I had promised myself that I would be happy if ONE project was sustained beyond our volunteering period. Increasingly that looked a forlorn hope, until last night’s ASSET Masquerade and Fanal Festival.
The idea was serendipitous; we had spotted a fanal in the dusty, decaying National Museum in Banjul at the end of November. At a subsequent meeting with the Director of the National Centre for Arts and Culture (I cannot recall why I was there), Baba explained the fanal custom and dug out some archive material for me. Chris and I were hooked; the replica fanal in the museum was a small scale model – real fanals are big lantern-lit constructions made from bamboo and filigree-cut coloured paper, traditionally based on boats, attended by costumed ‘sailors’ (the bearers) a ‘captain’ (who conducts the dancing fanal as it swoops at shoulder height over imaginary seas) and entertainers. Fanals are built by clubs and paraded to their sponsors as a fund-raiser at the end of the year. Masquerades appear on the streets at the same time; costumed tribal traditions: hunting, fairies, mythical monsters with their drumming, singing entourage.
I wrote a concept paper and Chris and I hawked it around the GTB (Tourist Board) and potential sponsors. Everyone loved the idea and despite having less than a month to go a budget was agreed and we were set loose to make it happen. And it did. Last night. Despite enormous personal frustration and lack of effort by many in positions of power who had agreed to lend their support. (Regular readers will be aware of my increasing depression at working practises here.)
Everyone who attended the Festival thought it spectacular. Locals say they saw cultural performances last night that they had never before seen in the Gambia. And the GTB committed to making this an annual festival. Tick.