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Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival: A Homecoming Cultural Festival

By Yunus S Saliu

More than ever, the 7th Edition of the Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival celebrated from the 26th to 28th of January 2024 has been described as one of its kind in the historic island of Janjanbureh also known as McCarthy Island and Georgetown.

The three-day festival that brought together thousands of visitors, tourists, and lovers of culture allowed everyone to mingle, and enjoy themselves while it also created chances of business opportunities for investors especially those who want to invest in the tourism and culture sector of the country.

Presiding over the official opening of the festival on Friday on behalf of Governor Ousman Bah of the Central River Region was Deputy Governor Sainey Mbaye who had given the genesis of the festival.

He said the story started in 2018 when the community was supported by the government through the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) while the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) decided to revive this great festival.

In 2008, the Deputy Governor narrated, UNESCO listed Kankurang as a Masterpiece of Humanity which of course remains a source of pride “to all of us,” while noting that the island is the home of Kankurang.

He pointed out the significance of culture saying it helps to build a self-identity and pride, and it is “our languages, foods, dress and belief systems that make us as real people and not robots. So, the stronger the cultural heritage we have, the more robust our identity.”

Through a shared heritage such as masquerades, languages, and rituals, he said, the country can always arrive at solutions to its political and social differences, “through our shared cultural heritage we can build a united and prosperous Gambia. Jobs can be created in the creative heritage industries. This is why the government of His Excellency President Adama Barrow will continue to support culture and this community.”

Honourable Omar Jammeh, National Assembly Member for Janjanbureh applauded the EMC members for organizing the event without any itches, while he thanked all the supporters who have contributed to making it a one-to-reckon-with festival in The Gambia.

He outlined the importance of the festival which included investment opportunities in different areas like accommodations, utilization of the river Gambia, and job creation to stop or curb urban and rural migrations.

Mr. Lamin Jarjou, Senior Program Officer of the NATCOM UNESCO dilated on the importance of the Kankurang, too, and paid solidarity to the community of Janjanbureh initiative of celebrating the Intangible Cultural Heritage Masterpiece of the Kankurang.

He noted that the Kankurang tradition is been affected taking into consideration the climate change issue saying the trees in the bush that the barks and leaves are using to dress the Kankurang are falling in the forests.

Mr Jarjou urged everyone to keep up the tradition and make it remain to avoid desecration.

Mr Sanna Jarjou, speaking on behalf of the Director General of the NCAC expressed gratitude to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, its satellite institution, and as well as all the attendees from near and far.

He highlighted the challenges facing the Kankurang tradition and urged the people to have its chains maintained while he gave a breakdown of a series of activities undertaken by the NCAC when it comes to Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Gambia from the ratification of the convention, inventory, strengthening capacity building for save guiding ICH and so on.

Muhammed Justice Saidykhan, acting chairman of the Event Management Committee thanked the elders and community of Janjanbureh for supporting and giving their utmost blessing to the committee celebrating the cultural heritage for the seventh time on roll.

Coming to Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival, he said they always create opportunities for their visitors to take part actively to know what’s unique about Janjanbureh and of course what is unique about its culture, especially, as Janjanbureh is the birthplace of Kankurang.

He highlighted the main purpose of the Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival saying it is meant to showcase the unique cultural expression of the Kankurang and other masking traditions of West Africa so that the island will gain visibility and attract more visitors who would like to explore the intangible cultural heritage.

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Yunus S Saliu

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