Durbar: Zaria – the Zazzau

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All the world loves the pomp and pageantry of a parade. In Northern Nigeria, on the occasion of Eid el-Adha, it is Durbar Season and all who can, will not miss these spectacular festivals. (See Durbar – Nigerian Style, 2013.) Women and children trek on foot and arrive by lorry loads cheering and anticipating the Durbar.

Kano and Katsina, both famous for Durbar festivals, are well organized and choreographed yet other city’s are not to be outdone.  Zaria or the Zazzau is one city that can boast of the finest traditional uniforms, horsemanship, dancing groups with handcrafted musical instruments.

Who can resist blaring trumpets and galloping horses? Horsemen, dressed in layers of brightly embroidered robes with turbans of silk and indigo, brandish swords and staffs in a display of solidarity for their Emir. Riders, musicians, farmers, magicians, district heads and their retinues all arrive and present a spectacle full of color and action. Horsemen with turbans of ‘ two ears’ are from one of the five royal households.

Horses and camels are adorned with chain mail and glittering armor; the ornamental silver spears and swords recalls the warrior on horseback. Buckles and buttons of their riders glint in the slanting afternoon sun. Footmen carry herdsman’s sticks. The air is electric with festivity as crowds fill the dusty roads, climb upon ledges, roofs and into trees and push and shove to get a glimpse at the galloping horsemen.

Traditional royal gesture from Emir Alhaji Shehu Idris.
Wikipedia, common domain
Wikipedia, common domain

The Zazzau, also known as the Zaria Emirate is a traditional state with headquarters in the city of Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria. As of September 2015,  Alhaji Shehu Idris is Emir of the region.

The capital of the Zazzau is Zaria but history has not revealed the origin of the name Zazzau. According to ancient legend, the first King of Zazzau, Bayajida -snake slayer, was one of the six sons of the Prince of Baghdad. He married the Queen of Daura, the matriarchal ruler of the time, after slaying the fetish snake and gaining respect of Queen Daura. Their first son, Bawo, is said to be the first ruler of the Hausa states and thus began the origins a patriarchal society of the Hausa race. (Nigeria Magazine, Daura, #50,1956.)

Zazzau’s most famous early ruler was Queen Amina (see statue of Queen Amina), who ruled either in the mid-fifteenth or mid-sixteenth centuries. The local legend has it that in the course of her campaigns, Queen Amina “built a new town and took a new husband” at every halting-place. She marched conquering “to the sea”; Kano and Katsina, the Nupes and the Jukuns brought her tribute – “eunuchs, kolas, and the treasures of the west”. In order not to be overshadowed by Amina, her sister Zaria left Turunku, then the capital of Zazzau, and founded a city, to which she gave her name, at the foot of Kufena, the rocks that rise above the city. The next King of Zazzau moved his capital to the present site of Zaria so as to control the market then situated there. – Nigeria Magazine, The Emirate of Zazzau, #15,1938

The Zaria Durbar gets underway as the Emir arrives under the royal umbrella for the celebration. Only the Emir can ride under the umbrella. The umbrella is significant as it provides shade to spotlight the Emir, the symbol of authority and the seat of traditional power.

Canons and gunfire, trumpeters and drums pierce through the roar of the crowd. Stave bearers rush forward to the Emir, their horse prancing, their lances raised, all to salute their Emir. Courtly praise-singers shout out the virtues of the king or emir. Praise songs are accompanied by kettledrums and talking drums, along with the kakaki, a 3-4 meter metal trumpet.

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Processions of horsemen approach the Emir. The thrill of the Emir’s traditional gesture encourages all who parade by to shout praises upon the Emir: Ranka-shi deddy. The ceremony ends by the District Heads in turn accompanied by their retinues, spur their horses from the far end of the concourse galloping at full speed towards the dais. Stopping abruptly in a cloud of dust, they rear their horses and shake their spears aloft in their right hands or raise their right closed fist in the traditional salute: Ranka-shi-deddy – May your life be prolonged!

The trumpeters blow in one then the other. This type of trumpet is used only by the Emirs.
The trumpeters blow in unison. This type of trumpet, kakaki, is used only by the Emirs.

The kakaki  is a metal trumpet three to four meters long used in Hausa traditional ceremonial music. Kakaki is the name used in Chad, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin Niger, and Nigeria. Its use is only used for  royalty and it is only played at events at the palace of the king or emir in Hausa societies.

Nigeria Magazine #29, 1948.
Nigeria Magazine #29, 1948.

New travel magazine, only about Africa:
ModernAfricanCulture.com is a one-stop resource for contemporary African culture and products and festivals. See the Kano Durbar Festival here.

A special thanks to Paulette Van Trier  for ‘coming out of retirement’ to organize this Durbar trip under the umbrella of the Nigerian Field Society.

Pictures and photographs in this blog are solely my photography unless otherwise noted. Photographs, articles, and poetry are the intellectual property of Lesley Lababidi and protected under international copyright law.

All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

25 thoughts on “Durbar: Zaria – the Zazzau

  1. I love seeing all the beautiful crafts, especially the textiles – the silver work is magnificent. This takes me back many years and brings back all kinds of wonderful memories. I enjoy reading your blog – it takes me back to my younger years – thank you Lesley
    Joyce Mostard


  2. Wow! Lesley, that must have been an incredible experience. You have several durbars to compare with – I think this, Zaria’s looks more intensely authentic. Just so great to see everyone forget about politics and have a good time. Thanks.


  3. Dear Lesley: What fantastic photographs! What a fabulous pageant! Thanks for capturing it for us. I love the fervor, the excitement, and the dust. I love the turbans. I love the trumpets — like the ones from Tutankhamun’s tomb. What an adventure. Thank you! Neil


  4. The Durbar is a tradition that hasn’t lost its originality and details over time. It is still as rich and real and will definitely last for centuries and millenniums to come. Even though I was born in Zaria and spent over two decades of my life there, I still crave to see another Durbar! I am certain your Hausa language skills came in handy! You’d make me a proud teacher if it did! (smiles).


    1. Mallum Sunday, yes indeed speaking Hausa was great and wonderful practice as there is nothing better than to speak within the culture itself. Your lessons were well used! Thank you for your comment. I know you are most fond of Northern Nigeria in culture and language.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lesley, You astound us!! This tapestry of life you bring to us through your expert eye is beyond rich, beyond dazzling, beyond amazing. It is hard to imagine it really exists, actually, because it is so fresh, so new, so unpublished….as westerners, we just don’t have a clue. Thank you for bringing us this glorious glimpse of life’s celebration!!


  6. Wow! By capturing these photos, you are directly or indirectly bringing the West and Africa closely like never before. As Lynn suggests, you have given the Western world a clue about the beauties of African tradition. Your coverage of African ways of life is a neo-anti-racism in disguise because, it vividly depicts and redraw the history of Africa in the Western eye, the super- ‘I’.


  7. I will use this medium to seek your permission to forward your mail address to my supervisor, who introduced your writings to me. He is Prof. Isma’il Tsiga (a member of Islamic Community Centre, Abuja). Murtala


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