Argungu Fishing Festival in Nigeria
The Argungu (pronounced ‘ar-goon-goo’) Fishing Festival is an annual four day event, and one of the leading and must-see festivals in West Africa. The event takes place at the Mata Fada River near the town of Argungu, 99 km (~ 62 miles) southwest of Sokoto in Kebbi State and is normally held during February or March.
The festival originated in 1934 and it kicked off as a celebration of peace between Sokoto and Kebbi kingdoms when Sultan Dan Mu’azu of Sokoto made a visit to the region. When he became the Sultan, he decided to visit the town of Argungu, in order to resolve the centuries old hostilities between the Sokoto Caliphate and Kebbi Kingdoms. As a result of his irenic stance, the people of Argungu organized a grand fishing festival in his honor on the Argungu River. Hundreds of boys and men dived into the water and the biggest fish caught was presented to Sultan Dan Mu’azu.
Since then, the Argungu Fishing Festival has metamorphosed from a community event to an international, headline grabbing spectacle. Events include art and craft exhibitions, automobile rally, cultural dances and music, traditional sports, donkey and camel races, archery, swimming, catapulting and animal-skinning. On the river itself are canoe and swimming races, bare hand fishing and wild-duck hunting.
The evolution of the festival at Argungu seems to go hand with the socio economic development of the people of Kebbi. The fishing festival has become an international event in which people from Africa, Europe, America and other continents would converge in the ancient town of Argungu to witness the festival every year.Over the years, the Argungu Fishing Festival has drawn thousands of crowds including 2009 when 250,000 spectators were reported to have attended the event. The festival was taken over by the Kebbi State Government because of its growing popularity and economic potentials.The festival also attracts governors from different states in the country most especially the northern states governors.
The festival’s most anticipated event is the bare hand fishing which takes place on the final day. A competition is held in which thousands of men (armed with a net and a calabash floater) line up along the banks of the river. The competition originally allowed female participation but that has now been stopped with Kebbi State strengthening Sharia (Islamic Law) in recent years. The competition – including the audience – is now all male. At the sound of a gunshot, the competitors jump into the river and have an hour to catch the largest fish. The competitors are joined by canoes filled with drummers, plus men clattering enormous seed-filled gourds to drive the fish to shallow waters.
During the hour-long competition, they fight for the fish in the river and a wealth of fish is harvested, including the popular giant Nile perch (also known as the GiwanRuwa) reaching weights of over 60 kg (132 lbs.) The competitor who catches the biggest fish goes home with the prize surrounded by drumming, song and dance. In 2004, the winning fish weighed in at an astonishing 82 kg (180 lbs.). No fishing is allowed in certain stretches of the Argungu River to allow for active growth of the fish species but also to ensure that the fish will be sufficient for the festival.
In the year 2005 the winner caught a fish weighing 75kg, which is the biggest fish that have been caught in the festival till date.
Argungu festival is currently one of the most popular festivals in Nigeria which attracts tourist all over the world. If you want to visit Nigeria, try and visit around February, spending at least a week Argungu during the fishing festival will give moments to always remember.