The people of Yauri Emirate in the southern area of Kebbi State at the weekend celebrated the annual Rigata cultural festival. According to historical accounts, Rigata is a Gunganci word meaning marine war fare. But in today’s social context it connotes buoyancy and prestige in marine and farming activities that the emirate is known for.
The major events of the festival include the Kokuwa dance, fishing, wrestling, boat and canoe entertainment, agriculture show and other water display events.
What is today known and celebrated as Rigata cultural festival by the Yauri people started over 200 years ago as a display of naval strength among the Gungu people of Yauri. According to historical accounts, the Gungu warriors used to annually board various sizes of canoes carrying different weapons to attack the dangerous Hippopotamus and other wild animals on the River Niger in the area. In Gungu tradition, this requires expertise in canoe paddling and naval war fare and it serves as training exercise for upcoming Gungu warriors.
However, with the coming of Europeans in the 19th Century, ban was placed on hunting of Hippopotamus to preserve the wild life. Because of that, Rigata transformed into a prestigious display of wealth, power and influence particularly during wedding ceremonies of highly placed families of Yauri Kingdom. This, it was gathered continued until the Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto visited Yauri to witness the Rigata and its agriculture-show. However, the event was reinvigorated and adopted as an annual cultural festival by Kebbi State Government during the reign of the 42nd Emir of Yauri, Dr. Muhammad Zayyanu Abdullahi.
During this year’s festival grand finale held at the Jarabana House, the palace of the Emir of Yauri, the Emir Dr. Muhammad Zayyanu Abdullahi, recalled that what is now known as Yauri Emirate was a miniature of a one-time powerful kingdom south of the Sahara.
He said: “Yauri bordered Nupe to the South and Kabi kingdom to the North. Today, it has on record 42 emirs succeeding one another for a period spanning 600 years. It is with a great pleasure I welcome you all to this edition of Rigata ceremony. It is not only about boat or canoe racing but a cultural-cum economic festival of major significance to Yauri Emirate.”
The emir said inland waters have throughout the long and noble history of mankind been a blessing of immeasurable value to communities and nations around the world. “Hence, we the people of Yauri have to give continuous thanks to Almighty Allah for endowing us with the River Niger which straddles our 200 kilometres western border from north to south. Here in Yauri Emirate, the River Niger has been a great blessing for we are celebrated around the country for our rice, onions as well as fishing. When the Rwandan Ambassador to Nigeria visited us sometimes ago and having been taken around the various sites, he was so impressed with what he saw in Yauri. A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Usman Mohammed also made a similar assessment when he paid us a visit. But the River Niger in Kebbi State is underutilized in terms of modern river transportation, tourism and modern fishing,” the emir explained.
He said “fishing in the emirate has become an international trading activity as fishermen from as far as the Republic of Mali and other neighbouring countries come as an annual routine to fish in Yauri waters. Fishermen from the Niger Delta have also been coming in large numbers. It is noteworthy that in order to tap into this booming economic activity for the benefit of Yauri Emirate, Kebbi State and Nigeria, the federal government has initiated the establishment of a model fish market here in Yelwa Yauri. It is yet to take off as only the federal government, mainstream and Senator Bala Na’Allah have so far contributed to the project.” The Emir said when the fish market is completed it is bound to add real value to the socio-economic development of not only Yauri Emirate but that of the country.
Given the importance of the festival to the state, the Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu promised that his administration would elevate the Rigata festival to international standard. While speaking at the event, he said the festival would attract not only tourists but investors to Yauri and Kebbi State. He directed the Commissioner for Commerce, Rakiya Tanko Ayuba, to set up a committee that would prepare the status to move to international standard. The governor also assured the emir that his administration would intensify the actualisation of the Yauri Inland Port to boost economic prosperity of the area and enhance inland water transportation and fishing activities.
He said it acknowledged the importance of marine transportation for economic development of Kebbi and the nation.
Earlier, the Commissioner for Commerce said the ministry would provide the required support to sustaining the Rigata festival as an annual show piece.
The Chief of Zamare Kangungu, Sardauna Muhammed Yauri said he was happy that the festival has come this far pointing out that it will bring more development to Yauri. He expressed delight with the high caliber of persons and investors that witnessed the event noting that the festival is projecting Yauri to the world. “It has brought blessing and fame to us. We are happy to have a good emir who always wants good things for his people, he enthused.