Gaani; a cultural festival that promotes trans-border relations

Date: 2014-03-16

By Usman Omotosho Aliyu If there is anything that has fostered a cordial trans-border relationship between the Bartonum-speaking people of Nigeria and the national of Benin Republic; something that brings the two folks together for a celebration, then it is the Gaani cultural festival.

Gaani is an annual cultural festival among the bartonum people of the old Borgu empire, who are presently occupying Baruten and Kaima local government areas in Kwara, Borgu in Niger state and Nikki, a commune under the Borgou department of the Republic of Benin.

It is the second most popular festival among the people of the Nigeria border communities after the Islamic festivals of Eld-li-Fitr and Eld-li-Kabir. But the uniqueness of the festival that makes it exceptional from these two Islamic festivals in the area is the way it entrenches and promotes trans-border relations between the Nigeria people and their kinsmen in the Benin Republic.

The Beniniose national do join their brothers in these nigerian local government area anytime the festival is celebrated just like the way the Nigerians also cross border to associate with their kinsmen that fall in the francophone country during the celebration.

Alhaji Sabi Idris, the Emir of Gwanara in the Baruten local government area of Kwara while stressing the importance of the festival said that the Gaani festival remained a unifying factor and a place, where these people of the same trait, identity and historical background meet and celebrate their culture.

He said that since colonial masters had come to partition Africa in which part of the old Borgu empire fell in Benin Republic, the festival is serving an avenue to strengthen their hitherto unity among the the Bartonum Kingdom.

This cultural event is first flagged off in Nikki town, which is the headquarters of the old Borgu empire every year on the 12th of Rabbiu Awwal; an Islamic lunar calendar month; a day that commemorates the birth of Prophet Mohammed. Subsequently, other emirates under the empire, majority of which fall in Nigeria will follow suite and appoint their festival days based on their hierarchical position under the empire.

These emirates in Nigeria include Yashikira, Okuta, Ilesha-Baruba and Gwanara in the Baruten local government area of area of Kwara, Kaiama in Kaiama local government area of also Kwara as well as communities across Borgu local government area in Niger state. This festival is marked in the same way among these communities. Whenever the programme is held in any of the nigerian border communities, Mr Garba Mohammed, an indigene of Yashikira and a Baruten Local Government Area Development Officer said that epoch-making events are lined up for three consecutive days between Friday and Sunday.

The first day, which is Friday is Gaani eve, a day set aside for display of various types of drum peculiar to their culture at emir's palace. The old would also converge at the palace, where praise-singers perform to the admiration of the people. The day also avails royal children that travel home from their various place to meet, sit down together and interact till dawn.

The real festival day according to him is Saturday when emir in the early morning, pays a visit to ancestors and offers prayers at the graveyard of his predecessors and offer some other sacrifice for a peaceful reign and tremendous development in the domain. Activities resume at festival arena later in the afternoon, where the monarch will send message of the year to his people.

Immediately after he delivers his message, cultural activities begin and feature horsemanship, different cultural dances and acrobatic displays among others.

The third day is for departure of guest or in some cases, not every year, some distinguished personalities are bestowed with traditional titles. Alhaji Umar Usman Sabi Kpasi II, the Emir of Yashikira while speaking on the reason for the trans-border celebration of the festival, said that the relationship between the Bartonum people living in Nigeria and that of the Benin Republic is a relationship of "brotherlyhood".

"If you look at those, who are now in the Eastern part of Benin Republic and we, in the Western part of Nigeria starting from Kishi, Igboho to Kaiama to New Bussa coming down to Yashikira, Okuta, Gwanara and Ilesha-Baruba, we are all belong to the Kingdom of Nikki before the colonial masters arrived.

"We are all brothers. We belong to the same family and our servants; the other Baruba people were under our kingship and every year, it has been our custom wherever we are, from the eastern part, from the western part, to gather at Nikki to celebrate Gaani festival. "When we come back from Nikki, we do organise our own versions of the festival", he said.

The monarch explained that the old borgu empire that was well organised, coordinated and defended, but later disintegrated during the partition of Africa by colonial masters.

On the origin of the festival,the Kwara monarch said it started when Bartonum people's wanted their own way of manifesting their happiness that Prophet Mohammed (SAW) was born.

"In our mythology, that period also co-incidenced with the migration of Bartonum man out of the east. So when they found themselves here, they said what did we use to celebrate when were in Asia, they said the birthday of the Prophet. Then they said we are going to be celebrating it here and call it our Gaani festival. So that is the Gaani festival that is being celebrated", he revealed.

The traditional ruler asserts that the annual festival enables those outside the capital to come back to the capital to show and expose their wealth so that they would be remembered by home.

He, however, pleaded for government support in showcasing the festival to attract international tourists.

Meanwhile, Alhaji Sha'aba Lafiagi, the Senator representing Kwara North Senatorial District, who chaired the 2014 Gaani festival in Okuta advocated for adequate media coverage for the festival.

Lafiagi said that media showcase of the cultural event became necessary because of the involvement of two nationals in the celebration and to send a message to world on how trans-border relations is enhanced through a cultural festival.

Usman Omotosho Aliyu is the Baruten/Kaiama District Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)


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