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Festivals in Nigeria

Image: Durbar Festival in Nigeria

Nigeria has many local festivals that date back to the time before the arrival of the major religions, and which are still occasions for masquerade and dance. The local festivals cover an enormous range of events, from harvest festivals and betrothal festivals, to the investing of a new chief and funerals. It seems odd to Western ways of thinking to see a funeral as something to be celebrated. But for many of the tribes, death means joining the ancestors, and so the deceased must get a good send-off.


The dances that were once performed by members of each village have now been taken over by professional troupes, who tour villages performing at each local festival.

The Muslim year revolves around the three major festivals, Id Al Fitri, Id Al Kabir, and Id Al Maulud. The main event in the Islamic calendar is the festival that celebrates the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month-long observation of fasting. During the hours of sunlight no one must eat or drink; some very religious people will not even swallow. Each evening at dusk is a celebration of sorts, as the family prepares to break the fast. In towns people do so by going out to one of the markets, where stallholders will be prepared for the hungry people. At the end of Ramadan there is a celebration, which varies in style among the different Muslim tribes.

The Christian calendar is also celebrated, chielfy in the south of the country. Christian groups have moved closer to the rituals of their indigenous religions when celebrating Christian festivals.

Durbar Festival

The Durbar has become a festival celebrated in honour of visiting Heads of State and at the culmination of the two great Muslim festivals, Id el Fitri (commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan) and Id el Kabir (commemorating Prophet Ibrahim sacrificing a ram instead of his son). Of all the modern day Durbar festivals, Katsina Durbar is the most magnificent and spectacular.

Id el Kabir, or Sallah Day, in Katsina begins with prayers outside town, followed by processions of horsemen to the public square in front of the Emir's palace, where each village group, district, and noble house take their assigned place. Last to arrive is the Emir and his splendid retinue; they take up their place in front of the palace to receive the jahi, or homage, of their subjects.

The festival begins with each group racing across the square at full gallop, swords glinting in the sun. They pass just few feet away from the Emir, and then stop abruptly to salute him with raised swords. The last and most fierce riders are the Emir's household and regimental guards, the Dogari. After the celebrations, the Emir and his chiefs retire to the palace, and enjoyment of the occasion reigns. Drumming, dancing and singing, with small bands of Fulanis performing shadi, a fascinating sideshow to behold, intensifies this fanfare.

Revifest

Rivifest is a festival of arts and culture of the peoples of River State. It is celebrated annually in March.

Iriji-Mmanwu Festival

Iriji-Mmanwu or Masquerade festival started in 1986 and is usually staged in Enugu state South Eastern part of Nigeria in August.

The festival features a lively display of over two thousand masquerades from different parts of Igboland and other states in Nigeria. Masquerades, traditionally called mmanwu or mmuo ("masked spirit") are considered, in Igbo tradition, to be reincarnated dead ancestors endowed with supernatural powers. The unique shapes, sizes and colourful attire of the masquerades, as well as their rhythmic dances and acrobatic displays, make the festival an astounding and memorable event.

The Iriji Mmanwu festival is a vehicle for unity in the South-East zone, as it brings together a large number of South Eastern Nigerians as well as masquerades from different south eastern parts with the Ijele as King of masquerades

One of the goals of the festival organizers is to show how an art form supposedly associated with "primitive" life is both deeply revered and honored, and yet could also be updated to reflect contemporary urban and secular conditions

The festival organizers attempts to create a tourist attraction to improve economic conditions by celebrating Igbo masquerade traditions that reflect social and political values. The festival is presented in a powerful art that is hoped would bring both moral virtue as well as economic benefits to the state.

Argungu Fishing Festival

The Argungu Fishing Festival features a pot pouri of cultural and sporting events. It is celebrated in the months of February and March.

The Argungu Fishing Festival features a pot pouri of cultural and sporting events. It is celebrated in the months of February and March. The internationally recognised Argungu fishing festival held every year draws many people from all over world. Patrons converge at Argungu village, Kebbi state, not only to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of entertainments and the fishing competition at the tourist resort, but also to meet and mix with people of different nationalities in a spirit that transcends artificial barriers.
The festival which is the leading tourist attraction in the state came into being in August, 1934 when the late Sultan of Sokolo, Mallam Hassan Dan Mu'azu, festival was organized and since then, it has become a yearly event, held between February and March. People have become so attracted to the festival because of its cultural displays such as local boxing and wrestling, cultural dances and local swimming competitions.

The Argungu Fishing Festival features a pot pouri of cultural and sporting events. It is celebrated in the months of February and March. The internationally recognised Argungu fishing festival held every year draws many people from all over world. Patrons converge at Argungu village, Kebbi state, not only to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of entertainments and the fishing competition at the tourist resort, but also to meet and mix with people of different nationalities in a spirit that transcends artificial barriers.
The festival which is the leading tourist attraction in the state came into being in August, 1934 when the late Sultan of Sokolo, Mallam Hassan Dan Mu'azu, festival was organized and since then, it has become a yearly event, held between February and March. People have become so attracted to the festival because of its cultural displays such as local boxing and wrestling, cultural dances and local swimming competitions.

Eyo Festival

Eyo Festival is unique to Lagos area, and it is widely believed that Eyo is the forerunner of the mod­ern day carnival in Brazil. On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city (from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square) is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to Iga Idunganran.

Here, the participants all pay homage to the Oba of Lagos. Eyo festival takes place whenever occasion and tradition demand, but it is usually held as the final burial rites for a highly regarded chief.

Among the Yoruba, the indigenous religions have largely given way to Christianity and Islam, but the old festivals are still observed. The traditional leaders of the Yoruba are the Obas, who live in palaces and used to govern along with a council of ministers. The Obas' position is now mainly honorary, and their chief role is during the observance of the festivals.

Yoruban festivals honor their pantheon of gods and mark the installation of a new Oba. The Engungun ("en-GOON-gun") festival, which honors the ancestors, lasts 24 days. Each day, a different Engungun in the person of a masked dancer dances through the town, possessed by one of the ancestors. On the last day, a priest goes to the shrine of the ancestors and sacrifices animals, pouring the blood on the shrine. The sacrifices are collected, and they become the food for the feast that follows.

The Sango

The Shango festival celebrates the god of thunder, an ancestor who is said to have hanged himself. Lasting about 20 days, sacrifices are made at the shrine of the god, in the compound of the hereditary priest. On the final day, the priest becomes possessed by the god and gains magical powers. He eats fire and swallows gunpowder. The procession again goes off to the Oba's palace and the feast begins, accompanied by palm wine, roast meat, and more dancing.

In the past, the priest of this cult would have been a very rich and powerful man. With the decline in power of the Obas, and the large numbers of people who no longer profess to believe in the old pantheon of gods, the priests of the Yoruba are much poorer and less powerful than they once were.

The Benin Festival

This ceremony takes place at the end of the rainy season, after the harvest has been gathered. It is partly a kind of harvest festival but also serves another purpose - eligible young men and women of the village are displayed before each other to be ritually acquainted.

The festival occurs once evey four years, and only the very wealthy can afford to have their children take part in the matchmaking ceremony. But all the villagers are able to join in the festival atmosphere.

In the past, the young girls who took part in the festival traditionally wore no clothing, but in modern times, because nudity is frowned upon, they are clothed.

The chief parts of the girls' display are the numerous heavy armlets and leg ornaments that they wear. They are so heavy that the girls must hold their arms over their heads during the entire festival, in order to support the weight of them. Their hair is intricately plaited with coral beads.

Both boys and girls have elaborate markings painted on their bodies. The boys also take part in a tug- of-war as a demonstration of their strength.

Last Updated on Sunday 7th March 2010

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