By Mariatou Ngum

In a country like ours that is just emerging from many years of despotism, we need culture to generate national dialogue and consensus, according to Hamat Bah, the Minister of Tourism and Culture.

He added that through our shared heritage such as masquerades, languages and rituals, we can always arrive at solutions to our political and social differences. Through our shared cultural heritage, he went on to say, we can build a united and prosperous Gambia.
Minister Bah made these remarks Friday at the opening of the third Kankurang Festival held in Janjanbureh, Central River Region.

The event was organised by the local organising committee and supported by the Youth Empowerment Project, YEP in collaboration with the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and its partners.

The objective of the festival was to enhance the development of Janjanbureh as a tourist destination; promote youth employment in the areas of creative tourism, while extending sustainable socio-economic and cultural benefits of tourism in rural Gambia.
The festival showcases various Gambian masquerades such as the Kankurang, Gesseh, Fairy, Hunting, Kumpo, Ifangbondi, Zimba, and among other masquerades both in the Gambia and Senegal.

About the Kankurang Tradition
The Kankurang tradition is a true and deeply moving expression of local culture in Gambia and Senegal which ensures order, justice, and the collection of complex know-how. On such occasion, young circumcised boys are to learn the rules of behaviour for ordering their community, the secrets of plants and their medicinal values, and hunting techniques. It is an empowerment of the young people of Mandinka in order to enforce the rules set out by their society. It is an expression of a common culture in order to live in peace with nature and other humans.

Minister Bah went on to add that the third edition of the Janjanbureh Kankurang festival is based on the significance of The Gambia’s cultural heritage for national development as espoused in the National Development Plan (NDP).

Through culture, he said jobs can be created in the creative heritage industries such as music, dance, community museums, tour guiding, film, and photography.
“Tax revenue from royalties of copyright of cultural products can help us generate more monies for our treasury,” he said.

He stated that this is why funding is needed to develop our heritage and creative sector. “I have plans to develop a National Fund for Culture to help put more funds on the table for the development of our heritage. Through that fund, festivals like this one and similar activities will get funding,” he disclosed.

Tourism and Culture Minister reiterated that heritage is major player in national development that can give youth jobs, tax revenue and help build a booming tourism culture. Therefore, he commended the work that the Kankurang Festival Organising Committee is doing.

Hassoum Ceesay, the director general of the NCAC, spoke on the topic: significance of cultural heritage; masks and masquerades. He said in traditional African societies, festivals serve to galvanise the community to celebrate events. He said also provides the opportunity to relieve the tensions and drudgery of everyday life.

Deputising for the YEP project manager, Ngoneh Panneh, YEP’s Tourism and Creative Industry adviser, said the goal of the festival is to preserve culture and heritage.
According to her, “our culture is our power and gift to the world and Janjanbureh is enriched with phenomenal cultural heritage, history, undiluted nature and of course beautiful people. These elements combined forms a strong basis, where youth and women can be empowered, where a new tourism destination can be developed, where sustainable employment can be generated, where cross sectoral value addition can be promoted and supported-this is the dream YEP have for Janjanbureh and its surrounding.”

Maimuna Sidibeh, senior programme officer, National Commission for Unesco, said the intangible cultural heritage also looks at traditions or living expressions inherited from ancestors and passed on to our descendants in the form of oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

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