The mystery of the Infangbondi

Mandinka tribe is known to be most connected with the spiritual and animistic traditions in The Gambia. One of the famous masks today known for its entertainment features used to have much more spiritual meaning. Kankurang is a general word for mask, which is known to the people in three main forms. The scariest of all is Ifangbondi.

People still believe in some parts of Senegal, the real Ifangbondis live. The spiritual creature, with flying abilities which can come out at night to chase away witches and even harm people which would not hide from its presence.

Ifangbondi in Mandinka means as self-dressed, Kankurang which dresses itself and is not a masquerade made by people or being controlled by one.

The mysterious mask is dressed in the bark, covering the whole body. It is believed to be a flying Kankurang because of its rapid movements, which are accompanied by terrifying and vibrating screams. This mysterious mask moves alone, carrying two sharp machetes, which he strikes against each other making piercing noises. Drums are never allowed during their appearances. It is more often heard in the night while protecting initiated against evil spirits.

Ifangabondi is a product of the knowledge of the occult powers inherited from the power associations of the past. It is believed that this mystic masking tradition came to protect the social and cultural practices of the colonized subjects from interference by the foreign administrators.

According to oral tradition, the Ifangabondi made its first appearance in colonial Portuguese Guinea before the war of independence in the early 1950s.

The repressive colonial authorities issued a summon to Mansabang village’s community to arraign their Kankurang before a magistrate’s court to answer to a charge of homicide. The Kankurang was reported to have beaten a woman to death during a respite from a ceremony.

The story goes that during a circumcision ceremony in Mansabng village, one of the Kankurangs went into a compound to take a short break. The Kankurang took off his costume and was recognized by a peeping woman who expressed surprise that her own brother was wearing the mask. Due to her curiosity and revelation of Kankurang, it subjected her to a serious beating, which led to her death. No one dared to reveal the identity of the Kankurang to the colonial authorities, although the killing was witnessed by many. It was common knowledge that to do so would violate the traditional rules. Faced with this problem on the day of judgement, a humble little man called Arafang Kandeh Touray offered help by asking the elders to bring him some bark and two machetes, which he placed in the centre of the courtroom and facing the magistrate. When the magistrate requested the presence of the accused, the elders told him the Kankurang is not a human being, and they could not reveal the identity. Soon after, a whirlwind entered the courtroom and went directly under the bark and two machetes, spun them around and sprang up as fully dressed Kankurang clanking his machetes. Everybody was terrified, and the crowd fled in chaos and confusion. The Kankurang proceeded to beat up the magistrate until he was able to flee in his vehicle. The Kankurang was faster and overcame the vehicle, forcing them to go to the magistrate’s residence, where he was again subjected to severe beating with his wife included. Their lives were spared, but with a clear message not to interfere with their subjects’ cultural practices ever again.

Make your own experience

Perfect place to get to know more about the Kankurang tradition is Janjanbureh cultural museum. If interested, CONTACT US and check out the trip to Janjanbureh. 

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