The Kankurang marks the start of adulthood for the Mandika people of west Africa. Between four and fourteen years old, the youngsters have their genitalia ritually circumcised. Formerly, it was common for the children to spend up to a year in the bush, in what is called ‘bush school’, but that has been reduced to around rarely more than four weeks or however long it takes to heal.
During this time, they learn about adult social responsibilities within the village. People who go through the initiation treat each other as brothers/sisters during the school and for the rest of their life. The youngsters are put into separate groups according to their gender, and the ceremony will only take place in the village when there are a large number of children suitably aged. The group atmosphere produces a strong bond amongst the initiates and lifelong kinship is often born.
Preparation is made in the village for the return of the now considered adults. A celebration marks the return of these new adults to their families. The masquerade moves alone during the ceremony, chasing the adults and children, making loud ear-piercing screams and slamming two sharp machetes together in order to scare away evil spirits and witches.
The Mandinka are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, with an estimated population of eleven million. They are the descendants of the Mali Empire, whom ruled most of west Africa in the between 1200-1600AD.