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Senegal Begins Annual Male Circumcision Ceremonies

  • Ricci Shryock

Mass male circumcisions are taking place throughout the Eastern Casamance region of Senegal during August and September. In Mandinko settlements, masked dancers known as Kankurang play an important role in the rituals.

In the village of Sikilo, a Mandinko settlement on the outskirts of Kolda in Southern Senegal, 10 newly circumcised young boys begin singing a traditional song.

Within minutes of starting the song, masked dancers known as Kankurang arrive at the house where the boys are waiting. The Kankurang clash together machetes and sticks as they chant loudly.

This is all part of the Kankurang's annual ceremony to bless the young boys. The purpose of their chanting and dancing is to drive away ghosts who might torment the young boys, explains local resident Vieux Mane.

He says in this tradition that has been practiced for generations, these male dancers attend mass circumcisions, usually scheduled for once a year. The Kankurang serve to protect and bless not only newly circumcised young boys, but also newlywed couples and women who are having trouble conceiving children.

In the Kolda region, there are four to five acting Kankurang who perform their annual rituals. Dressed in tree bark and leaves and carrying machetes and sticks, the men often strike a frightening figure.

But Ida Touray says she believes the Kankurang's blessings helped her and her husband finally conceive a child after five years of failing to do so.

She says her husband took her to many hospitals in Senegal and Gambia, but to no avail. But, she says, she was blessed by the Kankurang last year and says today she is happily nursing a healthy baby boy.

It is not known exactly when the Kankurang first began their circumcision rituals, but for hundreds of years these men have been part of a ceremony that is designed to help young boys understand the rules of social behavior. Though in modern society their role has become increasingly one of local entertainment.

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