Awale Mag

Magazine for Africa's Creativity

Auteur/Author: Lucrèce GANDIGBE

Rites of initiation in Casamance

Circumcision is a crucial step in the life of every African. In the past it was governed by strict traditional ceremonies specific to each ethnic group. Nowadays, many people undergo the traditional initiation rites. Fortunately some African people have preserved ancestral customs. Today we will take you in Casamance in northern Senegal to live the time of this article the circumcision ceremony of the reckless “leaves dance”, the Jambadong and under the mythical protection of Kankourang.

A man’s life Training


In the past the boys were taken to the “sacred wood” to undergo circumcision followed by initiation rites. As a rule, you enter the “sacred wood” as a young boy and come out as a man. Nowadays the process of circumcision (removal of foreskin) usually takes place in a hospital then the circumcised young are taken away in the woods under the tutelage of “elders”. The elders are wise people who teach young initiates the basic values in the life of a man: courage, bravery, the difficulties of life, how to keep a secret no matter the price … During this learning stay, young live in what is called in Diola language a “diodiouwo”. This is a very rustic home but the young initiates have less to fear from animals in the forest than of its spirits. Indeed, they are very fond of the blood of vulnerable young initiates. Luckily for them they can count on the experience of their sages supervisors and the legendary Kankourang.

Protection of Kankourang


In general, the protection of “diodiouwo” is entrusted to a wise specialized in the fight against the forces of evil. He is assisted by the Kankourang. More than a human, the Kankourang is a spirit. He always appears masked and has the reputation to scare the spirits of darkness. It is forbidden for women to look at him during his appearances on pain of retaliation. The Kankourang live in the sacred wood and comes out to protect the initiated. According to his recommendations, sages choose the day of the ceremony of deliverance out for the mothers and sisters who anxiously await the end of the rite of initiation.

The output of the initiates to the rhythm of Jambadong

The leaving of the “sacred wood” is a very special ceremony called “Faniké”. This is an opportunity for women to find their son and brothers. In fact nobody really knows what happens in the “sacred wood”. No information is relayed even when a child is attacked by “eaters of souls”. So it’s a real relief for families to find their young men. Before joining theirs, the initiated perform the famous Jambadong a very special dance of leaves that is found in Casamance, a part of The Gambia and Guinea Bissau. It is a time of widespread jubilation. If you have the opportunity to stay in Senegal do not miss the annual carnival Jambadong which usually takes place during the summer holidays. It is a ceremony that has a very special charm.

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Auteur/Author: Lucrèce GANDIGBE

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