29 March 2009

Nigeria: Argungu Fishing Festival - Morning After

Lagos — The 59th edition of the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival has come and gone, but events that took place within the four days of the festival will remain indelible in the minds of tourists that graced the occasion despite the fact that it was not well funded by the state government unlike previous editions due to the current economic meltdown.

Some of the problems encountered event includes accommodation for tourists and journalists who were accommodated at the Fish Village. Five to six people were accommodated in one room contrary to what obtained in previous years when journalists were allocated separate rooms. Besides, there was no much publicity preceding the festival like in the previous years when government advertised in six or seven national dailies. Government struggled to advertise only in three papers.

During the festival, the most spectacular 'Durbar' with 500 well decorated horses and their riders, 120 well decorated camels and their riders took part in the festival partly sponsored by Maltina, MTN, Virgin Air, Access Bank and UBA among others.

The first Durba in the history of Nigeria was organised in 1925 in Kano in honour of Prince Edward, the son of King George the fifth of England on his visit to Nigeria, which was followed by another to commemorate Nigeria's Independence in October 1960, while subsequent Durbar took place in Kaduna in honour of late Emperor Haile Salasie of Ethiopia in 1973. In 1977, the Durba which formed part of FESTAC in Lagos was celebrated.

This year's Grand Durba had in display various cultures showcasing the rich cultural heritage of people of Kebbi State, with the flag bearer of the historic Argungu Emirate leading the Durba procession. The Durba was not without other tribes like Yoruba and Igbos signifying the peaceful co-existence among people of Argungu Emirate irrespective of their socio-cultural back ground.

The Durba, as one of the most thrilling events in the culture of Northern Nigeria has become one of the most attractive aspect of tourism where tourists have value for their money.

During the Grand Final of the 2009 Argungu International and Cultural Festival, after two hours of intensive fishing competition by thousands of fishermen, a 34 year old man Mallam Abubakar Dadu Tarasa from Birnin Kebbi local government area of Kebbi State came first with the biggest catch. His fish weighed 55Kgs at the colourful ceremony attended by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, his wife Hajiya Turai, six governors and many traditional rulers.

Tarasa was presented with a trophy, Honda City car, two Hajj seats-one from Turai Yar'Adua and the other from Argungu Local Government. He also received a cash prize of N300,000 from Maltina as well as fishing equipment worth N100, 000 from the state government.

The second prize went to Alhaji Muhammad Ndire Argungu, who caught a weighing 25Kgs. He received a motorcycle and N200,000 cash from Maltina, one Hajj seat from Hajiya Yar'Adua and fishing equipment worth N70,000.

Hussaini Gairi from Zamfara State came third for catching a fish weighing 20Kgs. For his effort, he got a motorcycle and N100, 000 from Maltina, one Hajj seat and fishing equipment worth N40, 000, while Mohammed Dandije from Bunza Local Government Area came fourth for catching a fish weighing 19Kgs.

President Yar'Adua, while speaking at the occasion announced that the Federal Government will establish 12 fish estates in the six geo-political zones of the country. He said the fish estates when established will produce 120 million metric tones of fish annually and government intends to double the figure after four years.

The President stated that Kebbi State will host zonal headquarters of fish estate to be established in the North-west zone. He revealed that Nigeria spends US $700 million in the importation of fish, adding that at present the country can only produce five million metric tones of fish annually.

The president announced that the Federal Government will collaborate with other international donor agencies towards providing soft loan to fish farmers to improve fish farming. He commended the government and people of Kebbi State for maintaining their cultural heritage.

Earlier on, Governor Sa'idu Usman Nasamu Dakingari announced plans to increase the annual Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festivals from four to six days towards making the festival more elaborate and promote commercial activities. He said, the festival is not a forum for fishing only, but also an avenue to display the rich cultural heritage of the people and improve agricultural production.

In a remark, the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Sama'ila Mohammed Mera commended the state government for its commitment to the development of tourism industry. He thanked the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III for promoting the cordial relationship existing between Sokoto Caliphate and Argungu Emirate.

The festival was attended by over 3000 tourists and top government officials including the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar, six governors, Minister for Culture and Tourism, Senator Jibrin Gada, Members of the National Assembly among others.

The event has become the premiere tourism attraction with international recognition in and outside Nigeria.

Every year people from all over the world converge on the historic town of Argungu in Kebbi State to enjoy not only the friendly atmosphere of the festival, its fascinating event, entertainment and fishing competition, but also to meet and mix with people of different nationalities at the tourist resort in a spirit that transcends artificial barriers.

The genesis of the event is believed to have a link to the historic visit to Argungu by Sultan Hassan Dan Mua'zu of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1934. It was on this occasion that the fishing event, for the first time in history, was organised in a grand style participated by fisher men from all the nooks and crannies of Argungu emirate as part of the civic reception in honour of the visiting royal father.

Before then, the fishing competition was usually organised as an informal get together of local fisher men living within the immediate vicinity of Argungu, simply to celebrate end of seasonal harvest. The rivers and the patches of lakes dotted every where to provide venues for the fishing activities which has become famous among 'Kabawa' ethnic group in the state.

It will be recalled that the Sultan's visit was a peace mission and a significant event of historical importance to both the people of Argungu and their Fulani neighbours form Sokoto. The Fulani forces of the 18th century jihad movement led by the late Shehu Usman Danfodio, his brother Mallam Abdullahi and Shehu's son Mohammedu Bello fought many unsuccessful battles with the Kabawa forces of the then Kebbi kingdom.

In spite of the incessant fierce engagements, the Kabawa stood their ground and were never defeated until the British Colonial forces defeated Sokoto in 1902.

With the memorable event, bilateral relations between Argungu and Sokoto were finally established thereby putting an end to all forms of hostilities. Today, the Argungu Fishing Festival has metamorphosed from local get-together to an international event with glaring modifications in the entire programme. The event is now being supported by the Federal Ministry of Tourism ad Culture, the Nigerian Tourism Development Commission (NTDC) and many sponsors.

The yearly festival programme always include catapulting, fish fair, cultural night, 'Kabanci' display, agriculture fair and the real fishing competition which is the most interesting part of the event. The fishing competition is the key event of the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival. It is usually positioned on the last and final day of the festival.

The venue of this competition is called 'Matan Fada' a portion of the river up stream at the northern end of Argungu town. Fishing activities are forbidden in the area throughout the year, except for the competition. This is one of the measures taken to ensure safety of the fish.

Hussani Ibrahim Makwashe is the supreme head of the fishing sites and custodian of the waters, who performs all the traditional fishing rites, before the commencement of any festival. Scene of the actual fishing event is better seen than described. When the competition is about to begin, hundreds of the fishermen equipped with a pair of traditional hand nets called 'Homa' and a large gourd with an opening at the top which keep the fishermen afloat on the water as they roam about searching for a catch.

The fishermen are made to stay on line at the opposite end of the river bank, tensely awaiting the signal. Indeed, it is difficult to describe the massive charge when eventually the signal is given but, suffice to say, that it is the most thrilling point of the event.

An equally fascinating moment is when individual fishermen start making big catches, the battle that ensues is exciting. One will hear them shout on top of their voices, calling for help. The winner emerges after weighing the catches of the day.

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