of bed. “Were you scared?” “OUI! I ran back to my room and locked the door!”
If you are as interested as I am I would encourage a little web browsing!