#KanoDurbar16: The Color, The Glamour And The Warriors Of The Desert By Jude Egbas
The last time I visited Kano, north of Nigeria, Boko Haram ran rings round the historic walls of the ancient city, bombs went off every other day on the streets, the sidewalks were deserted at night, curfews were the in-thing and gun-totting soldiers and cops patrolled the tarmac, peeping from within steel helmets. I had arrived Kano just weeks after a mosque had been hit by Boko Haram bombs, cutting short the lives of hundreds.
As guests of the state government at the time, my colleagues and I rode in buses laden with police escorts and flanked by security personnel. As we drove for dinner on the night we arrived, the fear and tense atmosphere was palpable. I recall laughing uneasily as everyone cracked jokes in the bus. I couldn’t wait to return to the comfort of my hotel room.
As I made a return to Kano last week on the invitation of friend and brother Salihu Tanko Yakasai (@dawisu)– who is the Director General of media and communications to Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje–to spend the Sallah holiday in his city, the atmosphere felt and looked different from the arrival lounge of the airport. There were more people milling about as we drove through the lit streets of the city around 8pm.
Music filtered from loudspeakers in the distance. At dawn, contemporary Nigerian music boomed from the walls of a refurbished Gidan Makama museum. Millennials danced heartily to Olamide, PSquare and Tekno’s tunes in the foreground of the museum, pulling off moves that could have bested those of their southern peers.
Kano was ready for a song and dance.
The Kano Durbar
It was my first Durbar and I was glad I was here in the flesh to take it all in. My day began at the Emir’s palace where Emir Lamido Sanusi galloped out with an army of courtiers, on camel back. The palace was warming up for the Durbar–a colorful display of riders and garishly adorned horses.
Outside the Emir’s palace, people sat hunched in groups, some already turbaned for Durbar, others simply just excited in anticipation of the festival. Everything stands still in Kano when the Durbar comes around, I was told.
The Durbar festival is held annually to celebrate special occasions such as religious Sallah festivals, honoring of visiting state governments or the installation of a new traditional Emir; often with massive pomp and pageantry. The Durbar festival flaunts the rich culture and tradition of Muslim communities, especially in the Emirate of northern Nigeria. The first Durbar was staged during the reign of Sarkin Kano Abbas in 1911 when the British colonial rulers under the headship of Lord Lugard, assembled all Emirs from different parts of northern Nigeria for the Kano-Nguru railway project.
The two major Durbar festivals in Kano, according to a pamphlet of the event handed out during the occasion, are held at Eid-El-Fitr and Eid-Kabir Sallah celebrations. Held annually, they are celebrated according to the Islamic Calendar.
The Sallah celebration or Sallah holidays, often depends on the sighting of the moon. This year in Nigeria, the moon proved rather uncooperative. My scheduled trip to Kano kept getting postponed as all of Nigeria turned into a cast of moon gazers. There was certainly no moon up there in the sky as a few friends and I got on-board an Azman airline for Kano on July 6th. We had been told not to wait for the moon any longer, much to everyone’s relief.
Beautiful horses, beautiful people
We sat at the VIP section just behind the governor, to see the Durbar unfold before us. It was a massive crowd on all sides of a bald football pitch just beside the Emir’s palace. Peripatetic traders in carbonated soft drinks and beverages, made brisk business. I sat on a plastic chair after helping myself to a drink I had never seen in Lagos but which tasted quite nice. I think the label read “Kally”; some Dangote mix which comes in variants of apple, peaches and strawberries.
The next minute, I was sitting on the pavement and the next, I was taking pictures of the Durbar from my smartphone whilst perched on the rooftop. Such was the surging crowd and my height disadvantage, every growth in the crowd numbers meant I had to keep adjusting my vantage position that much higher.
The parade of horses and horsemen itself was a spectacle to behold. Kano was in joyous mood. Spread before us, thousands chanted and cheered as the horses made their way across. There were horses adorned in all colors, horsemen turbaned beautifully and children as young as 5 years of age galloping on their horses. From my position on the rooftop, I clapped and cheered, my bald pate glistening in the Kano sunshine. I wasn’t alone. The entire stadium was on its feet the whole period of the Durbar, sweating profusely and having a ball.
The horses arrived in groups, their riders raising a hand in salute towards the VIP section where Governor Ganduje smiled in return and raised a fist in acknowledgement. Beside him, Environment minister, Amina Mohammed, was enjoying the evening as well.
The governor’s ICT special assistant explained that the groups of horses and horsemen represented the 45 local governments of Kano and the various districts. The district heads rode ahead of the procession, looking like warriors in the desert. When Emir Sanusi bucked the trend and sauntered on camel back instead of a horse like everyone else, the governor’s ICT assistant told me the new Emir vowed to ride on camel-back because his grandfather or great-grandfather also rode on a camel. The uncontrollable crowd devolved into a cacophonous frenzy as the Emir made his way through.
One young man beside us couldn’t stop chanting indiscernible words even during relatively quiet moments. He was gyrating as well. He was so excited, his voice was taking the form of a grating guttural sound. I alighted from my rooftop position to have a word with him. Surely, he could enjoy the evening without becoming such a nuisance to VIPs (“Rooftop VIP” inclusive).
And just as I got to within a foot of him in all of his towering mass, the young men beside him armed with selfie sticks pulled me over in readiness for a selfie photograph. I smiled hesitantly and click…click…click.
Yours truly and the “loudmouth one” in one photo!
All my pre-composed words of advice suddenly forgotten and shoved down my throat. If you couldn’t stand the noise, you shouldn’t have been here, I quickly advised myself. We were here to holler and party.
And hollered we did..well into the night. Well into day 2 of the Durbar…
The Emir visits the governor
Day 2 of the Durbar Festival is held so the Emir can return the favor–pay the state governor a return courtesy visit in his official residence. On Day 1 of Durbar, the governor is a guest of the Emir at his palace.
A tent reserved for visitors, journalists and bloggers was made available to us. But that was soon taken over by the surging crowd. Again, my height disadvantage was intent on putting me to shame in Kano. As soon as it officially dawned on me that everyone in front was taller and had constituted themselves into an opaque wall, I peeled off from the team and ran into the bus, just in time to see the Emir strut his camel past us and into the governor’s residence–the joyous crowd taking in his every stride and ululating in uniform.
A few horsemen posed for us and shared a laugh or two. A group of young men dressed in red, occasionally let their dane guns rip through the still Kano sky.
I enjoyed those sounds on Day 1 of the Durbar as well. A deafening sound from a gun at peace-time isn’t a bad thing, I discovered. The men were described as the defenders of the Emir and his palace.
Magic and the search for Kilishi/ Dabun Nama
Dawisu had it all planned out, I figured. For each night we were in Kano, there was a surprise in store for us at night-time from the stable of the DG on media. Because what happens in Kano should stay in Kano, I’ll leave out what Dawisu treated us to on the other nights. After all, what’s a diary without some suspense?
Our penultimate night in Kano will stay etched in the memory for a while. We were herded into this historical building at about 9pm, to be shown more of the city’s ancient history, its culture, allure and artifacts. Outside, with the moon now casting a shadow in the background, local dancers and musicians strutted their stuff. They were good. The dancers had the capacity to twist their malleable bodies into whichever shapes they wanted. They were acrobatic, nimble and dexterous all at once. We applauded their art and every move over sumptuous dinner.
Stepping out of the group was a young man just as short as yours truly. Except that he had a bag of tricks up his sleeves. He was part magician and part trickster. He’ll swallow a roll of tissue paper and regurgitate a string of razor blades. He turned leaf into milk while everyone watched and called out water from the sky on a dry night. He emptied water into a cup and emptied out air from the cup. He poured water into a newspaper and poured same into the ground as you would from a glass. The newspaper was dry to touch at some point. The bloody magician!! Each spell of magic was performed to the beats of the local drummers and troupe of dancers behind him.
I couldn’t wait to run away. Ahmed Rufai (@Sir_Ruffy) who was seated on the same table as me, whispered that some of these Kano magicians were quite capable of making your private member or money from your wallet disappear with a stroke of the finger. That was some scary stuff, you’ll agree.
The next night, my friends and I embarked on this hunt for Kilishi and Dambu Nama (some dried, processed beef variants) for our loved ones back in Lagos and Abuja. We got aboard a Keke (tricycle) and led by Abubakar Usman (@MrAbuSidiq) we ended up in a rustic part of Kano called Agade Sawa. We emerged out of this spot clutching enough Kilishi to kick-start a Kilishi business of our own.
As I pen this, I still reek of some tasty Kilishi.
Dun cry. Dun Beg
Dawisu has the governor’s ears
There was plenty of rapport between Governor Ganduje and his DG on media and communications, Salihu Tanko Yakasai (who you know as Dawisu), as we sat down for a chat with the number one citizen of Kano state on the eve of our departure.
In that measured cadence, barely above a whimper, Dawisu introduced us to his boss, as assuredly as you’d like. He exuded plenty of grace, charisma and confidence, for a young man his age. Governor Ganduje nodded to and smiled at Dawisu’s every word. He looked very pleased with his latest hire–a respected member of Nigeria’s burgeoning and very active social media community– the same community Reuben Abati loves to call the “Children of Anger”.
Governor Ganduje spoke about his vision for his state, the Durbar and how he’s commenced efforts to return Kano to its enviable position as the country’s agricultural hub–away from its current dependence on handouts from the center, stripped off plummeting oil proceeds. He articulated a clear vision of how the Durbar is one in a series of deliberate steps to remake Kano into a tourism destination of first choice.
“You can see that we do not have Boko Haram in Kano anymore”, Ganduje said with a broad smile.
When Dawisu asked his governor to pose for a selfie with the Children of Anger, he duly obliged. Ganduje was at home here. At home with the iPad wielding, twittering, Facebooking, Whatsapping lot. “You are Dawisu’s guests today”, Ganduje said humorously, “next time you’re in Kano, you’ll be my own guests and I’ll show you around all my completed developmental projects…”
Sallah holiday over
We touched down in Lagos to the sickening feeling that our Sallah gig was over and that work will begin in a few hours. Jubril Gawat (@Jag_bros) pulled us out of the airport parking lot in his ride, to some mish-mash of fuji music from the stereo.
Hope to see you again, Kano. Hope to see you soon, Durbar.
Catch the writer on Twitter @egbas