This is a three days lively festival of the Kutigi people in Lavun local government area of Niger state,Nigeria celebrated annually to commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad.
The cultural festival usually commenced with drummers dancing their way to the residence of the village head popularly known as Ezanuwa to authorise the takeoff of the festival.
This usually comes before the entertainment eve where all kinds of musicians display their potentials to the cheer of the spectators.
On the main festival day, the youths of the village parade the community amidst dance and lively music and with scarves designed by the young ladies of the community. All find their ways to the Kutigi township stadium where guest and others spectators are already waiting.
Activities to be performed in the stadium include horse riding, the riding takes off from the stadium to Tako Tsowako neat Toro River, each rider put his flag when he gets there before riding back to the stadium, there are also various cultural music displays from the Ntakogi (forestry) group, Takar dance group, Zannabi dance group, Majin Lubasa (onion growers) group, Lavun cultural Troupe, hunters group and others, and finally the appearance of Ndakogboya Emidawu masquerade who is believed to sanctify the community of evils.
Having done this the Zanna and his royal council storms the stadium to declare the event open.
This cultural festival also allows the parades of young unmarried ladies with the aim of creating an avenue for interaction between young men and female for marriage purposes.
The grand finale is the wrestling on the Gani field which attracts the presence of the Ndako Gani (Prince of Gani), while the princess known as Sagi of Gani aid the women in the cooking.
Citizens, in-laws, friends and well-wishers return home to partake in the cultural festival and also as a time to meet with their loved ones.
This year’s annual Gaani Festival in Kaiama and Baruten Local Government Areas of Kwara State held last week amidst glamour, glitz and razzmatazz. Weekly Trust chronicles the 300 years old festival which symbolises the unique and rich culture of the Barubas.
The Baruba nation in Kwara State came alive last week for this year’s annual Gaani festival which brings together indigenes of the communities at home and in the Diaspora. It was a celebration of culture and customs of the Bokobaru tribe and peoples which share history and tradition with the Borgu kingdom which falls in the North-Eastern Benin Republic and some parts of northern Nigeria.
The festival was celebrated simultaneously in Kaiama and Baruten Local Government Areas though the major activities took place in Kaiama Local Government Area where Baruten Local Government was created in 1991. As the sons and daughters of Kaiama, as well as dignitaries gathered to celebrate and felicitate with one another, Yashikira district in Baruten was equally bubbling with its own Gaani feast while Okuta district also in Baruten would be marking its own version of the festival this weekend.
Tourists from Nigeria and Benin Republic which share boundaries with Kaiama and Baruten stormed the communities to catch the fun and the glamour of the event.
Geographically, more than 80 per cent of Barubas are in Benin Republic. History has it that the Barubas form the fourth largest ethnic group in Benin comprising approximately one-twelfth of the population. They are concentrated mainly in the north-eastern part of the Republic of Benin, especially around the city of Nikki, which is considered the Bariba capital. They originally migrated from Kwara State and were renowned horsemen.
The annual Gaani festival brings together everybody in the local government areas. Both men and women, old and young participated in the activities irrespective of their ideological differences, class diversity and religious affinity.
It commenced in Kaiama on January 12 reaching its climax seven days later (January 19) with exquisite cultural displays from various groups within and outside the state.
The annual festival which holds in the lunar month of Rabiu-Awwal every year is to commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Historically, Gaani is also considered a feast in honour of departed monarchs and ancestors who reportedly initiated the festival over 300 years ago. All the children from the royal families both the Princes and Princesses come out to shave there hairs in order for them to be given traditional titles.
During the festival, princes come to receive the king and their ancestors, whose spirits are believed to enter the royal drums reserved for the occasion. In addition, the festival is organised to appease the spirits of their ancestors for sparing their lives to witness yet another festival.
Activities that made the 2014 memorable as usual included the beautiful display of durbar by horse riders with their animals adorned in different multi-coloured attires. Also, different kinds of cultural dances which include Cocoma, Batonu, Keke, Ida dances, Kemberi dancers, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Swange traditional dancers from other neighbouring states including Benin Republic were featured to entertain the people.
At the festival proper, all clans and provincial heads were in attendance to pay homage to the Emir as the custodians of traditional institution in the area.
The Emir of Kaiama, Alhaji Muazu Omar Bagidi Kiyaru (IV) said the festival is very significant to the people of the community as it marks the official recognition of children of Kaiama royal family.
“As Gaani festival continues to attract admirers from far and near, it is our desire that this unique cultural event will very soon be designated as a national tourist attraction by government.
“I first and foremost give sincere tribute to my immediate and past forefathers for bequeathing to us the noble legacies that make up the richly endowed entity which we have so proudly inherited today.
“As we pray for the repose of their souls, I call on all citizens of this blessed Emirate to continue to uphold the virtues of sacrifice, courage, hard work, self-sufficiency and liberty which our forefathers cherished,” he said.
On his part, Emir of Yashikira in Baruten local government, Alhaji Kiyaru explained that Gaani festival is celebrated in Bartonum and Borgu Kingdoms every year in commemoration of the birth of Prophet Mohammed.
According to him, the festival enables all Bartonu people across the world to come home to align with their people and show their wealth.
He said the traditional festival kick-started at Nikki in Benin Republic, being the headquarters of Bartonum Kingdom before other communities under it follow suit.
He sought government’s assistance in the preservation and development of the indigenous culture and traditions in Nigeria, noting that a people without culture and tradition are like a tree without roots. The monarch urged government at all levels to encourage traditional rulers in the development of the root.
“Government has a lot to do; the state government, the local government and the national government because we want everywhere to develop as well as our culture and tradition.
“A people without culture and tradition are like a tree without roots.
“Therefore, we take our root very dearly and if government wants to attract tourists into our country, then we must develop our culture”, he said.
On his part, the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Isiaka Gold urged the community to improve the festival for sustainability. He said the government on its part would provide the communities with developmental projects that would boost economic activities in the local government.
Of particular significance is the 48 kilometre Kaiama/Kishi road which is considered strategic to the economy of Kaiama and critical to attracting tourists and investors that could develop the festival and give it international outlook. The road which is currently in the most deplorable and dilapidated condition has since received government’s attention as it has been captured in the 2014 budget to renovate the road.
Stakeholders are therefore agitating that the festival be modernised owing to its tourism and revenue potentials. Such a colourful festival and several others in Nigeria, which attract tourists from Nigeria and its neighbouring countries could be transformed to improve the nation’s tourism sector, observers posit.
According to Rep. Zakari Mohammed (APC, Kwara) who hails from the area, it is high time Nigeria migrated from a monolithic economy by exploring other areas of revenue like tourism.
Mohammed who is the House spokesman and also a member of the House Committee on Culture and Tourism, said, “I think as a country in Nigeria, we are blessed, but we are not disciplined. What I mean by that is that oil is not everything. Some nations survive via culture and tourism. One of such countries is Egypt; that is precisely what they survive on.
“I believe as a country we must change our focus from a country that is monolithic, depending on oil to a country that will depend on other sources of income. Culture is one aspect that we can use to promote our heritage and preserve our identity as a people as well as boosting the economy.
“Nigeria is very vast geographically and has a lot of tourism attractions. So I believe it is an area we should look at.”
By Usman Omotosho Aliyu If there is anything that has fostered a cordial trans-border relationship between the Bartonum-speaking people of Nigeria and the national of Benin Republic; something that brings the two folks together for a celebration, then it is the Gaani cultural festival.
Gaani is an annual cultural festival among the bartonum people of the old Borgu empire, who are presently occupying Baruten and Kaima local government areas in Kwara, Borgu in Niger state and Nikki, a commune under the Borgou department of the Republic of Benin.
It is the second most popular festival among the people of the Nigeria border communities after the Islamic festivals of Eld-li-Fitr and Eld-li-Kabir. But the uniqueness of the festival that makes it exceptional from these two Islamic festivals in the area is the way it entrenches and promotes trans-border relations between the Nigeria people and their kinsmen in the Benin Republic.
The Beniniose national do join their brothers in these nigerian local government area anytime the festival is celebrated just like the way the Nigerians also cross border to associate with their kinsmen that fall in the francophone country during the celebration.
Alhaji Sabi Idris, the Emir of Gwanara in the Baruten local government area of Kwara while stressing the importance of the festival said that the Gaani festival remained a unifying factor and a place, where these people of the same trait, identity and historical background meet and celebrate their culture.
He said that since colonial masters had come to partition Africa in which part of the old Borgu empire fell in Benin Republic, the festival is serving an avenue to strengthen their hitherto unity among the the Bartonum Kingdom.
This cultural event is first flagged off in Nikki town, which is the headquarters of the old Borgu empire every year on the 12th of Rabbiu Awwal; an Islamic lunar calendar month; a day that commemorates the birth of Prophet Mohammed. Subsequently, other emirates under the empire, majority of which fall in Nigeria will follow suite and appoint their festival days based on their hierarchical position under the empire.
These emirates in Nigeria include Yashikira, Okuta, Ilesha-Baruba and Gwanara in the Baruten local government area of area of Kwara, Kaiama in Kaiama local government area of also Kwara as well as communities across Borgu local government area in Niger state. This festival is marked in the same way among these communities. Whenever the programme is held in any of the nigerian border communities, Mr Garba Mohammed, an indigene of Yashikira and a Baruten Local Government Area Development Officer said that epoch-making events are lined up for three consecutive days between Friday and Sunday.
The first day, which is Friday is Gaani eve, a day set aside for display of various types of drum peculiar to their culture at emir’s palace. The old would also converge at the palace, where praise-singers perform to the admiration of the people. The day also avails royal children that travel home from their various place to meet, sit down together and interact till dawn.
The real festival day according to him is Saturday when emir in the early morning, pays a visit to ancestors and offers prayers at the graveyard of his predecessors and offer some other sacrifice for a peaceful reign and tremendous development in the domain. Activities resume at festival arena later in the afternoon, where the monarch will send message of the year to his people.
Immediately after he delivers his message, cultural activities begin and feature horsemanship, different cultural dances and acrobatic displays among others.
The third day is for departure of guest or in some cases, not every year, some distinguished personalities are bestowed with traditional titles. Alhaji Umar Usman Sabi Kpasi II, the Emir of Yashikira while speaking on the reason for the trans-border celebration of the festival, said that the relationship between the Bartonum people living in Nigeria and that of the Benin Republic is a relationship of “brotherlyhood”.
“If you look at those, who are now in the Eastern part of Benin Republic and we, in the Western part of Nigeria starting from Kishi, Igboho to Kaiama to New Bussa coming down to Yashikira, Okuta, Gwanara and Ilesha-Baruba, we are all belong to the Kingdom of Nikki before the colonial masters arrived.
“We are all brothers. We belong to the same family and our servants; the other Baruba people were under our kingship and every year, it has been our custom wherever we are, from the eastern part, from the western part, to gather at Nikki to celebrate Gaani festival. “When we come back from Nikki, we do organise our own versions of the festival”, he said.
The monarch explained that the old borgu empire that was well organised, coordinated and defended, but later disintegrated during the partition of Africa by colonial masters.
On the origin of the festival,the Kwara monarch said it started when Bartonum people’s wanted their own way of manifesting their happiness that Prophet Mohammed (SAW) was born.
“In our mythology, that period also co-incidenced with the migration of Bartonum man out of the east. So when they found themselves here, they said what did we use to celebrate when were in Asia, they said the birthday of the Prophet. Then they said we are going to be celebrating it here and call it our Gaani festival. So that is the Gaani festival that is being celebrated”, he revealed.
The traditional ruler asserts that the annual festival enables those outside the capital to come back to the capital to show and expose their wealth so that they would be remembered by home.
He, however, pleaded for government support in showcasing the festival to attract international tourists.
Meanwhile, Alhaji Sha’aba Lafiagi, the Senator representing Kwara North Senatorial District, who chaired the 2014 Gaani festival in Okuta advocated for adequate media coverage for the festival.
Lafiagi said that media showcase of the cultural event became necessary because of the involvement of two nationals in the celebration and to send a message to world on how trans-border relations is enhanced through a cultural festival.