Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival promotes Gambian heritage, boosting tourism
Bringing people together and preserving a unique heritage inspired local youth leader Omar Jammeh and other young people from Janjanbureh in The Gambia to revive the Kankurang Festival five years ago.
The Kankurang masquerade is a Mandinka tradition and an integral part of the rite of passage of young boys. The Kankurang is a protective spirit and guarantor of order that shields the boys as they learn about cultural practices, social norms and the environment. The town of Janjanbureh is widely seen as the birthplace of the Kankurang, which was listed by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage in 2008.
Back in 2018, the International Trade Centre (ITC), through the European Union-funded Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), partnered with the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC), and the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) to support young people in Janjanbureh to bring back the festival. The initiative is part of a wider effort to boost inclusive and sustainable tourism, thereby creating new economic opportunities for young people in rural Gambia.
With its unique cultural heritage, history and rich biodiversity, Janjanbureh offers great experiences for tourists. The Kankurang Festival is an important cornerstone for this destination, while preserving its cultural heritage on the island. Following the success of the maiden edition in 2018, many young Gambians leveraged on the revenue-generating opportunities that hospitality services, souvenirs sales and tour guiding offer.
Today, the festival has become an inherent part of the country’s cultural calendar. Presiding over the official opening ceremony held on 29 January 2022, Vice President Isatou Touray said, “the support by YEP has been a big boost and the Janjanbureh Festival has grown to be one of the most anticipated festivals in the year. The participation of the community, partners and featured masquerades is of crucial relevance to the development of tourism in The Gambia.”
Ngoneh Panneh, ITC’s Programme Officer for Tourism and Creative Industries highlighted that, “ITC embraces tourism as a tool for economic development that can benefit everyone. The festival widens the scope of opportunities and provides equal opportunities for both men and women”.
Over recent years, the EU and ITC through its Youth Empowerment Programme have supported the young people of Janjanbureh in fostering community-based tourism (CBT), improving their skills in hospitality and tour guiding and developing new products and experiences that could help write a new chapter in the island’s rich history.
The next edition of the Kankurang Festival will coincide with the 200th anniversary of the settlement, when the first freed slaves landed in Janjanbureh. The Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hamat NK Bah added, “the Government attaches great value to this festival and the land of Janjanbureh. Next year, we will reconvene here to celebrate the Kankurang Festival with the remembrance of our history and long road to freedom”.