Nwonyo Fishing Festival

Nwonyo Fishing Festival

Nwonyo Fishing Festival

Taraba State is situated in the North Eastern geographical zone of Nigeria. It was carved out of the former Gongola State by the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) regime in 1991.The name, Taraba, was derived from the Taraba River, which traverses the southern part of the State. Other main rivers in the State are Ibi, Donga and Benue, which all rise from the Cameroon Mountains, stretching almost the entire length of the state in the Northern and the Southern direction to link up with the River Niger.Communities living around these rivers engage in fishing activities all year round. It is in recognition of this, that the State Government made efforts to bring to limelight the Nwonyo Fishing and Cultural Festival in Ibi Local Government Area, as one out of the potentials discovered in the state for the development of tourism. The festival usually holds in April every year.

Historical Background
Nwonyo Fishing and Cultural Festival is said to be one of the oldest of its kind in Africa. The festival started about 96 years ago and is usually held at the Nwonyo Lake, located some five kilometres north of Ibi town.The name “Nwonyo” literally means “a hideout” for monstrous aquatic animals such as crocodiles and hippopotamus. This meaning was derived from the fact that the Nwonyo creek contains a variety of these aquatic animals.However, there are two myths surrounding the actual meaning of the word Nwonyo. The first version says it means, “under the locust bean tree;” while the second version says, “abode of the snake,” in Jukun language.The Nwonyo Lake is said to be the largest in West Africa, running a stretch of about 15 kilometres tributary to the River Benue. According to oral tradition, the lake was discovered by Bula (in Wuroboh language) a great descendant of the Jibu dynasty who was sent to Ibi to look after activities carried out by traders around the river.Bula discovered that the lake was more than a source of fish supply; he then transformed the large scale fishing activity into a fishing festival by members of Ibi Community. This transformation began in 1826. During his reign, communities living around Nwonyo Lake were invited to the lake to catch fish once in every year. The catch made was then divided into three portions; and because of his liberal nature, Bulah would take one portion only and give the remaining two portions to the fishermen.

Features of the Festival
It could be said that over the years, the Nwonyo Fishing Festival has assumed a different dimension, incorporating various activities. Some of these include:
*Boat Racing
*Boat Regatta
*Masquerade Dances
*Traditional Dances
*The Fish-Catch Competition (main event)

The fish-catch competition is the main event of the festival. Masquerading, traditional dances, horse riding/racing, boat racing, swimming, and boat regatta are the recreational/entertainment activities that take place during the festival.The Chief of Ibi is the custodian of the festival; while the “Sarkin Ruwa” (spiritual head of the Nwonyo Lake) is the overseer of the lake. He patrols the lake with his guards on regular basis because nobody is allowed to fish in the lake for a period of one year before the event and one week after the event. The lake is closed to fishermen to allow the fish in it grow and mature for the next festival season.The Sarkin Ruwa also performs certain traditional rites along with the custodian at the river before the commencement of every fishing competition. The fishermen (competitors) can only go into the river when it has been declared open by him.Wide and big fishing nets are used for the fishing competition and most of the fishing efforts are in groups. The biggest catch is said to be known as the “Giwan Ruwa.” At the end of the festival, prizes are given to the first three persons with the biggest catch. The catches are in turn auctioned while others are sold to dignitaries, spectators, and participants at the event.

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