There’s no doubt that Durbar was first introduced to what is today Nigeria by the rulers of Borno who have been in contact with North Africa and Middle East since time immemorial. Now in South Sudan, Bahr-el-Ghazel, which was under the control of its rulers, was one of the largest sources of horses and the deep involvement of the state in the almighty Trans Saharan Trade has enhanced it further. The contact did not just introduce new cultures, it refined existing traditions in the state.
The distance between Borno and North Africa, as well as the Arabian Peninsula, is better left to be imagined, particularly with the Sahara Desert and Red Sea, laying in-between, but it did not serve as a barrier to prevent contacts, whether they were commercial, cultural or political, to exist across these different communities. Horses and camels have been one of the major, and if not fundamentally the only, vehicle of these contacts.
Borno being a source of this almighty transport ‘facility’, also become powerful in terms of the revenue it generates from their sale and the armed horsemen it raised. As far back as 1240, written records have shown that an army of 40,000 horsemen in just the cavalry wing of the palace was raised by a Borno mai, Mai Dunoma Dabbalemi.
The whole conception of Durbar in Borno was therefore an indication of state power, wealth, military strength and even elegance of its leaders—if also celebration. It was the tradition across West Africa as we have on record the case of Mansa Musa in the sixteenth century who, on his way to pilgrimage, left an impression all over the world such that the value of gold dramatically dropped. The gold worn on horses and their riders, the pomp and pageantry of the entourage as well as the generosity of the leader who gifted the precious object all his way and back had left the world in sheer amazement and it instantly shot the respect of Black Africa beyond what was ever imagined.
Read the complete article on the durbar in the hard copy of ARITA Magazine.