More than 30.000 fisherman had taken part to the annual Argungu fishing festival
in Nigeria's Kebbi state. People from all west africa has come to partecipate
to the main event: the fishing contest in the waters of the river Mata Fada,
using nets and traditional gourds made with calabashes a sort of punpkin
dried and hollowed. The fisherman who take the biggest fish wins a prize
of 7000 dollars, a huge amount of money for nigerian people
evolution of the festival at Argungu seems to go hand with the
socio economic development of the Kabawa (people of Kebbi) generally.
Since the 16th century (Kanta’s days), the festival as we
know it today has become more elaborate and stylish. At the same
time it has, since the jihad period, been getting progressively
enriched with the fielding of more events for the general entertainment
of the attending public.
To make this write up comprehensive, we shall here categorise the
historical background of Argungu fishing into two main adaptation
Fishing festival from 16th century to 1934 in brief
In the 16th century - the days of Kanta - the fishing festival at
Kabi probably assumed a sort of nationalistic character. The spectacular
rallying powers of Kanta who used to travel in a boat receiving homage
through out his riverine empire must have served to bring in bold
belief the desirability as well as efficacy of a centralised festival.
Kanta himself was known to have encouraged both localised and annual
festivals as a passport to having a very firm hold on his subject
people. Kanta had to work hand in hand with the officials and chiefs
of fishing and waters who also advised him in matters of significance
for the welfare of his kingdom such as during warfare, communal fishing
and harvests. In this period four major public rituals were observed.
The Fashin Ruwa
The Gyaran Gari and
The Shan Kabewa and Fura
The first two ceremonies, (Gyaran Ruwa and Fashin Ruwa) relate to
water and have direct bearing on fishing while the last two ceremonies
are land propitiations.
Specifically the Gyaran Ruwa refers to the basic rituals of purification
of waters that precedes the great fishing day with the view to
have a hitch-free fishing festival on the appointed day. On the
day of Gyaran Ruwa, the priests and the Bori parishioners enter
big canoes and traverse the length of Kabi Rivers. In the process,
the Jirgi (Master of the river) pours libations in the middle of
the river to the Queen Spirit of the Water (Doguwa). At this junction,
the Bori practitioners leap into the water and perform some incantation
for the protection of the fishermen throughout the year.
The Fashin Ruwa signifies the opening up of the waters for fishing.
In this case the Home seeks formal permission from the Emir of
Kabi who then fix a date for beginning of the fishing season. Through
the Home, the Fashin Ruwa rite attracts a great deal of social
interaction. It is a national event with open displays of music,
dance, acrobatics, wrestling etc serving as side attractions witnessed
by huge crowds of men, women and children.
The Gyaran Gari (Purification of the town) and Shan Kabewa (Testing
the Pumpkin porridge) were specialised rituals of land propitiations.
They were replete with sacrifices, bori and tsafi demonstrations;
music, dancing and artistic exhibitions all aimed at purging evil
spirits from the land and soliciting for bountiful harvest. As
part of thanks giving profuse sacrifices are made at the food of
some specific rocks and trees and at the top of some hills.
All the four festivals mentioned above were heavily attended and
naturally called for the presence of side attractions and the presence
of entertainers of all traditional occupations. With the steady
penetration of Islamic culture in the area, the three rites namely
the Gyaran ruwa, Gyaran gari and Shan Kabewa were stopped leaving
the Fashin Ruwa rite which is the origin of the present Argungu
International Fishing and Cultural Festival.
Within this period, the festival at Argungu had already assumed a
fairly non-religious or non-animistic tone, devoid largely of the
usual Bori and Tsafi exhibitions. However even though Islam had by
this time become very widely adopted in the area, the presence of
Islam appears to have merely served to neutralise the base for Bori
and Iskoki rites so well associated with the festival. This is suggesting
that with the wide spread acceptance of Islam among the Kabawa, most
individual families in the area have increasingly given up animist
practices but continued to look up to the festival occasion for periodic
displays of the traditional cult. At the same time, attendance to
this festival appears to have increased considerably with community
representatives taking some fairly conspicuous position at the festival
venue. Dignitaries from the neighbouring riverine areas also featured
regularly as guests during the festival.
The 1934 festival was the most conspicuous in attendance by a non-Argungu
notable dignitary with the historic visit by the Sarkin Musulmi,
Sultan Hassan Dan Mu’azu. In response to an earlier invitation
extended by the Emir of Argungu, Muhammad Sama, the newly appointed
Sultan of Sokoto paid a visit to Argungu in 1934.
In anticipation of the visit, the Emir and his council decided to
arrange a grand fishing exhibition which will serve as a momentous
symbol of the Kabawa identity. Initially the Emir and his officials
had felt that local entertainments and feats of manhood like boxing
and wrestling would alone appear demeaning and totally unworthy
of entertainment for a whole Sultan. Neither would anything short
of water-craft portray this in clear focus than organising a grand
fishing fiesta devoid of the traditional rituals of spirit propitiation.
Between 1934 and 1950 the festival began to record a certain degree
of consistency in terms of dating and attendance. For the first
time women and small children were being admitted into the festival
ground. Besides, the grand day for the fishing finale began to
alternate between Saturdays and Sundays of a special period during
the post rainy season. In late 1870’s, however the most preferred
day of the week for the grand fishing finale has consistently been
a Saturday in February or March.
Prior to 1934, the financing of the four rituals has been on a purely
individual familial or communal basis. Individual families and
participants sponsor themselves or live on one another’s
reciprocal hospitality and upkeep of the sacrifices and other material
rituals that are to be performed by the Bori practitioners and
the fishing functionaries.
From 1934 up to the 1960’s the Emirate Council, the Native
Authority and the Northern Government started in turn to invest in
the festival with a view to making it grandiose particularly in the
wake of increasing waves of invited guests.
Active government participation however, came with the establishment
of a Northern Regional Government when for the first time a substantial
grant of £500 (Five hundred pounds) was made to the Argungu
Native Authority. In 1969, the then North Western State government,
decided to involve itself directly with the general development
and restructuring of the festival. The federal military government
waded in with a substantial donation of £10, 0000.00 (Ten
Thousand Pounds) each in 1970 and 1977.
In fact in February 1977, the Argungu Fishing Festival was organised
specifically as a major side event of immense cultural value. In
recognition of the value of the festival in reviving the state
heritage and enhancing the development of tourism, subsequent Sokoto
state administrations drew up a multi-million naira master plan
for the festival village and for the provision of infrastructure.
In the case of attendance, before 1934 the attendance to the four
rituals remained chiefly a local affair. However, after 1934 the
festival at Argungu became not only a community affairs but essentially
a national event worthy of being witnessed by dignitaries from
the international community. Indeed since the memorable visit of
Sultan Dan Mu’azu, the festival has been attracting such
a growing followership from all over the country. Tourists and
guests for the occasion troop in large numbers from Europe, Britain,
United States, Russia, South East Asia, and neighbouring African
countries like Niger, Benin Republic, Cameroon, etc.
By 1970 the attendance figure to the festival had exceeded 100,000
people. The first visit by a Nigerian Head of State was also recorded
in 1970 with the visit of His Excellency Gen. Yakubu Gowon and
his counterpart from the Republic of Niger, Alh. Diori Hammani.
Both statesmen attended in the company of their wives. In the same
year, (1970), fishermen from Rivers state and cultural troupes
from the South, Western and Eastern State of Nigeria began participating.
In fact by 1979, Rivers state had established a permanent camp
for its fishermen and cultural troupes in the Fishing Village.
The Festival was used by the Federal Government during the period
to heal the wounds of the civil war and build confidence and mutual
respect between Nigerian people. In contrast, 1977 marked the beginning
of the attendance of high profile International guests to the festival.
Notable amongst the visitors were Mr. Andrew Young, the American
Secretary of State, the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria and the Consul-General
of the Saudi Arabian Embassy.
Cultural troupes and Heads of Missions of most nations that attended
FESTAC ‘77 also witnessed the Festival. All Nigerian Heads
of State and Presidents witnessed the festival with the Exception
of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar and Chief Ernest
Shonekan. Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has a record
attendance of four visits to the festival. To date, more than 200
traditional Rulers have witnessed the festival from all over Nigeria
and neighbouring African countries, with the Sultan and many of
others making it a duty to attend annually until the end of their
The 1980 festival was witnessed by no less than nine state governors
among whom were Alhaji Abubakar Rimi of Kano, Abubakar Barde of
Gongola, Adamu Attah of Kwara, Solomon Lar of Plateau and Tatari
Ali of Bauchi.
On the whole approximately 105,000 persons attended the 1980 (46th)
festival. In his vote of thanks, the Guest of Honour of the occasion,
Governor Tatari Ali of Bauchi remarked that, the festival was simply
marvellous beyond description. He said “with all my travels
the world over I have not yet come across a festival of this nature
drawing so huge and so complex a multitude of persons.
Events which feature in the festival have over the years become diversified
and secular. Unit 1950 the Festival has been consistently fielding
three major events, Bori and Gyaran Gari. From 1970 to date the
festival has been featuring amongst other, things a highly diversified
and multi-sponsored agriculture show, a grand fishing competition,
craft exhibitions, national wrestling and boxing tournaments, cultural
entertainments, traditional symphonies, instrumentalists, etc.
It also features the much cherished Kabanci display which includes
swimming competitions of different styles, bare hand fishing, wild
duck catching, diving competition (Shako), canoe race of different
categories, etc. The Motor-rally and Archery competitions were
introduced in 1973 and 1981 respectively. In 1980, 175 varieties
of Artistes and Entertainers performed during the festival.
The Argungu Fishing and Cultural Festival has contributed highly
to the infrastructural and socio-economic growth of Argungu town
and its environs. It has also brought fame and acclaim, both national
and International, for the Argungu Emirate, Sokoto and Kebbi States
and for Nigeria as a whole.
Indeed as a result of a growing interest in the festival Argungu
as a town and Sokoto and Kebbi states are becoming increasingly
identified as some of the most reputable tourist centers in the
entire continent of Africa.
In his speech at the 1978 fishing festival, the Late Emir of Argungu,
His Royal Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Mera (May his soul rest in
“We are proud to notice that
the Argungu Fishing which started as a humble traditional ceremony
each year has now developed to its
present size drawing visitors from both within and outside Nigeria.
This year we are pleased to notice that our traditional Fishing Festival
has truly become not only an international event but also the greatest
traditional festival in the country. With the presence of such a
great number of distinguished guests than as ever attended any traditional
festival in the country at any one time.”