The Durbar festival dates back hundreds of years to the time when the Emirate (state) in the north used horses in warfare. During this period, each town, district, and nobility household was expected to contribute a regiment to the defense 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.
During the parade, regiments would showcase their horsemanship, their preparedness for war, and their loyalty to the Emirate. Today, Durbar has become a festival celebrated in honor of visiting Heads of State and at 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 Prophet Ibrahim sacrificing a ram instead of his son).
Of all the modern day Durbar festivals, Katsina Durbar is the most magnificent and spectacular. Id-el-Kabir, or Sallah Day, in Katsina begins with prayers outside town, followed by processions of horsemen to the public square in front of the Emir’s palace, where each village group, district, and noble house take their assigned place. Last to arrive is the Emir and his splendid retinue; they take up their place in front of the palace to receive the jahi, or homage, of their subjects.
The festival begins with each group racing across the square at full gallop, swords glinting in the sun. They pass just few feet away from the Emir, then stop abruptly to salute him with raised swords.
The last and most fierce riders are the Emir’s household and regimental guards, the Dogari. After the celebrations, the Emir and his chiefs retire to the palace, and enjoyment of the occasion reigns. This fanfare is intensified by drumming, dancing and singing, with small bands of Fulanis performing shadi, a fascinating sideshow to behold.