This Day (Lagos)

11 November 2008

Nigeria: Durbar As Tourist Show

Lagos — Durbar celebration used to be reserved for special festivities and very rare august visitors. However, the Niger State government is planning to shift focus to its tourist potential as a way of harnessing the talents of the teeming youths in the state. Aisha Wakaso writes

Durbar celebration which is a normal procession that comes up every Sallah celebration with Emirs and their subjects riding on well decorated horses in the northern part of the country has now become a tourist attraction in Niger State as visitors from within and outside the country turn up to grace it. This comes at a time the state government is making moves to entrench tourism and spice it with Islamic festivity. It is a ceremony that brings together some of the best horsemen to show their talents to the excitement of onlookers as men and horses emerge and disappear in a blaze of dust.

The Durbar presents a nostalgic feeling of one living in the ancient Arabic Kingdom where turbaned people ride on well dressed horses in groups in the open desert. Some of these groups ride out to battle while others ride for the purpose of festivity.

Though the concept of durbar reception started in India in the 17th century, it has become an important occasion in the Northern part of Nigeria as it is used to entertain important guests and to mark the Islamic festivity.

The tradition of using Durbar to welcome or to celebrate gained so much recognition to the extent that a large number of states in the old north are practicing it. The wave caught the entertainment sail in Niger State only last year when Dr Muazu Aliyu, the governor of the state introduced it. A year after, Durbar reception is being held in not less than three emirate councils in the state.

This year's train of Durbar celebrations took off from Minna through Borgu and finally touched down in Bida with its entire attendant pomp. The atmosphere was charged with steam as horse and man exhale from rigorous pressure of moving the widths of the field in desperate attempt to outmatch the other. Men puffed and shouted hysterically while horses whimper as they gallop living thick cloud of dust behind them.

As the spirit of Durbar continues to entrench itself in Niger State entertainment psyche, the state government has schemed it into one of its tourism potentials. It has decided to advance beyond using Durbar to entertain but to serve as an income earner by selling the potentials the ceremony offers to spectators.

This year's Durbar in Niger State, according to the commissioner for tourism and culture, Umar Nasko is funded by banks and companies who have interest in turning it to a gain making exercise through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative. He said that was a remarkable difference from what it used to be at the inception of the festivity, adding that it is a feat that lives none doubting what the state stands to gain from it in the near future.

"Initially, the Durbar was wholly funded by the government. We however saw the need to widen the scope of sponsorship and participation which made us extend hands of fellowship to corporate bodies", he said.

Nasko said it is the vision of the state government to continue to add spice to durbar celebration in Niger with the view of making it one of the best in the country. He said the fiesta is aimed at showcasing the rich cultural heritage in the state.

He called on royal fathers in the various Emirate councils to continue in their efforts to partner with the Niger State government in promoting Durbar in the state, adding that it will not only generate revenue but impact positively on the tourism sector of the state economy especially at a time the state government is making moves to make Niger State number one tourism destination in the country.

"Gov Muazu Aliyu's vision is to develop the annual Durbar celebration into a fiesta that will see tourists travel from one Emirate to the other so as to appreciate the rich cultural diversity of the state.

"I will not forget the effort of our royal fathers in helping to preserve our culture, thus ensuring that the ancient landmarks are not adulterated or phased out", he said.

Speaking on preservation of cultural heritage, the commissioner of information, Alhaji Ahmed Kagara said that Durbar depicts a period in the lives of people from the Northern region of Nigeria where the amount of men and horses determine how much power an Emir wields in his emirate.

He said that with the passage of time, wars are seldom fought and the horses and men became symbol of entertainment rather than aggression and bitter conflict.

"In those days, the number of horses, armour and warriors determine how much an Emir is respected and feared in his emirate and beyond. Then the assembly of a large army of men symbolizes war. Today, it has been blended by civilization into an entertaining spectacle", he said.

He said the state has enough cultural assets that if the tenet of Durbar is well propagated, the state will in no distant future out match the Durbar held in Machina which he said is the best yet in the entire North.

Audu Musa, one of the horsemen at the event expressed gratitude to Almighty God for creating an opportunity for him to exhibit his horsemanship, he said horse riding has been his hubby since he was a child, adding that Durbar in Minna is making him live his dream of riding for public entertainment.

Musa urged the state government to add a touch of competition to the event as according to him it will add more colour and excitement to the delight of spectators. He urged the state government to set up different categories of trophies, adding that it will create a lasting legacy for participants and added value to entertainment.

"I am so glad Niger State celebrates Durbar today. Aside engaging idle youths to a purposeful end it is an entertainment ceremony and will bring income to the state if a touch of competition is added to it", he said.

The event also saw men ridding on camels, branded with the logo of different sponsors. The climax of the parade in Minna Emirate of the Durbar celebration was when an elephant dressed with a well ornamented material with the inscription "Talba" took a ceremonial bow in front of Gov. Aliyu. The brief display saw the crowd applauding in excitement.

As the train of the Durbar festivity hoot and puffed to other Emirate councils in the state, the cultural heritage continues to change, creating spice and stints of competition. Every Emirate tries something new to keep the sight and sounds customized to their heritage.

Aliyu said Durbar is not a jamboree as some people think. He said it is a way for Nigerlites to recreate after the Ramadan fast and the Eid prayers. He said the state has 7 Emirate councils, adding that the next Durbar celebrations will witness all the councils organizing their own.

"Durbar theatre in Niger State is a move for us to showcase our rich Islamic culture and in so doing we are also keeping our people busy positively after the Eid prayers. Now we are doing it in three Emirate councils, we hope to extend it to other Emirate councils by next sallah", he said.

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