Experiencing the Argungun Festival

Experiencing the Argungun Festival

What is it about the Argungun International Fishing and Culture Festival that has made it so well known all over the world. Is it the colourful displays? Is it the tradition and history behind it? Or even the expertise of the fishermen and the Argungun River’s capriciousness?

Well, we’re about to find out in this article that reveals the history and traditions that surround this festival that is staged yearly in Kebbi state, Nigeria.

What you should know about Kebbi state

Kebbi state was carved out of Sokoto state in 1991. Located in the north-western part of Nigeria and bordered by Zamfara and Niger states, Kebbi also shares international borders with the Republic of Benin and the Niger Republic. With a total landmass of 36,800 kilometres and 21 local government areas, Birnin-kebbi is the capital of Kebbi state.

Founded by refugees of the Assyrian Empire around 600 BCE, Kebbi is made up of both the Sudan and Sahel savannahs and is predominantly sandy. The Rima river passes through the Argungun in the northern part of the state and empties into the River Niger, which cuts across the state.

The Hausas comprise the major population of the state with smaller ethnic groups like the Kambari, Kamuku, and the Dukawa. Christianity and Islam are the predominant religions in the state.

Some Quick Facts about Argungun

Argungun is a city located on the Sokoto River that became prominent in the 18th century. With the Fulani invasion of Kebbi in 1808, some of Kebbi’s rulers fled the state to Argungun to found a new emirate.

Conquered in 1831 by Gwandu, the city could not be completely controlled so it remained a de facto independent state. With an estimated population of over 47 thousand people at the 2007 census, Argungun serves as the seat of the Argungun Emirates. A large number of the people grow crops such as peanuts, rice, millet, tobacco and sorghum.

Image credit: facts.ng

The Argungun Fishing Festival

To mark the end of the centuries-old hostilities between the Kebbi Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate, the Argungun Fishing Festival was established. Usually celebrated annually in February after all farming activities are over, the festival was first staged in 1934 in Argungun, the capital of Argungun Emirate Council. Ever since it has become an important event in Kebbi state government’s calendar. Established to foster fishing and unity, the Argungun Fishing Festival has drawn the attention of visitors around the globe, many of whom travel down to the city to witness the annual occasion.

Argungun is made up of fertile river areas (Mala, Gamji, and Matanfanda) with orchards (called lambu in Hausa) and irrigated fields. A large number of the fishermen are Muslim and are predominantly farmers.

The main historical centre in Argungun for tourists and visitors is the Kanta Museum, which has eleven compartments and having houses relics tracing the history of Kebbi. Some of their notable collections include charms, spears, swords, wood, stones, bows, arrows, local guns and drums. It also serves as a mortuary for deceased emirs of the local government.

What Happens at the Festival?

The Argungun Festival usually holds between February and March annually and lasts for four days. It is always a beehive of activities such as agricultural shows, wrestling and boxing tournaments, cultural shows, craft exhibitions, instrumental symphonies, canoe races, diving and swimming competitions and the very notable fishing competition.

On the last day of the festival, a competition in which thousands of men and women line up along the river is held. At the sound of a gunshot, everyone jumps into the river and is given an hour to catch the largest fish. Whoever catches the largest fish, emerges the winner and takes home the prize money, which could be as much as $7,500. While competitors are allowed to use traditional fishing tools, many of them prefer to use their hands to show how skilled they are. This practice is known as noodling.

In 2005, the winning fish weighed 75 kg and required four men to hoist it onto the scales for measurement. In 2006, the festival banned the fishing competition due to safety concerns concerning the low water levels.

The government, realising the value of the festival to the economy, began to conserve fish stock by banning the use of cast nets and gill nets.

The festival was inscribed in 2016 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Argungun Fishing Festival has borne some significances to not just Kebbi state but also Nigeria. Ever since the onset of the festival in 1934, it has pushed Kebbi state into international limelight as a bold representation of the culture of the people. The festival continues to help in describing the rich history of the Argungun people while cementing the bonds of unity between the diverse ethnic groups in the state. In addition, it facilitates job creation in Argungun, thereby improving the state’s economy.

Farmers who attend the festival have also learnt about new farming techniques, large scale farming and the use of improved seeds to increase harvest rates. Not just that – the festival is a major means of recreation and relaxation for the people of Argungun especially after the end of a tense farming season.

Omachona Eguda holds a Bachelor's degree in mass communication from the University of Benin and is at an advanced stage of her postgraduate studies in communications and language arts at the University of Ibadan. She is a writer, poet, journalist, and works as a digital and media strategist at one of Nigeria's leading advertising firms.

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