Argungu Fishing Festival last hosted in 2009 is one of the major festivals celebrated annually to mark the end of the centuries-old hostility between the Sokoto caliphate region and the Kebbi kingdom in the northern part of Nigeria.
The festival was initiated in 1934 in Argungu, Kebbi State. It is an annual four-day event in Kebbi State. It is mostly celebrated in the month of February after the end of all farming activities.
More than 30,000 fishermen had taken part in the annual Argungu fishing festival. The main event of the festival is the fishing contest in River Mata Fada, where fishing nets and traditional gourds made with calabashes are used. In 2005, the winner caught a fish weighing 75kg. It was the biggest fish that had ever been caught in the festival till date.
The evolution of the festival at Argungu seems to go hand in hand with the socio-economic development of the people of Kebbi.
Before going into comatose, it has become an international event in which people from Africa, Europe, America and other continents would converge in the ancient town of Argungu to witness the festival every year. The then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, together with Alh. Diori Hammani of Niger Republic attended the Argungu festival in 1970. Since then the festival has been visited by most of the country presidents. The festival also attracts governors from different states in the country most especially the northern states governors.
Originally celebrated as a religious festival, it was transformed in the early 19th century by Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, the ruler of Sokoto, when he stormed the Kebbi Empire during a jihad and took control, he subsequently founded a village that he renamed Argungu. The name, rather derogatory means ‘those foolish people’ in Hausa language. The festival was used in 1934 to mark the end of hostilities between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom.
In 16th century, there were four rites performed before the major festival. The rites were performed by the people of Kabi in the days of Kanta. The rites were:
the Gyaran Ruwa, the Fashin Ruwa, the Gyaran Gari and the Shan Kabewa and Fura.
Gyaran Ruwa is for the purification of rivers before the great fishing day, to placate the gods for a hitch free fishing festival. On the day set aside for the rites, the priests and the Bori parishioners enter big canoes and traverse the length of Kabi Rivers pouring libations in the middle of the river to appease the Queen Spirit of the water (Doguwa).
Fashin Ruwa denotes the opening up of the waters for fishing. The village seeks the formal permission of the Emir of Kabi to pick a date for the fishing season. The ‘Fashin Ruwa’ attracts a lot of tourists (non-villagers) for the event.
Gyaran Gari,(Purification of the town) and ‘Shan Kabewa’(Testing of the Pumpkin porridge) were land rituals of atonement. This ritual is to repel evil spirits from the land and solicit for a bountiful harvest.
With the invasion came the Muslim religion and gradually the traditional rites were eroded, and what remains is only the Fashin Ruwa, which is actually the main fishing event and known today as the Argungu Fishing Festival.
At the beginning of the event, over 5000 fishermen and women gather close to the river, and at the sound of a gunshot, they all dive into the river.
The fishing equipment used are the traditional nets and gourds made of calabash. They are joined by canoes filled with drummers, plus men rattling huge seed-filled gourds to drive the fish to shallow waters. Vast nets are cast and shoals of fish are harvested from the giant Nile Perch to the peculiar Balloon Fish. The person who catches the largest fish is awarded a huge prize money.
Furthermore, there is canoe racing, wild duck hunting, barehanded fishing, diving competitions and naturally, swimming. Afterwards, there is drinking, singing and dancing into the night.
The festival marks the end of the growing season and the harvest. A one mile (1.6 kilometre) stretch of the Argungu River is protected throughout the year, so that the fish will be plentiful for this 45-minute fishing frenzy.
In 2018, the state has decided to resuscitate the festival by also adding polo tournament to the event. Ogboro speaking recently about the addition said he and the entire NPF family were very honoured to have been personally invited by the Emir to witness the maiden Argungu polo tournament. “I am very excited that polo has come to Argungu for the first time in the history of the state and I am proud to have been part of this historical event,” he said.
He said the NPF would work harmoniously with NSK Farms, the sponsors, as well as the state government to ensure that the dream becomes a reality. He added that the game of polo would indeed be a plus to the festival as it had the potential of attracting people from all over the world. “The benefits are indeed numerous for this part of the country as well as the entire nation,” he said.
The Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) has also stated its readiness to partner with the Kebbi State Government to revamp the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival.
The Vice President of FTAN (North West Zone), Mr Nura Sani Kangiwa, in a chat with journalists disclosed that the decisions was reached at the 9th National Council on Tourism, Culture and National Orientation conference held in Dutse, Jigawa State recently. The National Council on Tourism, Culture and National Orientation is an annual gathering aimed at bringing together stakeholders to discuss ways the sector can contribute effectively to improve the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
Kangiwa said that part of the decisions reached at the meeting was the revamping of the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival.
“Based on the resolution recently reached by the National Council on Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, it was agreed that the Federal Government and all tourism stakeholders will partake in the revamping of the festival. So, all tourism stakeholders are going to partner with the Kebbi State Government to ensure that the festival, which has been comatose for some years is revived to promote our country as a tourism destination,” he said.
He said the Federal Government’s effort at diversifying the economy had recognized the creative industry, which culture and tourism were integral part to create jobs and improve foreign exchange earnings. “This was reflected in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017 to 2020. Cultural Tourism is a source of revenue generation.
As an “invisible export” it creates a flow of foreign currency into the economy of a nation. The Culture and Tourism Sector is gaining more recognition and visibility and evolving economic activities capable of reducing extreme poverty, creating jobs and generating revenues for national growth and development. Therefore, in line with the mission of the current political dispensation for diversification of economic activities, revamping the Argungu International Fishing Festival will no doubt satisfy the yearnings of our people,” he added.
The Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival is expected to hold next month.
…Gov appoints Kangiwa as aide
Meanwhile, Kebbi state Governor Senator Abubakar Bagudu has appointed Turakin Kebbi, Alhaji Nura Sani Kangiwa, as Senior Special Assistant on Tourism Matters with a clear mandate to restructure and rebrand Argungun fishing festival into a notable world class cultural event.
The festival at its prime many years ago and also on global tourism calendar, brought fame and honour to Nigeria nay Kebbi state but disappeared completely from global cultural watch list due to unexplainable circumstances, thereby denying Kebbi state the needed tourism dollar and to the people, access to foreign investments on hospitality and loss of jobs expected there from.
Indeed, the governor’s choice and appointment of Nura Kangiwa to revamp the festival and the entire tourism architecture of the Kebbi state sign posts a fresh start off for the famous festival which at its height was Nigeria’s face of culture tourism to the world.
Kangiwa, a prince of the Kebbi Emirate Kingdom and a frontline tourism investor, has hit the ground running with key projects that would create signature influence on the about to be rebranded festival, beginning with critical assessment of other special cultural offerings in the state.
In a press release issued in Lagos by Frank Meke, tourism media coordinator to Nura Kangiwa, the Turakin Kebbi, the comeback bid of Argungun fishing festival would add a fresh flip to the desire to open up the cultural offerings of northern Nigeria to which Kebbi state was once a notable tourism destination attracting both foreign and local visitors in droves not only to witness the fishing festival but also to appreciate the state’s huge basin as agriculture wonderland.
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