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Behind the Lens: Janjanbureh

My Magazine 2023/10
2 min
Janjanburreh is an important historical town, offering many important sites that are part of the cultural and historical heritage of the place. It is 300 km upstream from Banjul and is the headquarters of the Central River Region of The Gambia. It was formerly known as Lemaine, then re-named McCarthy Island (after Sir Charles McCarthy).

Janjanbureh got its new name in 1995 but is sometimes still referred to by its colonial name, McCarthy. It is 20 square km in area, 10 km long, and 1.5 km wide. It can be accessed by the south road via the bridge onto the island, by the north road via the Banjul-Barra ferry, and then the ferry onto the island at Lamin Kotu and it can also be accessed by River Gambia.

River Gambia National Park has many animal species, such as hippos. On an hour-long cruise, you can spot these most dangerous African animals near the riverbank, especially in the middle of the day. They live in the natural environment, so there is no guarantee you will spot them, but visitors are usually lucky enough to spot at least the ears protruding from the water.

Colourful birds will accompany you as you enjoy your lazy ride on the mighty river. You might also see a rare and endangered red colobus monkey, baboons, crocodiles, and some magnificent reptiles resting ashore.

Baboon Island is home to more than 100 refugee chimpanzees brought to life in an open-air sanctuary after experiencing many forms of human exploitation.

There are also many opportunities for fishing, especially famous Tigerfish fishing.

Jamali Village is a Fula village with predominately authentic architecture. Houses built out of mudbricks, roofs covered with long grass, and fences made out of stakes combined with high grass will take your breath away and give you the feeling that you are in another dimension.

Fulani Ritti women and children will greet you with music and singing at the village entrance. Feel free to join them in their energetic dances.

Janjanbureh offers many different activities, attracting many visitors who want to stay on the island for more than one day. Many hiking trails in the forest are accessible by boat or kayak. If you are intrigued about the spiritual heritage of the place, you would enjoy the storytelling session at night around the campfire and experience the mysterious Jamba Jabally Kankurang. Being the most vital promotion point of the Mandinka masquerade tradition, Janjanburreh hosts the Kankurang Festival each year.

This is a three-day festival in January every year, where visitors can see different kinds of masquerades such as the Kankurang, Zimba, Hunted Devil, Kumpo, etc. But for those who cannot visit Janjanbureh at this time of the year, there is a Kankurang museum, which is a part of the UNESCO heritage site. You can learn about the different types of Kankurangs and masquerades in The Gambia and West Africa in this museum.

On a cultural trail, you can learn about the rituals and spiritual meanings of the sacred baobabs and listen to the legends about the Kankurang in the evening.

A city tour combining historical and cultural trails gives you deep insight into the sad history of slavery and colonial times and a sneak peek into cultural traditions, masking traditions, beliefs and sacred places.

Although remote, Janjanburreh has become one of the most known upcountry towns with constant development.

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