Festivals are fun
In most regions of the world festivals and festivities are part of life, the festival might be community based like the Igbo peoples new yam festival, ethnic in origin, could be based on traditional worship or sects as seen in Eyo masquerade festival in Lagos state. It could be Government sanctioned and designated public holidays such as Halloween, Independence Day, and religious celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Eid al Fitr and other sanctioned occasions.
Every country can be associated to at least one festival which might either be along religious beliefs, worship or holidays, Nigeria as a whole have many festivals and traditions which are usually aligned along religion like Christianity, Islam and those that practice the old traditions.
The Argungu fishing festival is no different than many cultural gathering except for its uniqueness and longevity; it is on record that the festival started in nineteen thirty seven (1937) as an end to hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate and Kebbi Emirate.
The Sokoto caliphate and Kebbi emirate like that of Kano are ancient kingdoms governed by powerful rulers over hundreds of years ago; they had their own economy and commerce. With strong fighting armies that fiercely defended their territories, people and lifestyle.
The story goes that the two power houses in the north the Sokoto caliphate and Kebbi Emirates fought a long bitter battle that was said to have lasted one hundred years. The presence of the British and the sudden historical visit of the Sultan Dan Muazu brought about the end of the war and to mark the historic occasion the festival was formed as a reminder of the visit.
The place called Argungu can be found in northern western Nigeria and is a territory within Kebbi State; Kebbi state has a population of about one hundred thousand inhabitants. The people speak Hausa and other local dialects and are predominantly Muslims which making up about fifty five percent (55%) while Christians thirty percent (30%) and others constitute the remainder.
They practice Islam and are Muslims and their major occupation is subsistence farming and fishing, and growing agricultural commodities like yam, tomatoes and other important food crops are planted in the state. The crops are usually transported to various states within Nigeria and some even exported or used in manufacturing companies in major cities like Abuja, Lagos.
Kebbi state is blessed with abundant natural resources and many rivers such as the Mala River, Ganji River, Rina River and the Matan Fada River.
Apart from Argungu fishing festival which is an international tourist destination, Argungu also has one major historic center called the Kanta museum, which is said to have some significant historic artifacts dating thousands of years.
Birnin Kebbi is the capital of Kebbi state and can be grouped among the so called fruit basket like other North western states such as Jigawa state, Kaduna state, and Kano state among others, most of this region are into farming, regular cosmopolitan jobs and cattle rearing usually by Fulani herdsmen who generally transverse the land.
Horse and Camel riders Start the Argungu fishing festival
Beautiful cultural dances and masquerades are part of the festival
The festival has many cultural groups on display; they include kabanchi traditional display, all female dance groups, masquerades and other acrobatic song and dance performers. Some of the dancers might not be indigene but most of the troupes have a true representation of the beautiful culture of the Kebbi state people.
Each troupe favors different costumes which are sown to represent the kind of dance, music or performance they would showcase, drums like the Kalangu or talking drum are liberally used with different flute and blow instruments. Other cultural entertainment at the occasion can fall under traditional dances, songs and ethnic music with chants, praise singing and recitations.
Argungu river/ road map
Starting of the fishing festival
The fishing festival is not only about fishing but has a carnival like feel and has many activities leading up to the grand finale, the festival lasts for four days of fun, parades and competitions and within that period many cultural activities peculiar to that region are fully on display.
Prayers are said before and after the event, with the parade starting off at the emir’s palace and making its way towards the town square. Argungu festival is celebrated by the entire people of the state, guests and tourists, you can witness beautiful acrobatic displays, dancing and singing among many more side attractions and competitions.
The rich cultural activities and competitions you see at the festival are wresting, local boxing, horse racing, canoe racing, camel racing, donkey races and ethnic musicians.
Durbar festivals are common place in the northern territories of Nigeria and are mostly done during very important ceremonies like Eid al Fitr, and Eid al Adha. Durbar also happen during the coronation of a new Emir or Sultan, as a sign of great honor and respect, and is also an avenue for master horsemen to display their skill. A durbar can be organized for important visitor such as presidents, top diplomats, special ceremonies and fanfare.
During the fishing festival there is usually a durbar complete with elaborately decorated horses and riders, doing incredible stunts with their horses. The riders also brandish clan insigne’s and beautifully carved swords and daggers to give an impression of being great warriors like their ancestors who fought in the past. The horse riders sometimes compete in impromptu horse races and are also part of the parade while the crowds who are nicely attired do their bit.
The horsemen in their vivid colors costumes, dancers, drummers and crowd makes the parade a very colorful and interesting spectacle, the durbar main reason is to infuse excitement into the crowd while allowing the riders display impressive horse ridding skills.
Canoe racing is part of the activities that you would see at the fishing festival, it is a serious affair with individuals and groups vying for laurels. They compete as individuals or against each other in canoes made out of local wood carved out by boat builders, some of the canoes look really precarious but they float fine and can be propelled at astounding speed.
Competition Rules and Events
|Fishing implements||not allowed||festival events|
Images from Argungu fishing festival
How long is the fishing
The festival has many cultural groups on display; they include kabanchi traditional display, all female dance groups, masquerades and other acrobatic song and dance performers. Some of the dancers might not be indigence but most of the troupes have a true representation of the beautiful culture of the Kebbi state people.
Each troupe favors different costumes which are sown to represent the kind of dance, music or performance they would showcase, drums like the Kalangu drum or talking drum are liberally used with different flute and blow instruments. Other cultural entertainment at the occasion can fall under traditional dances, songs and ethnic music with chants, praise singing and recitations.
The festival is incomplete without the drums which might be very large skin drums of over three feet in diameter to smaller handy drums carried waist high. Drums add dramatization to the entire even and is also used during the canoe race and during the actual fishing were it is used in conjunction with huge seed filled rattlers to scare and stir the fish towards shallower waters.
Traditional symphony bands are also common place during the fishing festival
Another part of the fishing festival is duck hunting, the participants are given a specific time frame to hunt wild duck which are native to the area, and skillful hunters can participate in this particular event. Tradition wresting and local boxing bouts are also organized to entertain the visitors.
Argungu fishing festival a man carrying a large fish
The fishing competition
The Argungu fishing festival is all about fishing, which is the highlight of all the various competitions, parades and activities leading up to the actual fishing. After prayers are said on the last day of the festival the main reason around which the festival started would commence.
The men and women numbering between five thousand to ten thousand fishermen line up like in a hundred meter race to dash into the murky muddy waters of the Mata Fada River, they patiently wait for the officiating referee to fire his starter pistol. With the sound of the gun the fishermen plunge into the water most times in pairs to begin the search for fish.
At one end of the river special herders in canoes use large seed rattle trumpets and sticks to drive the fish towards the shallows, at this time almost every available space in the river is occupied by fishermen. The spectacle of thousands of people groping the muddy river bed is pretty amazing to see.
Argungu fishing festival in Kebbi state-Nigeria
Fishing rules only a gourd and net
The fishermen are guided by some rules and are not allowed to use nets except small locally made ones, they are also allowed to use flotation devices especially round hollow gourds which most of the participants put their catches into.
They can work on their own or can work as a team in pairs, and the fishermen are encouraged to use their bare hands to catch the elusive fish. With such overwhelming numbers in the river the fish hardly has a chance of escape, and are caught quickly.
The fishermen and women can only use traditional fishing tool, their bare hands, no gillnets, sharp implements or cast nets are allowed, and the participants can carry sticks if they think it would help them snare a monster.
The biggest and meanest fish in the water according to mass after weighing wins the fishing competition.
Type of fish caught in the river
The river has a limited variety of fish but because the festivities only happens once a yearly, at a the designated conservation area the fish are protected. Because of government policy and intervention no fishing is done in the river which allows the fish reach incredible weights and mass.
The kind of fish caught usually range from the catfish, tiger fish, tilapia and the Nile perch which are many and can grow pretty big, the Nile perch can reach six and a half feet(6.5ft) and can weigh up to one hundred and fifty kilos 150 kilos.
Duration of the fish hunt
The fishermen only have an hour to snare the price catch, so they must work really fast and discard smaller fish if their eye is on the price. The contestants are judged according to the weight of the fish, and the simple rule states that the heaviest fish caught wins the top price.
In the past fishing competitions the fishermen have caught some impressive monsters, back in two thousand and five (2005) the winning fish weighed a whooping seventy five kilograms and the fish during weighing had to be hoisted by four hefty men.
The motivation for braving the murky waters, being bitten by sharp toothed catfish, the danger of snake bites and potentially getting drowned (just kidding) is worth it. Because according to the weight of the fish several weight categories are amply rewarded for their effort.
The cash payouts are very hefty and on a certain occasion the winning Nile perch fetched the fishermen a hefty seven thousand five hundred dollars($7,500), not bad for one hours work don’t you think?
The Argungu fishing festival was last held in two thousand and ten (2010) and the Kebbi state government has announced that the extravaganza would hold this year 2014. The festival is usually held between February and march so the time is about right for another one to begin.
The entire festival is done within four days and the fishing is done on the last day and lasts only one hour, the other side attractions like the music, dancing, cultural displays, masquerades and other competitions makes the whole experience worthwhile and a true tourist attraction.
The entire state gets involved during the festival and it provides increased commerce and investment to the area during such important festivals. If you are looking for a unique experience in northern hospitality, culture, traditions and vibrant colors look no further than the always interesting Argungu fishing festival.