A year or so, I wrote about seeing the Kankurang – a kind of Devil figure that roams villages, scaring not only the children but everyone.
The Kankurang came out again in Abene a couple of weeks ago. I had gone to the village centre to buy some provisions. I watched a procession of local older women dancing in formation to the beat of drums and there was a strange atmosphere in the air – an air of nervousness. Children huddled in groups looking around. Then I saw it. A flash of red as a hairy creature ran between two buildings. Khady dropped her shopping, grabbed me and pulled us quickly into my friend Laurie’s internet cafe. Several others huddled in there behind the door curtain, looking through a crack.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out what the Kankurang is and why it terrorises people. I presumed it was ceremonial and wouldn’t actually hurt someone. I made to go out and look and it was at that point, Laurie had some sharp words with me – “you have Khady and a baby, don’t be stupid”.
“But I know karate” I replied like a pillock.
“Ok, well just so you know, a tourist was severely beaten up a couple of years back and the konkouran have machetes. The gendarmes won’t do anything, nobody will do anything. You are part of the community now so you have no excuse. You need to take these things seriously”.
That told me. We discussed further and I learnt that the Kankurang’s come to a village to give a warning, help promote social cohesion and help teach traditional knowledge. For example, if kids pick mangos before they are ripe and that upsets the years harvest, the kankurang will come and teach the village a lesson. If you keep out of its way it won’t hurt you. If you go towards it or take a photo anything could happen. The photo above is from a cultural museum.
Many local people believe it is a genuine spirit, not some bloke in a Chewbacca suit. Although there are moves to ban them hurting people in cities, it’ll be years before that trickles down to the villages. And parents can warn their children “be good or the Kankurang will get you”.
By now, the Kankurang had moved down the street and I ventured out. From a safe distance I saw it walking towards the procession of women who were still dancing. It seemed to be covered in red hair. One man taunted it and wouldn’t move. Maybe like me, he knows karate. If so, he forgot it and the konkouran struck him to the ground and beat him. I was too far away to see how serious it was, but he laid there for some time after the devil had gone, then got up, dusted himself down and wandered off.