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Durbar, an experience of a lifetime

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Durbar Festival


Last week Monday started with an impromptu airline ticket purchase to Kaduna. A couple of friends wanted to experience the Durbar in Zaria, Kaduna and on the wake of the kidnapping and murder of tourists in Kajuru castle, I summoned courage to take the leap and finally experience something I have wanted to do for quite some time.

Durbar is an annual festival that takes place in the North of Nigeria after eid Mubarak, Eid el Kabir and Eid el Fitri, similar to Ojude Oba that takes place after Eid el Fitri in Ijebu Ode. Simply put, it is a day where the emir and his entourage parade on horses. My explanation sounds simple, but experiencing it in person is a once in a lifetime experience that everyone in Nigeria should take the time out to do. Fun fact, the word Durbar is of Persian origins and it means the court of a native ruler. The event originated for political reasons in colonial India to mark a proclamation of Queen Victoria as its empress in 1877. The event was carried over to Nigeria and some states in Northern Nigeria where turned it into a festival where a host of tribes in its key state pay respects to their emir.

Not counting Abuja, Kaduna was going to be my first time ever visiting the North of Nigeria and I really wanted to spend my 72 hours in Kaduna eating every possible dish local to Kaduna. As luck would have it, every restaurant was closed for Eid Mubarak and the best options were Chicken Republic and a couple restaurants serving food from the South East. After one hour of driving in circles hunting for Northern food, I had a plate of Oha and pounded yam for lunch. Dinner was yam and egg and by the time we boarded our flight back to Lagos, my plans to try out the local dishes were foiled by wrong timing. Note to self, do not visit the North during Ramadan or the week after it if experiencing the food culture is top on your list of things to do.

Besides the food misadventures, the Durbar festival was the highlight of the trip and the reason we all flew to Kaduna. First thing to note, dress respectfully and comfortably for the region and make sure to wear clothes for a very warm environment. Second, make sure to arrange a reliable means of transportation while in the state because popular apps like Uber or Taxify do not work there. Even worse, because it is a major holiday for the Muslims, most taxi companies are also not available for use. We had the option of hiring a car with driver for our time there, but got lucky when a mutual local friend offered the use of his vehicle and driver instead.

As enthusiastic guests, we arrived about two hours before the event started and had enough time to walk around the area open to guests to watch as the horses for the Emir and his family got readied for the event. With an hour to spare, we were lucky enough to snag seats in the available overlooking point for the Emir’s guests, women and children. We were also the first to arrive in the seating area and so we had the chance to pick the best seats available. Forty five minutes later, the seating area became a mad house and luckily, there was some security available to keep people in line for some time.

Watching the Durbar festival from our seats was like watching fifty different movies unfold and not knowing which area to focus on because on every corner was a spectacle. The procession of the event started with the emir and his close family marching off into town on their horses in their dazzling regalia followed by his entourage of different tribes that came to pay their respect. Led by the emir, about 45 minutes later, the parade came back to the emir’s ground and I wish we had bags of popcorn packed for the experience.

Once the emir was seated, different tribes on horses started to present themselves to pay respects to the emir. Some came in spewing fire from their mouths, some showcasing their ability to command snakes to do their bidding. Many came in showing their prowess with swords and a few mock sword fights ensued during the three hours we stayed to watch the event. A brave woman had her own horse built to fit while she trotted on her legs amidst the giant horses around her and that was a comic we all didn’t even know we needed.

As the different tribes came in to pay their respect, many moved to different corners of the open yard and continued showcasing their art; there was never a dull moment. An act worthy of note was a tribe that came in full speed and then one of the riders jumped off the horse to summersault into a bow for the emir. It was spectacular! For those keen on experiencing this, the Nigerian Field Society offer group travel options for this every year.


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