Africa’s Biggest Fishing Celebration “Argungu Festival”
Every year in the northwest of Nigeria, communities gather to participate in the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival near the Matan Fada River. The four-day festival, which runs between late February and March, features kabanci – a series of water competitions including hand fishing, canoe racing, wild duck catching – as well as other traditional practices, such as the local style of wrestling and boxing. Men and boys participate in the contests, while women provide encouragement by performing songs and dances.
The Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival, which dates back to before Nigeria’s independence, is considered a contributor to participant sense of identity and is also used as a means of maintaining peace between the Argungu and neighboring Sokoto community by enjoying shared cultural practices together. Knowledge passed on within participating chieftaincy-holding families by the Sarkin Ruwa (who manages the river’s sanitation levels) and Homa (chief of the Argungu fishermen) concerning the river’s water quality and fish stocks, has been an important factor in the festival’s continuity. Skills involved in festival activities are transmitted to younger generations formally and informally. Training occurs, for example, via apprenticeship particularly in the case of specific fishing techniques or within families by demonstration.
It was all joy recently in Argungu, a town located in Kebbi State, northwestern Nigeria when people gathered for Africa’s biggest fishing celebration. The Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival, which preserves tradition and promotes conservation, is an annual event that takes place between late February and March to mark the end of farming season and the start of the fishing season.
In March 2020, the festival was revived after it could not hold for over 10 years due to insecurity. “Today, we are happy to host many dignitaries who converged here to celebrate with us,” Gov. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State said at the 2020 Argungu fishing festival last March.
“It is a celebration of equitable competition where fishermen come from all over, both from within and outside Nigeria. This certainly is a symbol of unity. This is a challenge for all of us as Nigerians.
“As people of Kebbi, we are very proud to have you here and we pray Almighty God will take each one of you back home safely,” he said.
Argungu fishing festival dates back to before Nigeria’s independence. It began in 1943, marking the end of years of conflict between The Sokoto Caliphate — a West African empire — and the Kebbi Kingdom.
Today, the four-day cultural event features an agricultural show, water sport displays, and other activities like wrestling and boxing. It usually ends with the glorious fishing competition near the Mata Fadan River, where the fisherman with the biggest catch wins the competition. Besides serving as a source of food, the Mata Fadan River irrigates the farmlands of the Argungu people.
Before the fishing festival begins, the custodian of the river, known as Sarkin Ruwa, performs sacrifices to the river oracle to ask if the festival can go ahead. With the permission of the oracle, the festival can begin.
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“At the sound of a gun, thousands of fishermen race towards the Mata Fadan River, leaping into the water to begin their search for the winning freshwater fish,” one account stated.
As the competition begins, drummers beat their drums. Women, who are not allowed to take part in the competition, also help play the drums while performing songs and dances. It is documented that over 50,000 fishermen from Northern Nigeria and surrounding areas take part in the fishing competition annually.
Competitors usually use traditional fishing tools and many prefer to catch fish entirely by hand to showcase their prowess.
Last year, the man who caught the biggest fish weighing 78 kilograms got $24,000, two new cars, and two Hajj seats.