When I heard that a kumpo, a mythical character of the West African Jola tribe, had been spotted near the village of Kanuma, just a few hours drive from where we were staying in The Gambia, there was only one thing for it; I was determined to arrange an expedition f to track down this elusive creature.
I set off early in the morning (well not that early actually) with Monica, The Travel Hack, riding shotgun and headed off to Makasutu Forest to meet up with the rest of the group. Before long we were riding out past Brikama on dusty tracks to the village of Kanuma. To save any confusion, this is not the better known Kanuma on the North Bank but the smaller Kanuma off South Bank Road. It is so small that it isn’t even on the map. Luckily our guide, Ram, knew exactly where it was.
When we arrived at the village we were greeted with songs and drumming as the villagers surrounded our vehicle. What a fabulous welcome.
Gathering under giant mango trees, the villagers sang and danced for us. It was wonderful to see how much everyone was enjoying it, visitors and locals alike. Tom was a big hit with the children, discussing the merits of various football teams.
Now I am the kind of person who finds it impossible to keep still to the rhythm of a drum so it was inevitable that at some point I would join the dance. Well, it would have been rude not to.
I was worried that with all this noise the Kumpo, if indeed it even existed, would be far too shy to show its face. As the music grew louder and the dancing more frantic I spotted what can only be described as a giant haystack with a large spike sticking out of its head, slowly make its way towards us through the village. I needn’t have worried, the Kumpo was anything but shy.
The Kumpo came nearer and nearer and the music grew even louder and before I knew it there it was right in front of me gently swaying. Then in a flash of the eye, it lent forward and was spinning on its spike.
More dancing, singing, clapping and drumming followed and when a fire was lit in the middle of the clearing I was worried the Kumpo would go up in flames but no; it deftly put the fire out with another spin and a twist.
What is the Kumpo?
The Kumpo is one of three traditional figures (the others being the Samay and the Niasse) in the mythology of the Jola (or Diola) people, found in Guinea-Bissau. the Casamance region of Senegal and in The Gambia, West Africa. I first met members of the Jola tribe when I attended another festival, the Futampaf, a fabulous event where thousands of Jolas travel from far and wide to gather and celebrate the initiation of young men into the tribe. I knew well how much the Jola’s like to celebrate!
The Kumpo is dressed in dried palm leaves and it is forbidden to touch it and to try and look through the palm leaves would be sacrilege. It is believed to be a ghost and serves as a reminder to the villagers to be a good member of the community. The dance it performs spinning on the spike attached to its head is mesmerising. I couldn’t figure out how it was even possible.
Wanted to know more about West Africa? Read about my experience attending a traditional West African wedding or check out all my articles from The Gambia.
The real reason for our visit to Kanuma
We had the most amazing time, thanks to Ram from ComAfrique InteliZone Initiative who organised our visit to Kanuma to celebrate the arrival of solar power to the village, sponsored by The Gambia Experience. You can read more about this in my article, Light up a village – Solar power spreads across West Africa.
Thanks to Ram and Monica, The Travel Hack, for the photographs of me making a spectacle of myself.
Disclosure: Although I worked for The Gambia Experience, the sponsors of this trip, from 2005 to 2019, I will always give you a completely honest opinion throughout my Gambia posts, just as I would any other sponsored trip or review. My only bias, which I hope you will forgive me for, stems from my having fallen in love with The Gambia many years ago.
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I am located in Ecuatorial Guinea, we also have amazing dancers here from the different Ndowe groups. The name is Okuyi dancer or Mekuyo (plural). They are totally covered with raffia and a mask. They do special performances, like dancing on fire or broken glass as well as very high-speed legs. Also, originally the Okuyi was a protective spirit. There are a lot of YouTube videos. Thank you for sharing the Kumpo pics!
Hi My name is Diwas and I’m a young artist from Bristol, England. I am so fascinated and inspired by the kumpo festival that I really want to go see it and I wanted to see if I can get any information when and where the next kumpo festival is. Thank you 🙂
Hi Diwas, This kumpo was organised to thank The Gambia Experience for donating the solar-powered lights to the village. I’m afraid I’m really not sure how you could get to see one. I’ll email my friends in The Gambia and see if I can find out anymore for you.
Thank you very much Kathryn, any information would be amazing. Thank you for your time.
Looks like a lot of fun in Gambia. I really like the dancing but the fire seems a little scary though.
Yes, it was great fun and I too was amazed the Kumpo didn’t catch fire!
What a fun story on the Kumpo! We’ve enjoyed reading about Gambia from you and the #BlogGambia crew… Sounds like we’ll have to put it on our travel wish list :-).
It really was exciting to meet the other bloggers and share The Gambia with them. Hope you make it there one day. I’m sure you’d love it!
What a fabulous place!
We had such an amazing time. More from Kanuma coming soon!
The Kumpo of Kanuma ! Giant Mangos ! Wow!
Wow indeed! 🙂
The Kumpo looks beautiful
I’ve never heard of Kumpo before so thanks for enlightening me. He seems to me to be an African version of Jack in the Green who is part of the May Day celebrations in Hastings Old Town – except our Kumpo is covered from head to foot in foliage with a crown on top! I especially like the dancing shots – so full of colour and energy.
We had a fabulous time! The Kumpo is used to protect the village. I don’t think it has my connection to the time of the year but I’m certainly no expert on this.
Fantastic experience Kathryn! I would love to go to Africa!
We had an amazing time. I do hope you make it there one day and The Gambia would be the perfect place to start! 🙂
Looks like fun, Kat!
And I’ve learnt something new today too… I now know what a kumpo looks like!
Ah yes, you never know when that might come in handy!