Argungu Fishing Festival

The Argungu town is located in Kebbi state, northwestern Nigeria. The town is the seat of the Argungu Emirate and home of largest fishing festival in Africa. The people are warm and receptive. The region is made up of fertile river areas of {matan fada, mala with much irrigation and orchards (lambu in Hausa)}. The majority of inhabitants are fishermen who are practitioners of Islam religion. The Argungu fishing festival is an integral part of Kebbi state’s culture. The festival encourages conservation and upholds tradition. The celebration, which takes place every year in February, commemorates the beginning of the fishing season and the end of the farming season. The festival lasts for four days and features traditional kebbawa entertainments, an agricultural fair, water sport demonstrations, and a magnificent fishing competition in the Mata Fadan River. The river is a source of pride to the people of Argungu. It serves as a source of food and irrigation for their farm. It is about 50 meters wide and 50 feet down. People from around the world travel to Argungu just to witness the occasion. The main purpose of the Argungu fishing festival is for fishing, fun, entertainment and promotion of unity. This festival is one of the most famous and unique cultural events in Nigeria and has been celebrated for several decades. There is also Kanta Museum in Argungu. The Museum is the main historical centre in Argungu for visitors across the globe.

Record of how Argungu Fishing Festival came into being

The festival began in the year 1934, as a mark of the end of the centuries-old hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom. This festival has brought huge progress to the development of the state as a whole and has quickly become a celebration of life and unity. It is usually called a Fishing-Frenzy Festival. The festival is celebrated to mark the beginning of the fishing season in Argungu, a river-side town in Kebbi State. It is celebrated between February ending and March beginning every year.

The importance of the festival to the economy has led the government to conserve fish stock by prohibiting the use of gill nets and cast nets. The Zauro polder project, an irrigation scheme in the Rima River floodplain to the south of Argungu, has been criticized because the reservoir threatens to flood the traditional site of the festival.

The festival features kabanci – a series of water competitions including hand fishing, canoe racing, wild duck catching – as well as other traditional practices, such as the local style of wrestling and boxing. Men and boys participate in the contests, while women provide the encouragement performing songs and dances. Knowledge passed on within participating chieftaincy-holding families by the Sarkin Ruwa (who manages the river’s santitation levels) and Homa (chief of the Argungu fishermen) concerning the river’s water quality and fish stocks, has been an important factor in the festival’s continuity. Younger generations are taught formal and informal skills used in festival events. For instance, apprenticeships, particularly for certain fishing skills, or demonstrations within families are two ways that training takes place.

Argungu Fishing Festival

Some of the other activities at the event include:

  • Craft showcases
  • Canoe races
  • Agricultural showcases
  • Cultural activities
  • Wrestling matches
  • Musical performances
  • A Grand Fishing conquest
  • Swimming contest

Argungu Fishing Festival

Order of events at Argungu fishing festival

River Sacrifice

Before the commencement of the fishing festival, the custodian of the river “Sarkin Ruwa” ensures that the river is safe by performing sacrifices to the river oracle to gain its permission.

Sarkin Ruwa

Like his fathers before him, Sakin Ruwa is the official custodian of Mata Fada River. This responsibility is passed down for generation. Without the consent of the Sarkin Ruwa, no fish can be caught. To ensure the river is safe, he dispels the crocodiles resident in the river and invites all the fish in the rivers connected to Mata Fada River.

Race to fish

On the final day of the festival, at the sound of a gun, thousands of fishermen race toward the Mata Fadan River, leaping inside the river to begin their search for the winning freshwater fish. Giwan ruwa ‘Fish’ from Mata Fada River can weigh up to 75 kilograms and the winners are graded based on the weight of the fish caught. The fisherman with the biggest catch wins the competition. They have an hour to catch the largest fish. The winner can take home as much as $7,500 US dollars.

Argungu Fishing Festival

Music and Rhythm

As the fishermen leap into the water, the drummers begin to beat their drums. Filling the air with authentic kebbawa traditional rhythm. The Sarkin Ruwa and his drummers move to and fro of the Mata Fada River on their canoes, entertaining the fishermen as the search the river for the winning Giwan ruwa. Although women are not allowed to participate in the fishing competition, they are not left out of the drummers group. The drums are traditional kebbawa drum design, made of cow skin.

Over 50000 fishermen from the northern Nigeria and the surrounding countries participate in the fishing competition annually. Competitors are only allowed to use traditional fishing tools and many prefer to catch fish entirely by hand (a practice also popular elsewhere and known as “noodling”) to demonstrate their prowess. More modern fishing tools are banned, in order to focus on skill and to help keep the festival sustainable. In the 2020 Argungu Fishing Festival, the individual who caught the biggest fish weighing about 78 kilograms was awarded N10 million, two new cars and two Hajj seats, second position, and third positions were also awarded.

Key features of the Argungu Fishing Festival include

Fishing Competition: The highlight of the festival is the fishing competition, where hundreds of fishermen gather at the Matan Fada River. They use traditional tools and techniques to catch fish, and the goal is to catch the largest fish within a specified time frame.

Traditional Canoes: Fishermen often use traditional canoes made from hollowed-out tree trunks. These canoes are beautifully decorated and are an integral part of the festival’s aesthetics.

Cultural Performances: The festival features various cultural performances, including traditional music, dance, and drumming. Participants and spectators alike enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Water Sport Events: Besides fishing, the festival also includes canoe races and swimming competitions, showcasing the traditional skills of the local people.

Agricultural Exhibition: In addition to the fishing activities, the festival includes an agricultural exhibition where local farmers display their produce, livestock, and handicrafts. This provides an opportunity for farmers to showcase their agricultural products and exchange ideas with others.

Traditional Attire: Participants at the Argungu Fishing Festival often wear traditional clothing, adding to the colorful and cultural ambiance of the event.

Pageantry: The festival often features a beauty pageant, where young women from the region compete for the title of “Miss Argungu.” This aspect of the festival adds a modern touch to the traditional event.

Food and Crafts: Vendors at the festival sell a variety of local dishes and crafts, allowing visitors to sample traditional Nigerian cuisine and purchase unique handicrafts as souvenirs.


The Argungu Fishing Festival is not only a cultural celebration but also an important economic and social event for the people of Kebbi State and Nigeria as a whole. It attracts tourists, fosters cultural exchange, and highlights the significance of fishing and agriculture in the region’s economy. Over the years, the festival has grown in popularity and continues to draw both local and international visitors who want to experience the rich traditions of Nigeria.

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