Each year, Northwestern Nigeria hosts one of their longstanding traditional events - the Argungu Fishing Festival. It takes place in the titular village of Argungu, about 60 miles outside of the large city of Sokoto. The festival is four days long and is held each year during either February or March, depending on the arrival of harvest season. The origins of the festival date back to 1934, when the event was organized as a way to foster peace between two kingdoms in Nigeria that had a centuries-long history of war. Nowadays, it is becoming one the country’s premiere tourist attractions.
Not to be confused with other fishing events, where people sit sedately on the edge of a boat or body of water with poles in hand waiting for something to bite and drinking too much beer, the Argungu Fishing Festival relies on traditional methods for contestants to secure their catch. People with nets and giant gourds line the shore of the river, waiting for a gun to fire off and signal that the time has arrived. Once that gun fires, everyone rushes into the water and tries to grab the biggest fish they can.
The main target of the fishermen is the Nile Perch, a fish that is known to get up to 130 lbs. Luckily, there’s enough fish to go around despite the thousands of participants. Fishing in the river is prohibited during the weeks leading up to the festival, ensuring a good catch for the special day. This may change, however, since the festival is growing in popularity and more and more people show up each year to take part it in. It’s now gotten so crowded that most cannot find a place in the river that isn’t shoulder-to-shoulder with a handful of other contestants.
Everyone scrambles around for an hour, at which time the contest is declared over. The fish caught are then weighed and the person with the biggest catch is the winner. The prize consists of a bus and money equal to about $7500 U.S.
The fishing isn’t the only thing to look forward to at the festival. There’s a market that runs throughout the day, camel races, donkey races, bicycle races, displays of arts and crafts, traditional music and dancing, and several sporting events, including archery, wrestling, duck hunting, swimming, diving and canoe racing. And following all this activity there is a party that goes on all night and into the morning.
The 2013 Argungu Fishing Festival is expected to take place from March 2nd to the 5th, though the date is tentative and based on harvest time, so it’s best to check back closer to the event to confirm those dates. Also, if the river is too low, the festival can’t take place, so it’s slightly weather-dependent. If you want to get a unique taste of Africa, this festival is a great way to experience the local culture, tradition and people while enjoying this hectic and unique event.