Monday, February 24, 2014

Kankouran Masquerade And Female & Male Circumcision

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents information about and two video examples of the Kankouran (Kankurang) masquerade that is traditionally central to initiation rites in Senegal and Gambia.

This post also presents information & links about the health risks of female genital circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation) and the health risk of male circumcision when done in certain traditional ways.

I should note that while some articles & videos that I've found connect Kankouran with male circumcision, I've not found any online articles that clearly indicate that Kankouran is associated with female genital circumcision. However, information that I've come across (quotes from which are given below) certainly allude to that connection.

I'm 1000% opposed to female genital circumcision, and I'm equally opposed to certain forms of male circumcision. I believe that the dance and music traditions of a culture can be retained & supported apart from cultural traditions that are harmful to people's health & wellbeing.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, health, sociological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to all those who keep the dance and music traditions of Africa alive. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

From [translated from Dutch to English...I've made no attempt to edit this to standard American English]
"Kankurang is a mask dance, in which a mask of an animal or scary will essentially be borne. It is an initiation - ritual in Gambia and Senegal. According to tradition, the origin of Kankurang found in Komo, a secret society of hunters whose organization and esoteric practices contributed to the emergence of the Mandinka.

The masks are made of cloth, paper, leaves, bark , grass, animal horns, and combinations thereof. Also, a machete and a stick in the hands worn and the body is colored with vegetable dyes. The masquerades of the Mandinka and Diola are very traditional.

The masked speak in deep voices, proverbs and riddles he communicates with the community. This serves as entertainment for the general public. It also helps in maintaining discipline and protecting members of society from evil spirits and witches .
Moreover masquerade as a link between the human world and the spiritual world. The members of the society show to have the spiritual world through deep respect libations to offer.
There are different forms of Kankurang;
• Ifangbondi: is very dangerous, an invisible spirit can damage culprits, comes only at night;
• Wulengo: protects circumcised youths may not see, against witches, evil spirits and evildoers, children, women and the uninitiated a woman who sees this is barren;
• Jamster: maintaining discipline of the members of society, is performed during weddings, graduations and other ceremonies.

There will be a vigil place and there is a procession through the village. The ritual usually takes place in August and September. Follow Kankurang villagers, they look at his behavior and gestures and perform dances and songs on.

The Kankurang dances staccato and fight with two machetes. The followers are armed with sticks and palm leaves, they beat the rhythm of tom-toms.

The Kankurang teaches young people's cultural identity. The secrets of plants and their medicinal values and hunting techniques are passed.

Since 2005 Kankurang is listed on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."

KanKouran show proves West African dance company is evolving By Pamela Squires, Published: September 2, 2012
"KanKouran West African Dance Company...was formed in 1983 by [artistic director Assane] Konte and former music director Abdou Kounta, who grew up together in Dakar, Senegal. The company takes its name from the Mandingo word “kankouran,” meaning a guide who assists boys’ and girls’ transition into adulthood. Today, the company and its vision of keeping African Americans grounded in their ancestral culture is an important contributor to the District’s unique dance footprint."
Italics added to highlight this sentence. Click for a video of this dance company that includes a lengthy summary statement about that group. The dance shown doesn't include the Kankouran masquerade.

From [This is an excerpt from a blog about a Westerner traveling in Gambia]
"Around noon we crossed the bridge to the island and soon encountered one very enthusiastic Kankurang. For those of you not familiar, a Kankurang is a man dressed up in a fancy full body suit of dried grass with a creepy looking mask and horns who scares away evil spirits during naming ceremonies (aka circumcision ceremonies for young boys). They generally are seen dancing in the middle of the road and waving machetes, occasionally pretending to stab your car as you drive by. Good times, right?

This particular Kankurang was no different except his tenacity to stay in the road and refuse us passage. Money would have been a suitable option for our freedom but D took the more indignant approach and lightly nudged him with the car until bits of his grass dress came off in the grill. Still waving the machete and momentarily occupied by the car behind us, D was able to make his escape.

After brushing off our run-in because, hey, this is somewhat of a normal occurrence, we made our way to the middle of town and our hotel."

"12.11.08 - What is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the collective name given to a number of cultural practices that involve the partial or total cutting of female genitals. FGM can be performed as early as infancy and as late as age thirty. However, most commonly, girls experience FGM between four and twelve years of age. The origins of FGM remain unclear.

FGM is a Human Rights Violation
FGM violates a number of human rights of women and girls. Since FGM involves the removal of healthy sexual organs without medical necessity and is usually performed on adolescents and girls, often with harmful physical and psychological consequences, it violates the rights to non-discrimination, health, and bodily integrity. Although FGM is not undertaken with the intention of inflicting harm, its damaging physical, sexual, and psychological effects make it an act of violence against women and children. Finally, FGM sometimes threatens the lives"...

"While medical complications are generally rare for boys who experience foreskin circumcision especially in more developed countries, health consequences for all types of FGM are generally more severe for girls. Girls may experience severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, urinary track complications or infections, fever, wound infection, or septicemia as short-term consequences of female circumcision procedures. In the long-term, women may face urethra damage, incontinence, painful sexual intercourse, and/or sexual dysfunction. Infibulation (type III) is considered the worst offender for long-term consequences in the life of the woman, particularly if an infibulated woman attempts vaginal childbirth."

“Independent of how you may feel about male circumcision, it does not normally, or even more than very rarely, lead to long-term medical consequences. FGM nearly always does..."

** October 1995 "Female Circumcision Comes to America"

** Maasai Women End Traditional Female Circumcision By Denise Darcel Epoch Times Staff Created: October 3, 2012 Last Updated: March 13, 2013
[This article provides information about an alternative ceremony for Maasi females that does not involve cutting. Information about female genital circumcision experiences in USA is also included in this article. Here are two quotes from that portion of that article: "New York State has the second largest population of FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] victims next to California, according to the CAGeM website...With the influx of immigrants that come to the United States from countries that continue the practice, girls who become United States citizens are at risk of family pressure to perform their native cultural rites of passage."

** "The Gambia: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)"
...."Founded in 1991, BAFFROW was established to carry out projects and research in the health and environment areas. It is aimed at community health promotion, along with changing many of the puberty rituals. It also focuses at providing alternate sources of income for excisors.

BAFFROW aims at 100 percent eradication of FGM/FGC while respecting the importance of the social and cultural traditions associated with the rites of passage to womanhood.""
Italics are added to highlight this statement as one I absolutely concur with.
[This South African article lists the health risks of male circumcision]
..."There are definite risks involved in the surgical procedure of circumcision8. The following complications have been reported:
•Serious infection;
•Severe loss of blood;
•Penile amputation; and
•Possible death in extreme cases.

The above mentioned serious complications are due to:
•Poor training of the staff who performed the procedure;
•A lack of appropriate surgical equipment; and
•A lack of patient follow-up."


Video Example #1: Kankouran et couleur au sud du Sénégal [Kankouran and color in southern Senegal]

layeprostudiombour, Published on Dec 22, 2012

Video Example #2: LE KANKURANG RITE D'INITIATION MANDING [The Manding Initiation Rite]


CULTURESN, Published on May 2, 2013

Ministère de la Culture et du Patrimoine Historique Classé
Direction du Patrimoine Culturel , République de Gambie
National Concil for Arts and Culture [Ministry of Culture and Historical Heritage
Directorate of Cultural Heritage, Republic of The Gambia
National Concil for Arts and Culture]

"Manjani" is a rites of passage dance in Guinea and Mali that is traditionally associated with female genital circumcision. This dance is very popular among dance troupes in the United States that perform West African dances, although few know about its connection to female circumcision.

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