The Argungu fishing festival which holds periodically in the northwestern state of Kebbi is one of the most spectacular cultural events in Nigeria. It’s origins predate the 16th-century reign of Mohammed Koral Kanta, the greatest ruler of the ancient Kebbi kingdom. It was part of the traditional religious rites to venerate the river for its bounties of fish and pray for bigger catches.
Under Kanta’s rule the rites were observed over four days marked as Gyaran Ruwa, or purification of the waters, Fashin Ruwa, or opening up of the river for fishing, Gyaran Gari, the purification of the town, and the final day of Shan Kabewa and Fura, a ritual for the appeasement of the land to yield better crop harvests.
It later changed with Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad in the early 19th century that saw him overrun the Kebbi kingdom and the imposition of Islam. While still a four-day festival today built around the main fishing event, the traditional religious rites have been put aside. Yet it remains a major tourist draw, pulling visitors from abroad and from all over the country.
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On festival day, thousands of fishermen would gather on the bank of the one-mile stretch of river that had been protected all year for the purpose, equipped with nets and calabashes for floating. At the blast of a gun, they would all charge into the water to catch the fishes. The first prize would go to whoever caught the biggest fish, followed by other winners in that order. The festival is usually spiced up by traditional musicians, dancers, and other entertainers.