Argungun Fishing Festival: The Historical Background

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By Sadiq Musa Rishi ..

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Argungu international fishing and cultural festival is the most widely attended in Nigeria and perhaps the oldest known festival of its kind, as it predates the conquest of Kanta of Kabi in the early 16th century.



 The festival started initially in the form of religious rites prior to the time of Surame- Gungu of Kabi Kingdom. 


In other words, it began as an informal family and communal affair. Since that time the festival has undergone several changes and modifications. The evolution of the festival at Argungu seems to go hand in hand with the socioeconomic development of the kabawa (people of Kabi). 


Since the 16th century (kanta’s days), the festival, as we know it today, has become more elaborate and stylized. At the same time, it has, since the jihad period, been progressively enriched with the fielding of more events for the general entertainment of the attending public.

The history: 16th Century to 1934
In the 16th century (the days of kanta) the fishing festival at kaji had probably taken a national character. The spectacular rallying powers of Kanta, who used to travel in a boat receiving homage throughout his riverine empire, must have served to bring 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 subjects. Kanta had to work hand in hand with officials and chiefs of fishing and waters who also advised him in matters of particular significance for the welfare of his kingdom such as during warfare and during communal fishing and harvests. In this period four major public rituals were observed:
1. The Gyaran Ruwa
2. The fashin ruwa
3. The gyaran gari
4. The shan kabewa and Fura

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The first two ceremonies (gyaran ruwa and fashin ruwa) relate to water and have direct bearing on fishing while the last two ceremonies are for land propitiations. 



The gyaran ruwa specifically refers to the basic rituals of the grant finale event. 

Purification of waters which preceeded the great fishing day with the view of having a hitch free fishing festival on the appointed day. On the day of gyaran ruwa, the priests and the Bori practitioners enter big canoes and transverse the length of Kabi rivers. In the process, the jirgi (master of canoes) pour libations into the river for good fishing and abundant harvest. The homa and mairuwa also pour libations in the middle of the river to Doguwa, who is the Queen spirit of the river, after which the Bori practitioners leap into the water, while chanting some incantations for the protection of the fishermen, throughout the year.



 The fashin ruwa signifies the opening up of the waters for fishing. The Homa in this case seeks the consent of the Emir of Kabi, who then decides on a date for the beginning of the fishing season. Through the Homa, the fashin ruwa rites attracts a great deal of social interaction as it is a national event with open display of music, dance, aerobatics, wrestling, and other side attractions, usually witnessed by a huge crowd of men, women and children.

The gyaran gari (purifying the town) and Shan kabewa (testing the pumpkin porridge) are specialized rituals of land propitiations. They were replete with sacrifices, Bori and Tsafi demonstrations, music, dancing, and artistic exhibitions, all aimed at purging the land of evil spirits and soliciting bountiful harvest. Sacrifices are also made profusely at the foot of specific rocks and trees and at the top of some hills as part of Thanksgiving.


All four festivals mentioned above are heavily attended and naturally call for the presence of side attractions and entertainment of all traditional spheres. With the steady penetration of Islamic culture in the area, the three rites namely: gyaran ruwa, gyaran gari and shan kabewa were abolished leaving the fashin ruwa which rite opens the present Argungu international festival.


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