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The motorcycle Sallah durbars of Zaria 2012

Publication Abstract

Renne, Elisha. 2013. "The motorcycle Sallah durbars of Zaria 2012." Anthropology Today, 29(4): 12-16.

Social dynamics may be understood more clearly through the analysis of an extraordinary event, which suggests not only a change in cultural practice but which also suggests wider political ramifications. In Zaria City, the old, walled section of the town of Zaria associated with the former Emirate of Zazzau, in northern Nigeria, the Emir's cancellation of the Sallah durbars—elaborate processions of gorgeously dressed men and horses—and their replacement by young men wearing blue jeans and riding motorcycles represents just such an event. Through their actions, these young men motorcyclists questioned the moral authority of those associated with traditional rule in Zaria who are seen as reneging on their duty to intercede for their people in favor of federal largesse. In this sense, the performance of motorcycle Sallah durbars relates to the more violent protests in northern Nigeria against police officers, soldiers, and political leaders (which includes traditional rulers), attributed to the Islamic reformist movement, Jama'atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad (JASLWJ), popularly known as Boko Haram. The complaints and demands of the young men involved differ; the Sallah motorcyclists are criticizing the behavior of an individual emir, while JASLWJ followers are demanding a state ruled by Shari'a law and a return to Islamic moral order. Yet in both cases, they challenge the prevailing status quo and question the authority of their elders. The significance for the Nigerian state of these conflicts—between those advocating a religious regime and those supporting a secular state, between youth and elders, between rich and poor—may be understood more clearly by examining the micro-politics of the motorcycle Sallah durbars which took place in Zaria in 2012.


Country of focus: Nigeria.

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