Reviving a heritage
Reviving a heritage
THE Argungu Fishing and Cultural Festival
has a long fascinating history behind it. Perhaps, one of the oldest and most
celebrated festivals North of the Niger. The Argungu Fishing and Cultural
Festival has sadly been absent from the calendar of national events since 1997,
when it was last staged. Several attempts to revive the annual event had met
with little success.
The stage however looks set for the
revival of the once famous heritage of the Kabawa people, thanks to the renewed
effort of Alhaji Muhammad Adamu Aliero, the Governor of Kebbi State. Fans of the
festival cannot but agree with the governor who recently gave the hints in Lagos
on the preparedness of the Kebbi State Government to revive the festival and
once more draw international attention to the rich socio-cultural and economic
potentials of Argungu.
History has it that the Argungu Fishing
Festival started as a modest show of hospitality to the then visiting Sultan of
Sokoto, Mallam Hassan Dan
"Mu’azu to the Argungu Emirate after cessation of hostilities following the holy
Jihad of Usman Danfodio. The then Emir of Argungu, Mallam Muhammed Sama,
organised fishing amongst his subjects as a display of the skills of the Kabawas
in the art of fishing, so as to impress his guest and give him some fish to take
back home to Sokoto.
Since then, the festival has undergone
modifications and eventually metamorphosed into a grand event where the rich
culture and economic potentials of the people are displayed. Over the years,
since the grand event was staged in 1934, the Argungu fishing festival has
continued to widen its scope and participation. Today, it has become an
international event, drawing global attention, as one of Africa’s richest
cultural festivals and tourist rendezvous.
Studies show that, while the Argungu
Fishing Festival was initially intended as a mark of the unification of Sokoto
sultanate and Argungu Emirate, torn by years of rivalry, it has been converted
into a vehicle to showcase the hospitality, the social, economic and cultural
potentials of the entire Kebbi State. It is still tied to the apron of a fishing
festival because, fishing has remained one of the vocations of a lot of
communities in Kebbi State, where rivers abound.
Giving a brief on the evolution of the
Argungu Fishing Festival, Governor Adamu Aliero was quoted as telling
journalists in Lagos recently that "to commemorate the occasion of the historic
visit of the Sultan of Sokoto to Argungu, following rivalries between the two
during the Islamic Jihad, a grand fishing was organised by the Emir of Argungu,
Mallam Mohammadu Sama. Seeing that the visitor from Sokoto enjoyed the festival
very much, the people of Argungu continued to hold the festival each year. Later
on, to foster good relations with neighbours they started inviting outsiders to
participate in the festival." What therefore started as a humble traditional
ceremony has developed into an international event.
Records show that up to the 1960s, the
festival was still considered largely a local affair. By 1972 however, the then
Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, along with his Nigerian counterpart,
Hammani Diori attended the festival. It continued to enjoy a boost since that
time, and by 1981 when the most successful of the event to date was reported to
have been staged, it became even clearer that the organisation of the festival
had to be further reviewed to accommodate the growing list of guests and
participants at the festival.
Unfavourable political climate and other
logistic problems, however, hampered the progress of the annual event. In 1997,
the then military Government barely managed to host the festival. Attendants at
the 1997 event testified to the effect that the famous Argungu Fishing and
Cultural festival had lost its appeal. Although people still displayed the old
enthusiasm that attended previous celebrations, it could not be said to have
been very successful.
Apparently disturbed by the above
scenario, Alhaji Mohammadu Adamu Aliero began a systematic and gradual plan to
revive the festive and inject into it, its traditional lure and wide appeal. To
this end the Governor unfolded a programme for the new look Argungu Fishing and
According to him, the festival will last
four days, from March 17 to 20. While promising very fascinating and captivating
event lined up for the four days, Governor Aliero for first time threw the gate
open for private or corporate partnership in the sponsor of the festival. His
government, he said, will provide mouth-watering incentives to prospective
partners or sponsors of the festival, even as he equally drew global attention
to the many benefits derivable from participation in the event.
Part of the event lined up for the period
of the festival include amongst others a workshop on investment opportunities
and tourism side in Kebbi State, to be held in Birnin Kebbi. Others are archery,
catapulting and dane gun shooting competitions. Agricultural and mini-trade fair
and car, bicycle, horse, camel and donkey races. Also on display will be rich
and famous Kabanci display, wrestling and local boxing, before the grand fishing
which comes up on the last day of the festival.
Governor Aliero further explained that,
each of the events lined up for the festival has its own peculiarity and variety
of participants. While the agricultural fair will attract stakeholders, farmers,
government ministries and agencies, such events as the Kabana display will
feature swimmers on gourds, canoe race, water skiing, swimming with eyes closed,
water relay, bare hand fishing, wild duck chase and regatta, amongst other
For the first time since 1981, this year’s
festival will also feature motor rally, which is expected to flag off from Abuja
through some major cities like Jos, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Gusau, Sokoto and
finally terminating in Argungu via Jega and Birnin Kebbi. Major motor
manufacturers have already indicated their intension to participate in the
event. Equally, participants from within the country and beyond have indicated
willingness to be part of the revival of the once famous Argungu Fishing and
While promising to deploy the full weight of his
government’s machinery for a repeat of the 1981 feat, Governor Adamu Aliero also
assured of the possible presence of the president, Olusegun Obasanjo and vice
president, Atiku Abubakar, along with some African leaders from other countries.
While the festival promises to be a huge event, those who had the privilege to
have witnessed past editions are already anxious. The Argungu Fishing and
Cultural Festival will bring back memories of the past glory of the people of
Kabawa, but most importantly, it will re-launch Kebbi State, as it did of Sokoto
State of the past into international arena of economic tourism partnership.
Bwala wrote from Lafia, Nasarawa State.