For over 400 years, the Oegworok (also known as Kagoro) people in the southern part of Kaduna State have celebrated the Afan festival. The festival is the oldest and second biggest festival in northern Nigeria.
The word “A̠fan” means “mountain” or “hill” in Tyap, the language spoken by the Kagoro people. In the olden days, the Kagoro people lived in caves and on hilltops, which served as security against invaders. This was so until the early 20th century when the British colonialists came and drove them away from the caves and hills to the land, where they resettled.
The Afan festival marks the end of the farming season and the beginning of the hunting season. It also celebrates the hills, which the Kagoro people consider a protector against enemies.
On the day of the festival, the Oegwam Oegworok (Chief of Kagoro) leads a procession to the hills. There, the chief prays to A̠gwaza or Uza (the God of heaven and earth) for protection. Afterwards, he sanctifies the hills in a sacrifice and declares open the hunting season.
In the early morning of the following day, the hunters, dressed in their hunting attire, set out for a place called Jiyo (trouble), where they set a fire. This act of lighting a fire is called “burning the hill.” After this, they start their hunting.
Later, the hunters return home with their takings and are welcomed with shouts of joy, traditional music, food and drinks.
In recent times, with the advent of Christianity, the act of offering sacrifices and venturing into the forest to hunt have stopped. Now, the festival is celebrated on New Year’s Day, and the hunters only put on their hunting attires and join the celebration. The festival also features activities including traditional dance troupes, march-pasts from Boys and Girls Brigades, among others.
Due to the popularity of the festival, it has brought together the people of Kagoro from everywhere in the world to brainstorm and find solutions for some of the issues bedeviling the community.
Also, during the festival, the Chief of Kagoro uses the opportunity to celebrate distinguished persons of the community who have made contributions to the development of the Kagoro land. He presents them plaques and trophies.
Uzoma Ihejirika is a Nigerian creative writer and journalist. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa and has written for Open Country Mag. He has works on Lolwe and Isele Magazine.