Friday, January 8, 2010

Crazy and Strange Nigerian Fishing Festival

The town of Argungu in Nigeria’s northwestern Kebbi province would be just another sleepy fishing village if it weren’t for one spectacular annual event – the Argungu International Fishing Festival or AIFF. Here, men can be real men by pulling the biggest fish out of the river with their bare hands, proving to the watching ladies that they, in fact, are the best catch.

A river full of men:

The four-day cultural festival traditionally starts on a Wednesday in February or March and ends on a Saturday with the big fishing competition. The event has become so famous that visitors arrive up to a month in advance to soak up all the pre-festival excitement.

The festival draws tens of thousands of onlookers:
The proceedings on the big day are simple: Thousands of fishermen, armed only with hand nets and hollowed gourds, have 45 minutes to pull the biggest fish out of a one-mile stretch of the river Matan Fada. The winner can not only be sure of his fellow competitors’ envy but also grand prizes like a car and travel packages.
So sought-after is this honour that some want to win by any means: The 2008 winner had to be stripped of his title and was thrown in jail after some competitors proved that he cheated by presenting a fish that had previously been caught in a much bigger river, probably the Niger. Investigation of the gills also showed that the fish had long been dead.

Though fishing festivals with a more religious connotation have been celebrated in Nigeria since the 16th century, AIFF’s official start is said to go back to 1934 when Sultan Dan Mu’azu paid a historic visit that marked the end of the centuries-old hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom. The festival also incorporates agricultural exhibitions and marks the end of the growing season and the harvest.

And for those whom the festival is not exciting enough, there are also camel and donkey races, boxing and wrestling, and a goat skinning competition. Off to Argungu!

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