Festival Grounds: Feel the Aura of the 2024 Durbar Festival in Zaria

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Nigerian photographer and storyteller Sope Adelaja has been committed to documenting visual art and film for six years. His work cuts through Africa’s rich and diverse cultures, with the goal of being a catalyst for change deeply-rooted in cultural practices across the globe. Through the photojournalism series “Festival Grounds”, he captures incredible moments and brings impeccable pictorial experiences from cultural festivals across Africa. 

Ram slaughtering is not the only feature of Eid celebrations in Nigeria. Also part of the iconic moments for Nigerian muslims is the annual Durbar festival organized across Northern Nigerian cities such as Katsina, Zaria, Sokoto, Ilorin, Bida and Bauchi.

On June 17 2024, the Durbar festival was held in Zaria, Kaduna to commemorate Eid-al-Adha. 

In Zaria, the noble men display their horsemanship skills—their turbaned heads, resplendent attires and regal march provoking visual satisfaction  and cheers of people around. Zaria, a Nigerian traditional state also called the Zazzau, is home to the current 19th Emir of Zazzau, Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli.

The Durbar festival is the most notable traditional occasion in Northern Nigeria, which is celebrated twice a year in honor of two main Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan fasting) and Eid-al-Adha (feast of sacrifice). It involves a grand procession during which colorful horses and their horsemen parade the streets of the cities with the Emir.

A cultural and historical event, the Durbar festival dates back to over two centuries ago when horses were used in warfare to defend the emirate. Having evolved over time, it is now also a significant annual religious celebration for Northern Nigerian Muslims. 

This grand cultural, political, religious and equestrian occasion is open to all tribes of the region, affording district men, nobles and commoners the opportunity to pledge their allegiance to the Emir. It starts with prayers at dawn, and is followed by an equestrian procession of the Emir and his retinue of horsemen, musician and artillerymen. 

Though chiefly a men-led spectacle, the event can be enjoyed by everyone on site and remains a testament to the traditional heritage of Northern Nigeria.