The Argungu Fishing Festival or Argungu Dance Festival is an annual four-day festival in the state of Kebbi, and other northern states like Niger in the north-western part of Northern Nigeria. The region is made up of fertile river areas of (matanfada, mala with much irrigation and orchards (lambu in Hausa). The majority of fishermen are followers of Islam and also predominantly farmers. Kanta Museum is the main historical centre in Argungu for visitors across the globe. People from around the world travel to Argungu just to witness the occasion. The main purpose of the Argungu fishing festival is for fishing and unity. The festival usually takes 4-days of cultural event.
History Argungu fishing festival
The festival began in the year 1934, as a mark of the end of the centuries-old hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom. This festival has brought huge progress to the development of the state as a whole.
It is usually called a Fishing-Frenzy Festival. The festival is celebrated to mark the beginning of the fishing season in Argungu, a river-side town in Kebbi State. It is celebrated between February and March every year.
In 2005, the winning fish weighed 75kg, and needed four men to hoist it onto the scales. In 2006 the festival banned fishing due to safety concerns relating to the low water levels. The importance of the festival to the economy has led the government to conserve fish stock by prohibiting the use of gill nets and cast nets. The Zauro polder project, an irrigation scheme in the Rima River floodplain to the south of Argungu, has been criticized because the reservoir threatens to flood the traditional site of the festival.
- Craft showcases
- Canoe races
- Agricultural showcases
- Cultural activities
- Wrestling matches
- Musical performances
- A Grand Fishing conquest
- Swimming contest
Argungu fishing festival Competition
On the final day of the festival, a competition is held in which thousands of men line up along the river and at the sound of a gunshot, all of them jump into the river and have an hour to catch the largest fish. The winner can take home as much as $7,500 US dollars. Competitors are only allowed to use traditional fishing tools and many prefer to catch fish entirely by hand (a practice also popular elsewhere and known as “noodling”) to demonstrate their prowess.
Purpose. The festival has many purposes which include: fishing, promoting unity, fun, and entertainment.
Argungu fishing festival Location
The festival takes place at Argungu town in Kebbi state, the north-west geopolitical zone of Nigeria. The town is on the Sokoto river and is the seat of the Argungu emirate. It is held at four venues within Argungu; the Kabanci for the aquatic cultural activities, the township stadium for agricultural exhibition, and the grand fishing at Matan Fada river, which is about 50 metres wide and 50 feet deep.
The religious rites associated with the festival are regarded as its essence, for through them prayers are offered to gods and ancestors for protection and prosperity. The rites, primarily the sacrifice of a goat, hens, fruits, and vegetables, are performed by the Homa, Sarkin, Ruwa, and Jirgi at the Sokoto river the day before the festival starts.
Before the fishing starts, an impressive display of aquatic cultural activities takes place – canoe race, swimming on a gourd and with a clay pot balanced on the head, diving competitions, wild duck hunting, fishing with bare hands, and water relays. Wrestling and boxing competitions, archery, motor rally, arts and crafts and agricultural exhibitions, local music, and dance troops are non-aquatic cultural activities.
The major event, which is the fishing competition, takes place on the fourth and final day of the festival and lasts for an hour. The Homa signals the start of the competition, after which thousands of fishermen dive into the river to hunt for the biggest fish. The use of modern fishing equipment is not allowed; thus, traditional nets and gourds are used. After that, singers rent the air with traditional Kebbawa rhythms. Another sect rattles huge gourds filled with seeds to drive the fish to shallow waters.
The festival was suspended in 2009 due to insecurity in the northwestern states of Nigeria and did not take place for ten years. However, it resurfaced in 2020, displaying newer glory and hosting the Executive President of Nigeria.
In 2016 the festival was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in recognition of its being a heritage of ‘outstanding universal value’ that ought to be preserved for present and future generations.
The festival is important for conserving the fish in the Matan Fada river, thus ensuring the economic viability of the community’s fishery. The religious rites associated with the festival are also considered a celebration of life.
Local legends about the festival
The Argungu Festival comes with its share of mystery and supernatural events. The custodian of the Matan Fada River is called Hussaini Makwashe or Dangalidaman Makwashe (doubles as the Sarkin Ruwa: river fishing official). Until he okays the commencement of the festival, no one can catch any fish in the river. The fishes reportedly remain invisible to fishermen until the Hussaini Makwashe invites the fishes to the festival. A month before the festival, invitations are extended to fishes in other rivers connected to the Matan Fada River. They must arrive early before the competition else; they will not be allowed to partake in the competition. The Makwashe is also in covenant with the crocodiles in the river. A day before the fishing festival, he directs them to hide until it is over.
The Argungu Festival is one of the tourist events not just in the north but in Nigeria as a whole. It attracts thousands of guests from all over the world, thereby being a significant source of foreign exchange. It further boosts the hospitality industry in Kebbi state. The tourism importance of this festival was felt when it was suspended, but its reemergence signifies prosperity for Nigeria, Kebbi state, and Argungu town.