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Durbar festival is an annual festival celebrated in several cities of Nigeria. It is celebrated at the culmination of Muslim festivals Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It begins with prayers, followed by a parade of the Emir and his entourage on horses, accompanied by music players, and ending at the Emir’s palace. Durbar festivals are organised in cities such as Kano, Katsina and Bida, and are considered tourist attractions.

The Durbar festival had been in hausaland for more than 500 years. It was introduced by sarki Muhammadu Rumfa of Kano in the late 14th century, as a way of demonstrating military power and skills before going to war. The festival is also an opportunity for local leaders to pay homage to emir throughout the jahi cheering.


The Durbar festival featured prominently in the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture sometimes known as Festac 77. Since Festac, the colonial origins was gradually phased out and the events were linked with pre-colonial traditions such as the importance of horses for military purposes and ceremonies in the Bornu Empire and the ceremonies of ‘Hawan Sallah’ and ‘Hawan Idi’.


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    Despite the fact that there is no specific, clear-cut definition of art, scholars have attempted severally to find suitable meanings for the word. However, their historical experiences and general world view led to the emergence of divergent views as regards the meaning of art though most of such definitions are somehow related. Similarly, in most societies, festivals as the display of moving art, which may be religious, agricultural, cultural, occasional, etc., are organized mainly for celebrations, rituals and as a vehicle for cultural performance. This is because, festivals play important roles especially as it helps develop the pride and identity of a people (Grace, 2014). In this regard, this paper examines the functions, form, style and importance of Durbar festival as an artistic creation in Kano with particular reference to its aesthetics. Durbar as a festival beatified with the aura of artistic manifestations is not only peculiar to Kano, but to the entire Hausaland where the emirate system is operational.
    Theoretical Framework
    To properly examine the place and role of Durbar festival in a traditional Kano society, the Functionalist theory is used. This theory argues that social institutions are like a collective means for the satisfaction of individual needs. Functionalists maintain that social institutions are part of a larger picture of a complete society, which is viewed as a body with working organs, or can be viewed as a system incorporating different, but related interdependent parts (Holmwood, n.d). Each organ therefore, is considered very significant in the progress of each society.
    Functionalism though emerged as a theory of sociology in the 1950s, it had its root from the works of some prominent anthropologists like; Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) and Alfred Redcliffe-Brown (1881-1955) (Davis, 1959). According to Durkheim, if something exists in a particular society, it must have a function(s) and a role to play within societal structure and since societal norms and values become a strong rope unifying people together, which no doubt serves as the basis for social order (Livesey, 2010).
    Hence, festivals play various roles in no small measure especially for the progress of a society socially, politically, economically, to mention, but just a few. The fact that it is a way of unifying the people and its role in bringing the different building blocks of a society, the functionalist theory becomes, not only relevant, but important.
    Brief History of Kano
    It was the Ragusan merchant, Vincenzo Matteo (1560-1570) who described Kano as one of the three major towns in Africa the rest being Fez and Cairo (Anania, 1972). As the Berbers opined, Kano is a land with ‘all the things you need’. According to merchants who traveled to Algiers, Kano was a larger city than Ninevah was, with a mega trade in pepper, ivory, leather, feather and gold. Kano had been a commercial centre since the time of Bagauda (999 A.D) escorting different articles of trade the famous being Bābā (dyeing industry and dyeing clothes) to as far as North Africa and Spain. According to Yahya (2012):
    Kano was a focal point for the reception of learning and political thought in sub-Saharan Africa since 1350 when it adopted Islam as state religion. The city enjoyed a geo-strategic location on a crossroad between Western Islam (Maghrib) and the Eastern Islam (Mashriq) commonly called the Orient or the Middle East and the Near East. Western Islam was the distinct civilisation Islam developed in Andalusia, the Muslim Spain and the greater Maghrib, the North Africa. It was distinct in its Mālikī jurisprudence, mysticism, and combatant Islamicity. It has distinct Maghribī script and calligraphy, and the Warsh reading of the Koran. This civilization developed a distinct philosophical outlook of religion and politics.
    The people of Kano are predominantly Hausa. However, during and after the Jihad of Sheikh Uthman bn Fudi, reasonable number of Fulbe clans settled in the both the cities and the countryside. Discussing on the migrant Fulbe clans to Kano Smith (1997) argues that:
    At the date several important Fulani clans of high rank were settled in different parts of western and southern Kano. In the southeast at Utai near Wudil were the Jobawa under Malam Bakatsine and his brother Malam Sa’idu. In the southwest at Kiru were the Suleibawa under Malam Jamau. From Kiru Ricifa and Kwassalo in northeastern Zazzau, Suleibawa were the dominant Fulani group. Five miles northeast of Kiru, the Danejawa centred around Zuwa under Yusufu, who is better known as Malam Dan Zabuwa. Bebeji, due east of Kiru, was then under a Fulani territorial chief, the Sarki Fulani Bebeji. Further north were the Ba’awa, whose senior segment, led by Liman Yati’s two sons, Malama Abdurrahman Goshi and Malam Jibir, were known to Hausa as Yolawa and had their city compounds at Tudun Yola. Due north of Kano, at Maitsidau and Shiddar, were the Dambazawa under their leader Muhammad Dabo, also called Dabo Dambazau. Five miles further north were some Yerimawa Fulani under sarki Fulani Dambarta, Malam Mai Yaki (Dan Tunku), who was one of Alwali’s officials. Within the capital there were several clerical Fulani lineages whom the Modibawa (Mundubawa) under Sulaimanu, the Gyenawa under Malam Dikoyi, and the Zarawa should be mentioned.
    Similarly, there were migrant Arab communities who settled in Kano much earlier even before the Jihad. Most of them settled in quarters like Dandalin Turawa, Yola, and Darma. Other ethnic groups that settled include Tuaregs from Agades in the present day Niger. This group are predominantly situated in Agadasawa named after Agades. There were Barebari originally from Borno. They too, had their quarters named Zangon Barebari. The word Zango stands for a resting place for caravans mostly on trading missions. Ayāgi, is today a quarters populated by people of Yoruba origin. The Nupe too, have Tudun Nufawa in the ancient city of Kano.
    Economically, over 70% of the working population is farmers laboring tirelessly in the clearing of lands for crop production during the wet season apart from irrigation, poultry-keeping and husbandry. Various crops are produced ranging from; groundnut, guinea corn, maize, sugarcane, gum Arabic, rice, pepper, coloring leaves to different kinds of vegetables (Nasidi, 2013). 90% of the land in Kano is arable. There are very few areas covered with rocks, thick forests or water that cannot be used for farming. This economic activities taking place in Kano later attracted the migration and settlement of various communities especially the Tuaregs, Nupe and the Kanuri (Barkindo, 1983).
    The trading route extended from the Hausaland via the present day Maiduri, Niger into the heartland of North Africa with Fez, Marrakesh and Cairo at the centre. The age long trading links between West and North Africans had made the penetration of Islam into West Africa much easier (Ikime, 1980). Among others, two important caravan routes linked North Africa and West Africa. To the West was the Siljilmasa to Awdaghast route through Taghaza, which linked the area of Morocco with the ancient Ghana; and to the East was the famous Tripoli to Kanem route which passed through Fezzan and Bilma. It was said that Islam reached West Africa through the Muslim merchants who frequently dominated these caravan routes. History has it that, by the end of the 7th century A.D, Muslim traders from the North African areas of Tunisia, Algiers, Cairo and Morocco were visiting Western Sudan markets (Trimingham, 1962).
    Politically, Kano had been a strong force engulfed by its hostile neighbours like Marādi and Katsina. It was against external attacks not only from these states, but vagabonds and bandits that Tsaraki, the 5th Hābe ruler of Kano, built the prominent Ganuwa (city wall) as a form of security (Palmer, 1967). Kano has also been the land of Jarumai (warriors) and of slaves.
    With the introduction of Islam in the 14th century during the reign of Sarki Yaji (1349-1385), Kano took the centre table as much as the religion is concerned even though, Islam during this period of time was not considered a state religion. However, it was during the reign of Muhammadu Rumfa (1463-1499) that Islam became a state religion not only practiced by those with blue-blood, but even the commoners. In relation to the spread of Islam in Kano Nasidi (2013) argues that:
    Among the areas of West Africa into which Islam was early introduced was Kanem Borno, a territory which now constituted some parts of the present day Nigeria. It is difficult if not impossible for one to study the penetration of Islam into Kano without taking the rest of the Hausa states into cognizance. The introduction of Islam into this area was generally attributed to the coming of the Wangarawa-a group of Mande Dyula Muslim merchants and clerics, initially from Mali. The term “Wangara” was first mentioned by al-Idrissy in the 12th century as a country “renowned on account of the quality and quantity of gold” that it produces. Modern scholars, however, have identified Wangara with the country formed by the Upper basins of the Senegal and the Niger, comprising Bambule, Manding, Boure and Sieke. The gold fields in these places are still regularly exploited by the local inhabitants between the fall and rise of the floods, from January to May.
    Rumfa was able to build the famous Kano Central mosque and opened the gates of his palace so wide for scholars and intellectuals to come and contribute their own quarter to the development of his kingdom. Kano is known for its scholars, its Maliki law , Sufism (mysticism), calligraphy and other sciences of Islam which it borrowed from the North African civilization .
    In the 19th century, the Jihad of Sheikh Uthman bn Fudi (1754-1817) paved way to the establishment of a theocratic state called the Sokoto Caliphate, which was based on iconoclastic Islam, justice and opportunity for all. Under this state emerged the Emirate system of government. Therefore, the doctrines of the emirate in Kano were initially designed by the Fulbe Jihadists. Because of interdependence between political and legal communities, of all the great works available on the history of Kano regarding the ideal political community allegiances of Islam happened to be the foundation.
    The 19th century was characterized by important historical developments that reshaped the general psyche and perception of the entire Muslim World. The growing power of the West in terms of science and technology and the ascendency of European values throughout the world no doubt provoked the Muslims’ intellectual responses. Throughout the Mediterranean and in the Middle-East, the Muslim world found itself metaphorically fighting on the defensive side having realized that they were on the receiving end, while the West becomes one indomitable force of the modern world (Webstar and Boahen, 1967). It was therefore on this basis that the scholars and thinkers of the 19th century among the Muslim communities across the globe thought of the possibility of bringing back their past glory as regards some unquantifiable developments in terms of behaviour, science and technology, arts, governance and military superiority.
    Kano was conquered by the British in 1903 and attained its independence with other Nigerian entities in 1960. It became a state in 1967 and through all these years, the Durbar festival has been in existence as an artistic expression of the people to communicate as well as sell their culture and heritage to the outside world. Therefore, not only political and economic activities were important, but also the arts. Durbar had been the best festival attracting spectators from all parts of the world to come and see a moving art with the grandeur and display of divergent colours worn by horsemen, as well as foot soldiers. The costumes and musical instruments also add colour to the festivity.
    Durbar and Aesthetics
    Durbar is a traditional festival among the emirates of Northern Nigeria, the biggest one being that of Kano, which was followed by Katsina. It is often celebrated twice a year during the Eid Fitr and Eid al-Adhah. It is the largest festival in the area where hundreds of horsemen ride in variant and beautiful ceremonial dresses. Their processions, and the use of colours proved its aesthetics. Apart from the horsemen, there are also musketeers, archers, drummers and singers adding flavor to the event (Danbatta, 2012). The Yan Lifidi are a unique cavalry in the protection of the emir during wars and such events in the distant past. They are armored with body shields carrying with them spears and traditional truncheons popularly known as gora. According to Grace (2014):
    Durbar constitutes a spectacular parade of horsemen from sections of Kano and Katsina emirates assembled to exhibit horsemanship and pay homage to the emir during the Sallah festival and as a mark of honour for visiting dignitaries on special occasions. Durbar…is a colourful procession which features contests among royal cavalry, drummers and trumpeters, praise singers and wrestlers.

    (Horsemen showing skills at Durbar, 2005, 448×407, photography by http://www.primiumtimesng.com)

    (Lifidi cavalry at Durbar, 2008, 542×271 photograph by http://www.nairaland.com)

    (The Emir of Kano Alh. Ado Bayero at Durbar, 2003, 550×350 photograph by http://www.information.com )
    Special camels referred to as Amaran Sarki are also decorated with beautiful clothes and placed some few inches away from the emir’s procession. There are other people performing risky and sometimes magical spells to entice the spectators. Therefore, the cultural performances, which coupled with the sounds of drums, trumpets, tambourine as well as the hullabaloo and eschew of spectators make the festival a very special one. Not only humans, horses and camels are flamboyantly decorated with beautiful fabrics on covering greater parts of their heads, back and legs. This therefore blends into the royal regalia worn by their riders as well.

    (Horsemen at Durbar, 2011, 2165×1340, photograph by http://www.wikimedia.org)

    (Musicians blowing Kakaki, 2004, 580×280, photograph by http://www.hometown.com)
    The Kano Durbar presents bodies-in-motion in and about a particular place (Griswold and Badmus, 2013). Visitors also come from the breadth and length of Nigeria in addition to those who came from countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Hence, the presence of different ethnic groups across the country and even races, is a pointer to the mightiness and uniqueness of the Durbar as a festival.
    However, the word ‘aesthetics’ is of Greek origin, which means ‘things perceptible to the sense’ and therefore, the argument that anything that could have aesthetic effect as long as it can be sensed and perceived (Lamarque, 2008). By the late 19th century, aesthetics was commonly identified with the aura of ‘good taste’ in everything be it painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, politics, customs and costumes. Aesthetics was first propagated by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1764) as a branch of philosophy, which deals with the nature and philosophy of beauty. It was his strong passion for poetry and the arts that motivated him to write his book on the theory of art and beauty in which in its opening paragraph he defines ‘aesthetics’ as ‘the theory of the liberal arts…the science of sensory cognition’ (Saw and Osborne, 1960). According Lang:

    The term “aesthetics” is well known in everyday-speech and we use it to refer to anything visually beautiful and pleasing our eyes. Aesthetics has been termed as the measurement of beauty. Although aesthetics is not only about beauty or vision but of the stirring of any combination of the senses that causes pleasure in the viewer. Beauty has been regarded “as one of the many facets of an aesthetic experience with other key components being pleasantness, emotions and satisfaction. It has been defined as pleasurable subjective experience that is directed toward an object and not mediated by intervening reasoning. Studies in perceptual psychology have identified several views on the aesthetic experience. (Lang, 2009).

    With the above submission, one can easily come to the conclusion that the aesthetics of the Durbar lies in its optical reality as different colours blend to give the aura of a pleasing artistic and aesthetic values. Therefore, the Durbar festival is an art which is cherished by different people from far and wide.

    The Importance of Durbar as an Art
    According to Kertzer (1988) leaders use ceremonies to ‘create political reality’ for the people around them. This is no doubt on of the major functions of the Durbar festival as a tradition that had been in existence for a very long period of time. It has given the emirs political recognition not only in Nigeria, but in the entire world.
    The Durbar also works as a social drama that helps sustain a Kano-based collective solidarity against the threats of ethnic/religious tensions (Griswold and Badmus, 2013). It is a time in which people of divergent views, different political parties as well as religious beliefs come to rejoice with each other as a way of not only sustaining their culture and heritage, but also as a way of appreciating the art.
    Durbar promotes creativity in arts as most of the craftsmen and artists keep producing the basic materials and costumes needed for the successful conduction of the festival. In this regard, guilds were put in place, which are shouldered with the responsibility of training apprentices on the different aspects of art production. Among the items produced in the guilds include the dyed clothes, saddles, royals regalia and shows, fans, turbans, colour, spears, shields, caps, belts, reins, to mention, but just a few.
    The festival is also used to honour strangers who come to exploit the culture, tradition and the artistic creativity of the people of Kano. For instance, in 1958, two years before Nigeria attained its independence, a special Durbar was organized in Kaduna by the emirates of Northern Nigeria to honour her with the splendor of the festival as different colours crisscrossed into the musical performances of artists and the applause of the august gathering.

    This paper examined the nature, function and importance of Durbar festival as an art in a traditional Kano society. This is discussed in line with the aesthetics and artistic underpinnings imbued in the festival. Equally, the paper provided a background history of Kano and the place of Durbar not only locally, but as a means to popularize the festival and its artistic material culture to the outside world as it attracts visitors from other continents to come as spectators during the festivities. The paper also argued that Durbar plays important roles apart from its aesthetics significance, it promotes peace and prosperity among people of divergent ideas, beliefs and religious inclinations as well as serving as a means to honour guests who normally come from other countries. Similarly, the paper concluded that the major function of the Durbar festival lies in its aesthetics as one of the highest ways in which the people of Kano showcase their artistic talents beyond one’s imagination.


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