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Dan Filinge: Myth, legend of most famous racehorse in Nigeria, by man who rode it

Hausa singer Ibrahim Narambada immortalised the famed racehorse, Dan Filinge in a famous 26-minute long song, Dokin Iska Dan Filinge, which is still being studied today. The horse was said to have never lost a race and was even believed to possess supernatural powers. Over the years, there have been debates over the horse, if it was real or simply a myth. Daily Trust traced 75 year-old Alhaji Ibrahim Dattijo who claimed to have ridden the horse and he tells us the story of the famous Dan Filinge.

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The name Dan Filinge is popular in northern Nigerian and especially amongst music lovers and students of Hausa Language.

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Those undertaking degree programmes in Hausa literature have often been made to analyse the song composed by Narambada some decades ago. The song, Dokin Iska Dan Filinge is about a horse, belonging to a prominent district head in Sokoto, thought to have supernatural powers on accounts of the legend that the horse had never been beaten in a race.

Over the years, there have been suggestions the horse is a myth or at most a legend but according to Alhaji Ibrahim Dattijo, who claimed to have ridden Dan Filinge, it was more the former.

Dattijo said he rode the horse for many years and saw it win 21 trophies both locally and internationally.

As the legend of the horse grew, famous musician Narambada in his song described Dan Filinge as a sign of God and a magical racehorse that dreamt of winning every night.

However, many thought the song and the wondrous deeds ascribed to the horse were from the imagination of the singer because they sounded too unreal.

Even residents of Sokoto questioned the existence of such a horse but Alhaji Dattijo, while refuting their assertions, said Dan Filinge was real and was never defeated in a race anywhere. He however said the supernatural powers ascribed to the horse mostly through Narambada’s song were fabrications.

Dattijo, who resides in Isa town of Isa Local Government area of Sokoto State, said the horse was named Dan Filinge because it was bought from a village called Filinge in Maradi State of Niger Republic.

According to him, the then Sarkin Yakin Kware bought it for less than 10 pounds because it was rather slender compared to other horses. 

He added that as a tradition in Hausa land, village heads gifted horses to their district heads occasionally and during one of his tours to Kware, the Sarkin Yaki donated Dan Filinge to Shehu, a grandson of Sarkin Gobir Isa, Alhaji Ahmadu Bawa.

Dattijo, 75, a native of Kauran Namoda in Zamfara State, said he was brought to Isa by the Sarkin Gobir, who came to his town and was impressed with his riding skills because of Dan Filinge. He said he was less than 20 at the time and because of his age and light-weight, he had to carry bags filled with iron in order to meet the weight requirement to participate in horse race.

“Then, they would measure the weight of participants at the end of the race and if you were found to be below the required weight, they would penalize you and confiscate your award,” he said.

He continued saying that Dan Filinge was like a friend to him because they sometimes slept in the same place, thus disputing claims that it was a demon that could transform into other creatures.

He recalled how the horse used to dance to Narambada’s song to the amazement of onlookers. The horse brought fame to Isa district at the time because of its conquests in races.

Dattijo said Dan Filinge was not the only horse they used in competitions but it was the only one that remained undefeated. So confident was Dattijo in the horse’s abilities that he would let other horses get ahead of him until the final lap when he would spur it to a final lap charge to clinch first prize.

He said that apart from the trophies they won with it, he received monetary and material gifts from people, recalling how the then Sultan of Sokoto showered him and Dan Filinge with praises for winning a race in Sokoto.

He said Dan Filinge raced internationally as well, recalling a race in Sudan, which he also won.

But fame brought with it fears. Dattijo recalled having to go into hiding with the horse because some people convinced themselves that Dan Filinge had supernatural powers and wanted its body parts for magical purposes.

It was rumoured then that Dan Filinge was no ordinary horse and some people even claimed they had seen a cat where the horse had been tethered. All lies, Dattijo said, adding that it was only a normal horse that behaved like other horses.

The only unusual thing about the horse, Dattijo said, was that it was fed water containing some versus of the Qur’an, which he said might have made it the fastest horse then.

But inevitably, age caught up with the horse and Dattijo recalled efforts to find a successor for it, saying they got a female horse that conceived for it. But the male horse born from this breeding was not as fast as its legendary father.

Despite the fame, Dan Filinge died in isolation after being struck by a disease that caused it to be kept away from other horses. But when it finally died, it was buried beside the palace of the Sarkin Gobir, as opposed to being disposed in the wild.

Rumours of poisoning by a jealous expatriate were spread. Dattijo said there were three of them who rode the horse, himself, his elder brother and the then Divisional Officer, who happened to be a white man. But these claims cannot be proven.

Even though it has been years since Dan Filinge died, there is not even a photo of what the horse looked it, its legend has been immortalised in Narambada’s song and till now it remains one of the most famous horses in the country.

 


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