urbar, also known as Hawan Sallah or Hawan Daushe in the local dialect, is a royal procession involving thousands of men mounted on horses and dressed in regalia. It is a vibrant cultural show full of pomp and pageantry. A stunning traditional concert and African music bazaar; It is an annual festival that takes place in different towns specifically in the northern part of Nigeria. It occurs after the end of the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It begins with prayers and concludes with a horse-drawn procession of the Emir and his entourage, escorted by musicians, to the Emir’s palace. A popular tourist destination, Durbar festivals are held in places like Kano, Bida, and Katsina. But, the most significant place where it is celebrated is the city of Kano. It is a visual treat as well as a lesson in cultural pride, with everything from the dazzling horse procession to the gorgeous costumes. The Durbar Festival is a two-century-old tradition that celebrates the history, heritage, and faith in a magnificent way.
The name ‘Durbar’ is derived from the Hindu Urdu word ‘darbar,’ which has the prefix ‘dar’ for door and the suffix ‘bar’ for admittance or audience. The parade is entirely made up of men, who are clothed in exquisite robes and turbans, many of whom have one or two ‘ears’ protruding to indicate their royal ancestry. The turban is a regal and status symbol. Turbans of various colours are worn by males at the Durbar festival. According to historical record, for over 500 years, the Durbar festival had taken place in Northern Nigeria mostly inhabited by the Hausa indigenes, way before western civilization. It was invented by Kano’s sarki Muhammadu Rumfa in the late 14th century as a means of showcasing military might and competence before proceeding to war. Since the migratory Hausa in Kwara state had grown in number, and a recognized Emir dominant in that state, the Durbar festival is steadily celebrated there annually.
Presently, the festival starts out in a slightly different way than it used to way back then. The Emirate was vulnerable to outside forces at the time, and there was a need for military security. The Emir made military defence a priority and charged the aristocratic houses with securing it.
Each aristocratic house would raise a regiment to demonstrate to the Emir that it was capable of defending the Emirate in battle. Each regiment would perform a military parade in front of the Emir, replete with an equestrian exhibition/performance (horses were key fighting vehicles at the period), to demonstrate their readiness for war and complete allegiance to the Monarch’s will. This became a yearly occurrence, and hence a festival in and of itself.
Fast forward to today, and it is no longer associated with battle, but rather with religious observance: it typically commemorates the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, prayer, and spiritual meditation, and corresponds with the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha celebrations.
Though it is observed in a number of cities across various states, it is most closely connected with Kano State, which stages the most extravagant of celebrations each year. The festival comprises a male-only parade dressed in turbans and flowing silk, brocade, and other opulent fabrics. Horsemanship, dance, fashion parade, folk music, and a masquerade show are all part of the four-day event.
A magnificent and beautiful African music bazaar is part of the Durbar celebration. The sound of traditional music instruments fills the air as the Festival unfolds over four days of grandeur, horsemanship, and equestrian parades.
The historical Durbar Festival as celebrated in Kano
It all begins with the Festival Riding which is known as Hawan Sallah, followed by Hawan Daushe, Hawan Nassarawa, and Hawan Doriya. The Hawan Daushe, which also contains the ‘Jahi,’ which is the focus of spectators from all over the world, is the most exciting and gorgeous feature of the Durbar celebration.
The Hawan Daushe procession begins when the Emir and his company, leave Gidan Rumfa, the Emir’s palace, and ride through Kofa Kwaru to Baddan Daki, the queen mother’s house, where he pays tribute to his mother. The Emir arrives in Baddan Daki, dismounts, and enters the house where his mother is staying for a special welcome. At this point, visitors from all around the world are given entrance to come in and greet the Emir.
The Emir and his entourage ride through a number of quarters that house historically significant families before returning to the palace at the Kofar Kudu gate for the Jahi – the horsemen’s salute. When the Emir arrives, he takes a position in front of the gate, facing outward. Waves of riders surge towards him, only to halt in a cavalry salute exactly in front of him.
The traditional pleasantries are started in a hierarchical order by the district chiefs, their families, and their entourage. Spectators and riders show their allegiance and valour in front of the Emir. Kano’s district heads attend the Durbar festival to honour the Emir and renew their allegiance to the Emirate. The Durbar festival brings people together in a celebration of cultural and historical heritage.
The palace guard marches into position after the Jahi and fires multiple gunshots into the air, signaling the end of Hawan Daushe Durbar.