Kano Durbar

Durbars are colourful festivals known for their horsemen wearing bright red turbans and copper armour.

Written by Lizzie Williams


Durbars are held in Katsina and Zaria, but the Kano durbar is considered the biggest and the best. It is usually held some time in November, but this depends on the dates of the Muslim calendar.  It celebrates the culmination of the two great Muslim festivals, Id- el Fitri (commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan) and Ide- el Kabir (commemorating the Prophet Ibrahim sacrificing a ram instead of his son). Durbars are lively and colourful festivals and are known for their horsemen who wear bright red turbans and copper armour, and their accompanying musicians, who wear feathered head dresses decorated with cowrie shells.

They date back to the time when the northern emirate states used horses in warfare, and each town, district and nobility household was expected to contribute a regiment to the defence of the emirate. Once or twice a year, the emirate military chiefs invited the various regiments for a durbar (military parade) for the Emir and his chiefs. Regiments would showcase their horsemanship, their preparedness for war, and their loyalty to the emirate. During the ceremony the participants are dressed in colourful gowns called babanringa, meaning ‘big gowns’ in Hausa, and the horses are clad in tartan- like regalia. Of all the modern-day durbar festivals, the Kano durbar is the most magnificent and spectacular, and begins with prayers outside town, followed by a colourful procession of gaily dressed riders on horses and camels accompanied by drumming, dancing and singing.

They get to the public square in front of the Emir’s Palace, where each village group, district, and noble house takes their assigned place. Last to arrive is the Emir and his splendid entourage and trumpeters, who take their place in front of the palace to receive the jahi, or homage, of their subjects. The festival begins with each column of seven to ten horsemen racing across the square at full gallop, swords glinting in the sun, who then stop abruptly to salute the Emir with raised swords. At this moment the arena will be full of clouds of dust and cheering spectators. The last and most fierce riders are those of the Emir’s household and regimental guard, known as the Dogari. After the show, celebrations continue well into the night.

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