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A 100-Year-Old Muslim Festival of Horse Riding

A 100-Year-Old Muslim Festival of Horse Riding

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A 100-Year-Old Muslim Festival of Horse Riding
Horse-riders at the Durbar Festival. Credit: Hotels.ng

Every year in Bauchi, on the day after the Eid El-Fitr, the Emir leads a colourful procession; he will dress in his ceremonial attire and ride a horse, ahead of his title-holders. After his procession, the state governor pays him a visit. The following day is then filled with pomp and colour, horses and hyenas and camels, people displaying cultural dances. For 109 years now, the Durbar Festival, also known as the Hawan Daushe Durbar, has been held in Northern Nigeria, including in Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, and Kwara States.

“Durbar,” a Persian word, is linked to the ceremonial parades during the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877. In Nigeria, it was incorporated by the British colonialists in 1911, and has reportedly been held in 1924, 1925, 1948, 1960, and 1972. Its colonialist intentions were eliminated and it became tied to pre-colonial traditions, particularly the elegance of cavalries during the Bornu Empire. The Festival returned in 1977, during the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac ‘77), and has been annual since in states formerly part of the Sokoto Caliphate.

The horses, more than a thousand, are dressed to match their riders’ attires and the processions are accompanied by praise-singing musicians with various instruments. Families represent their symbols—for example, fire—as they proceed to and from the government house. There are hunters with dane guns, charmers with snakes and parrots, and people with baboons.

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A 100-Year-Old Muslim Festival of Horse Riding
Benin Bronzes at the British Museum. Credit: Son of Groucho/Flickr.

The Durbar Festival is frequently described as among the most colourful in the country.

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