Many northern Nigerian cities, including Kano, Katsina, Gombe, Akko Emirate, Sokoto, Zazzau, Bauchi, Bida, Lafia, and Ilorin, celebrate the Durbar festival, which is an annual cultural, religious and horse riding events. Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitri, two Muslim holidays, fall on the same day as the festival, which signifies the end of Ramadan. It features huge horse parades all across the states it is being celebrated. During the festival, a huge procession of men dressed in traditional robes and turbans ride colourfully dressed horses through the streets of several northern cities, including Kano, Bida, Sokoto and Katsina. The kano durbar is the largest procession of colourful horses in the world. It has evolved with the history, culture and tradition of the people of Kano over a period of time.
Aside the horses riding and religion, music also plays a hugely significant role in the Durbar Festival. Large bands perform spectacular traditional bazaar and Western African music alongside performances from energetic dancers and stuntmen. Rhythm of the traditional music instruments usually fill the air. At the Durbar festivals noblemen travel to pay homage to the Emir and reaffirm their loyalty to their various emirates. The Kano durbar festival and other durbar festivals across the north are four-day events featuring prayers, horsemanship, traditional music and street parades.
The word “Durbar” comes from hindi-urdu ‘darbar’ – dar meaning door and bar meaning entry or audience. Durbar is of Persian origin and it was first linked to ceremonial assemblies marking the proclamation of Queen Victoria as the Empress of colonial India in 1877. But the native Hausa use the term “Hawan Sallah” to describe the festival – with Hawan meaning the “Mount of Eid”, referencing the physical mounting of the horse. The city of Kano is known for hosting most of the spectacular Durbar festival each year. The festival dates back to the 14th century in Kano, the largest city in Northern Nigeria. Historians say the “Hawan Daushe” (Mount of Daushe) was introduced to Kano during the reign of Muhammadu Rumfa in the 1400s. During and after the Fulani Jihad horses were used in warfare to protect the Emirate. Each noble household was expected to defend the Emirate by forming a regiment. Once a year, the regiments would gather for a military parade to demonstrate allegiance to their ruler, by showcasing their horsemanship, readiness for war, and loyalty. The Jahi race is the Durbar’s centrepiece and the Hawan Daushe’s final item on the programme.
It begins with prayers at dawn, followed by a colourful mounted parade of the Emir and his retinue of horsemen, musicians, and artillerymen. The procession is strictly for men only dressed in a magnificent robes and turbans, many with one ‘ear’ or two sticking out denoting their royal linage. Turban is a symbol of prestige and royalty. The men at the Durban festival adorn themselves with different colours of turbans.
The Emir and his entourage ride through a number of quarters that are home to historically important families before returning to the palace at the Kofar Kudu gate for the Jahi – which means salute by the horsemen (Paying respect to the Emir). The Emir take his position on arrival at the front of the gate facing outward. Several horse riders in the emirate charge full speed towards the emir, then abruptly stop when they approach him and wave their sword or flag before exiting. The Palace guards march into position after the Jahi and fire several gunshots into the air, signaling the end of the Hawan Daushe Durbar.
The district heads, their families and entourage begin the traditional greetings in a hierarchical order. Spectators and riders display their loyalty and valor before the Emir. District heads of the emirate concerned attend the Durbar festival to pay homage to the Emir and to reaffirm their loyalty to the emirate. The Durbar festival unites the people, bringing them together in a cultural and historical heritage celebration.
The Durbar Festival is a four-day extravaganza of opulence, grandeur, horsemanship, and horse riding parades along the streets. It begins with Hawan Sallah – the Festival Riding, followed by Hawan Daushe, Hawan Nassarawa, and ends with Hawan Doriya. The most fascinating and impressive aspect of the Durbar celebration is the Hawan Daushe, which also features the “Jahi”, which attracts attention of spectators around the world.
The Hawan Daushe began as the Emir and his entourage ride out of Gidan Rumfa – the Emir’s Palace, through Kofar Kwaru to Babban Daki – the palace of the Queen Mother, where he pays respect to his mother. The Emir arrives Baddan Daki, he disembarks from his horse and enters the house that is hosting his mother for special greetings. Visitors from all walks of life enter to greet the Emir.
The energetic performance by traditional dancers, drummers, masquerades, musicians and stunt men add color and excitement to the festival. According to one of the horse riders, horse riding traditionally is very significant. The horse signifies your strength. In the olden days, during the war, the number of horses you have show the level of strength you can portray. And were also crucial to the expansion of trade across the Sahara with Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.