ETHNONYMS: Bororo'en, Fellaata, Fellah, Filani, Fula, Fulata, Fulbe, Hilani, Peul, Toroobe
Identification. "Fulbe" is the preferred self-name of the group the Hausa term the "Fulani" or "Hilani." In French countries, they tend to be termed "Peul" or "Fulata." Because of their spread over a wide area and their assumption of cultural traits from surrounding groups, there is great confusion regarding the nature of Fulani ethnicity. This confusion is reflected in the confounding and conflating of names for particular segments or local groups of Fulbe, such as Toroobe and Bororo'en, with the entire ethnic group.
Demography. Estimates of the number of Fulani vary. A major problem in reckoning the population is that Fulani are found in twenty nations in a wide swath of Africa—from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Only Liberia may not have any Fulani settlements. It seems reasonable to accept an estimate of 7 to 8 million nomadic Fulani and 16 million settled Fulani.
Linguistic Affiliation. The language is variously known as "Fulfulde," "Pulaar," "Fula," or "Peul," among other names. It belongs to the West African Subfamily of the Niger-Congo Group, along with Wolof, Serer, and Temne. There are many variations and dialects of Fulfulde. The influence of surrounding peoples is clearly seen in its local variations. Fulfulde is generally written in Roman script, although in the past it was written in Arabic.
History and Cultural Relations
A search for the origin of the Fulani is not only futile, it betrays a position toward ethnic identity that strikes many anthropologists as profoundly wrong. Ethnic groups are political-action groups that exist, among other reasons, to attain benefits for their members. Therefore, by definition, their social organization, as well as cultural content, will change over time. Moreover, ethnic groups, such as the Fulani, are always coming into—and going out of—existence.
Rather than searching for the legendary eastern origin of the Fulani, a more productive approach might be to focus on the meaning of Fulani identity within concrete historical situations and analyze the factors that shaped Fulani ethnicity and the manner in which people used it to attain particular goals.
People whom historians identify as Fulani entered present-day Senegal from the north and east. It is certain that they were a mixture of peoples from northern and sub-Saharan Africa. These pastoral peoples tended to move in an eastern direction and spread over much of West Africa after the tenth century.
Their adoption of Islam increased the Fulanis' feeling of cultural and religious superiority to surrounding peoples, and that adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker. The Toroobe, a branch of the Fulani, settled in towns and mixed with the ethnic groups there. They quickly became noted as outstanding Islamic clerics, joining the highest ranks of the exponents of Islam, along with Berbers and Arabs. The Town Fulani (Fulbe Sirre) never lost touch with their Cattle Fulani relatives, however, often investing in large herds themselves. Cattle remain a significant symbolic repository of Fulani values.
The Fulani movement in West Africa tended to follow a set pattern. Their first movement into an area tended to be peaceful. Local officials gave them land grants. Their dairy products, including fertilizer, were highly prized. The number of converts to Islam increased over time. With that increase, Fulani resentment at being ruled by pagans, or imperfect Muslims, increased.
That resentment was fueled by the larger migration that occurred during the seventeenth century, in which the Fulani migrants were predominantly Muslim. These groups were not so easily integrated into society as earlier immigrants had been. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, revolts had broken out against local rulers. Although these revolts began as holy wars (jihads), after their success they followed the basic principle of Fulani ethnic dominance.
The situation in Nigeria was somewhat different from that elsewhere in West Africa in that the Fulani entered an area more settled and developed than that in other West African areas. At the time of their arrival, in the early fifteenth century, many Fulani settled as clerics in Hausa city-states such as Kano, Katsina, and Zaria. Others settled among the local peoples during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the seventeenth century, the Hausa states had begun to gain their independence from various foreign rulers, with Gobir becoming the predominant Hausa state.
The urban culture of the Hausa was attractive to many Fulani. These Town or Settled Fulani became clerics, teachers, settlers, and judges—and in many other ways filled elite positions within the Hausa states. Soon they adopted the Hausa language, many forgetting their own Fulfulde language. Although Hausa customs exerted an influence on the Town Fulani, they did not lose touch with the Cattle or Bush Fulani.
These ties proved useful when their strict adherence to Islamic learning and practice led them to join the jihads raging across West Africa. They tied their grievances to those of their pastoral relatives. The Cattle Fulani resented what they considered to be an unfair cattle tax, one levied by imperfect Muslims. Under the leadership of the outstanding Fulani Islamic cleric, Shehu Usman dan Fodio, the Fulani launched a jihad in 1804. By 1810, almost all the Hausa states had been defeated.
Although many Hausa—such as Yakubu in Bauchi—joined dan Fodio after victory was achieved, the Fulani in Hausaland turned their religious conquest into an ethnic triumph. Those in Adamawa, for instance, were inspired by dan Fodio's example to revolt against the kingdom of Mandara. The leader was Modibo Adamu, after whom the area is now named. His capital is the city of Yola. After their victories, the Fulani generally eased their Hausa collaborators from positions of power and forged alliances with fellow Fulani.
For the fully nomadic Fulani, the practice of transhumance, the seasonal movement in search of water, strongly influences settlement patterns. The basic settlement, consisting of a man and his dependents, is called a wuru. It is social but ephemeral, given that many such settlements have no women and serve simply as shelters for the nomads who tend the herds.
There are, in fact, a number of settlement patterns among Fulani. In the late twentieth century there has been an increasing trend toward livestock production and sedentary settlement, but Fulani settlement types still range from traditional nomadism to variations on sedentarism. As the modern nation-state restricts the range of nomadism, the Fulani have adapted ever increasingly complex ways to move herds among their related families: the families may reside in stable communities, but the herds move according to the availability of water. Over the last few centuries, the majority of Fulani have become sedentary.
Those Fulani who remain nomadic or seminomadic have two major types of settlements: dry-season and wet-season camps. The dry season lasts from about November to March, the wet season from about March to the end of October. Households are patrilocal and range in size from one nuclear family to more than one hundred people. The administrative structure, however, crosscuts patrilinies and is territorial. Families tend to remain in wet-season camp while sending younger males—or, increasingly, hiring non-Fulani herders—to accompany the cattle to dry-season camps.
Town Fulani live in much the same manner as the urban people among whom they live, maintaining their Fulani identity because of the prestige and other advantages to which it entitles its members. In towns, Fulani pursue the various occupations available to them: ruler, adviser to the ruler, religious specialist, landlord, business, trade, and so forth.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Fulani form the largest pastoral nomadic group in the world. The Bororo'en are noted for the size of their cattle herds. In addition to fully nomadic groups, however, there are also semisedentary Fulani—Fulbe Laddi—who also farm, although they argue that they do so out of necessity, not choice. A small group, the Fulbe Mbalu or Sheep Fulani, rely on sheep for their livelihood.
The Toroobe are outstanding clerics in the Sunni branch of Islam. They have generally intermarried with Hausa and no longer speak Fulfulde. They are found practicing other urban trades: teaching, serving in government positions, engaging in legal activities, renting property, financing trade, and so forth.
Many of the other Town Fulani were actually slaves of the Fulani who now identify with the group because of their high prestige. These urban dwellers engage in all the trades one finds in Hausa towns from crafts to long-range trade throughout Africa and the world.
Industrial Arts. The Fulani are not particularly noted for industrial arts, except for those associated with cattle. They do engage in leatherworking and some craft production. Many of their former slaves who have assumed Fulani ethnicity follow the basic crafts of other West Africans: silver- and gold-smithing, ironworking, basket making, and similar crafts.
Trade. The Fulani are engaged in long-distance trade, generally involving cattle, with their Hausa colleagues. Often the Hausa are also butchers who control West African cattle markets by controlling access to Fulani cattle.
Division of Labor. Herding cattle is a male activity. Tending and milking cattle, however, are women's work. Women may also sell dairy products; their graceful movement with containers of milk or cheese is a common sight in West African towns. Adolescent males traditionally have been in charge of moving the herds, whereas their elders deal with the political decisions and negotiate with sedentary people for the safe movement of the herds through farmlands.
Land Tenure. Land is held by—and inherited through—the patrilineage. As the Fulani have become increasingly sedentary—generally as a result of the pressure of the modern nation state and its centralized control—rights in land have become increasingly important.
Kin Groups and Descent. The Fulani are patrilineal and patrilocal. Kinship and seniority are vital to their way of life. The basic elements of kinship are sex, age, and generation. Full siblings tend to unite against half-siblings, although half-siblings with the same mother do share a special bond.
The Fulani have a principle of generational seniority that is embodied in the general organization of lineages. There are four general lineages, all traced to descent from a common ancestor and his sons; however, everyday groups cut across these yettore lines. Such groups developed to meet historical needs. Over time, patrilineages—much shallower than the four general lineages—emerged. These patrilineages, in turn, are intersected by territorial groups under men called "guides."
Patrilineages are named and consist of three ascending generations. They are coresidential, and members cooperate in pastoral pursuits. The patrilineage controls marriage and is endogamous. A clan is a cluster of lineages, and the clan members generally share a wet-season camp.
Kinship Terminology. There is a good deal of ambiguity in the Fulani use of kinship terms. Thus, any of these terms can be used to refer to a specific person or a range of people. Part of this ambiguity results from the Fulani preference for close marriage so that any person might, in fact, be addressed or referred to by any of several terms.
Goggo is used for father s sister or paternal aunt. Bappanngo is father's brother, whereas kaawu refers to mother's brother; dendiraado designates a cross cousin, and sakike is a sibling. Baaba is father, and yaaye is mother; biddo or bu is a child. These terms are often combined, however. Thus, sakiraabe refers to both siblings and cousins of all sexes. A true sibling if elder is termed mawniyo ; if younger, minyiyo. Maama refers both to grandparents, of either sex, and their sakiraabe and their grandchildren. When it is necessary to distinguish male from female, a term may be added: biddi for male, and dibbo for female.
Marriage. Ideally, the Fulani do not practice birth control because the perfect or model Fulani marriage will produce many children. Toward that goal, the Fulani marry young. No special value is placed on virginity, and women are not shy about boasting about their various experiences. In fact, the Fulani expect young women to bring sexual experience to marriage. There are even special dances in which women select mates, with the proviso that the mate selected not be her fiancé or a particular category of relative—one to whom she could be affianced, for example.
At the same time, a woman is expected to display appropriate modesty whenever the subject of marriage arises, for marriage confers on her a special status. There has been some confusion regarding what constitutes the marriage ceremony among the Fulani. Because neither bride nor groom may be present at the ceremony, owing to shame-avoidance taboos, the significance of the cattle ceremony (koowgal ) has often been overlooked. In that ceremony, the bride's father transfers one of his herd to the groom, legalizing the marriage. There may also follow a more typical Islamic ceremony, termed kabbal Again, neither bride nor groom may actually be present at the ceremony.
An important public acknowledgment of the marriage is the movement of the bride to her husband's village, termed bangal. The women of that village come to greet her, and the welcome is a rite of passage for the bride. The bride's status increases with each child she has, especially with the birth of males.
The Fulani prefer endogamy. Their first choice of a marriage partner is a patrilateral parallel cousin. If that is not possible, their other choices are for the partners to share a great-grandfather, a great-great grandfather, or a patrilateral cross cousin.
Domestic Unit. A man is allowed four wives. Each wife brings cattle with her to the marriage. It is a major obligation for a woman to milk the cattle and prepare the dairy products. A woman receives respect from her sons and daughters-in-law.
Inheritance. Lineage members inherit cattle and widows. Among Town Fulani, inheritance generally follows Islamic prescriptions, with the exception that generally women do not contest their inheritance with their full brothers.
Socialization. At 2 years of age, children are weaned. A child's father remains distant throughout its life. Women provide for children's needs. Thus, a mother and her daughters tend to the needs of her sons. A young girl first plays at carrying dolls on her back and then moves on to carrying her baby brother.
Among the Pastoral Fulani, baby girls are given amulets for fertility and boys for virility. Mothers take care to preserve and shape their children's conformity to the Fulani ideal notions of beauty. Mothers attempt to lengthen their children's noses by pressing them between their fingers, stretching, and squeezing hard. They also attempt to shape their children's heads into the ideal round shape.
Acquiring a culture is perceived as acquiring something that is found. The Fulani term is tawaangal. There is a sense that no one invented nor can change these traditions, for they define what it is to be Fulani.
Young children are treated with great gentleness and are rarely disciplined. Adults seek to avoid giving them any emotional shocks. Most training is given by a child's mother and the other women of the compound. They are believed to be more capable of patience and reciprocity. Young girls are initiated into their adult work through games. The young girl carries her doll. At 2 or 3 years old her ears are pierced, six holes in her right ear and six in her left. Almost as soon as she can walk well, she is placed into the middle of a circle of dancing women who begin to teach her to dance and praise her efforts lavishly.
Indeed, the transition to adulthood proceeds in smooth steps. At about 5 years of age, girls are taught the rules of the moral code -mbo. There are to be no sexual relations of any kind with brothers. A woman may not look at her fiancé in the face. She must demonstrate respect for elders and must never mention her future parents-in-law. Women have two essential roles in Fulani society, that of sister and daughter. Either at her naming ceremony or just before she leaves her father's home for her husband's, a woman's father presents her with a heifer. There is shame for a man on entering his daughter's home; however, the strong affection he demonstrates for his grandchildren is meant to show his affection for his daughter as well.
Young boys play at taking care of the cattle and performing men's work. Mothers come to rely more on sons than on daughters because daughters will leave the compound upon marriage.
Social Organization. The Fulani are many different people. Among those who term themselves "Fulani" are former slaves and members of castes or guilds, such as blacksmiths or bards. It is important to note that the Fulani hold that belonging to society itself is dependent on the will of the individual.
Political Organization. Fulani tend to be the ruling caste among Islamic communities in the northern areas of West Africa. They control the various northern emirates in what was Northern Nigeria, for example. They also play a major role in the modern governments of many West African states.
Among the Cattle Fulani, a leader (ardo) of a territorial group has a major role. Patrilineages play an important part in regulating day-to-day matters and in controlling cattle. They also govern marriages and widow inheritance.
Conflict. Kinship and regional groups regulate conflict within and between groups. The Fulani often come into conflict with settled populations among which they pass. Alliances with Town Fulani help resolve a number of disputes between Fulani and their neighbors. The Fulani are quick to resort to combat in the defense of their interest but also have a reputation for waiting for the opportune moment to seek revenge if the situation demands patience.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Over 90 percent of the Town Fulani are Muslims. It is, in fact, rather difficult to discover any Fulani—Town or Cattle—who admits to not being Muslim, no matter how lax his or her practice may be. The Fulani share many beliefs with other West African Muslims. They use Islam both as a means to distinguish themselves from others, through the reputation of Fulani clerics, and as a link to members of other African groups.
At the same time, there is belief in the steady-state nature of culture that preceded Islam. Culture is seen to be unchanging and constant from generation to generation. The only improvement a Cattle Fulani sees possible is to have more children than his or her parents. Otherwise, the appropriate thing to do is to live according to the code of the ancestors.
That code stresses the symbolic importance of cattle in defining Fulani ethnicity. There is also a requirement to respect one's seniors and to love one's mother. The ethos of the Fulani is best summed up in the concept of palaaku. It portrays the ideal Fulani as one who has stoic sobriety, reserve, and strong emotional ties to cattle. At the same time, the model Fulani is gentle in demeanor. His carriage conveys a proud reserve, almost a disdain toward non-Fulani. It is said that no one knows what a Fulani is thinking. The true Fulani is physically as well as psychologically distant from other people, especially non-Fulani. Moreover, he is enjoined from displays of strong emotions. His demeanor is taciturn, loathing the boisterousness of others. Wealth is not to be vulgarly displayed but carefully and quietly tended.
The Fulani have a number of taboos. They may not pronounce the name of a spouse, a first son, a first daughter, a father or mother, or a parent-in-law or the names of the parents of any beautiful girl or young woman. In addition to observing the usual Islamic dietary laws, they may not eat goat meat, lest they become lepers.
Religious Practitioners. As Muslims, the Fulani share with other Muslims reliance on traditional Islamic religious practitioners and are themselves prominent members of the Islamic clerical class. In common with other West Africans, however, Fulani will frequent local religious practitioners who have established reputations for their curative powers and supernatural abilities.
Ceremonies. Various life-cycle events—naming, acceptance of young girls into the group, marriage, first child, and so on—are marked by ceremonies. The Shar'o ceremony demonstrates to the community that a young man has come of age. In it, adolescent friends take turns beating each other across the chest with their walking sticks. No sign of pain or discomfort can be shown. Although adolescents have died in this ceremony, young men are eager to participate and display their scars with pride throughout their lives.
Arts. The Fulani are noted for their oral literature, which celebrates the concept of palaaku and serves to define Fulani identity. Fulani oral literature has been influenced both by surrounding peoples and by Islam. The major categories of Fulani literature are poetry, history, story, legend, proverb, magic formula, and riddle. Many of these genres are sung, either by amateurs or by professionals.
Medicine. The Fulani participate in a number of medical systems. One is an Islamic system, basically derived from the Arabs and through them from Greco-Roman sources. They share many traditions with the groups among whom they live. Since the onset of British colonization—around the turn of the twentieth century—they have been exposed to Western medical practices. In common with other West Africans, they have incorporated elements from these various systems in a rather syncretistic and pragmatic fashion.
Death and Afterlife. If one lives up to the palaaku code and obeys Allah's laws, there will be rewards in the afterlife. The Fulani, in common with other Muslims, believe in an afterlife of material rewards for the followers of Allah.
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FRANK A. SALAMONE
ALTERNATE NAMES: Fulbe; Peuls, Fula, Fulah, Foulah and Fellata (Sudan) and Futa Toro, Futa Jallon or Fulas Pretos (in Guinea and Senegambia), or Bororo in some parts of Nigeria.
LOCATION: From the western part of West Africa (Senegambia) to Chad in the east (some groups reaching as far as the Nile river in the countries of Sudan and Ethiopia); largest concentrations in Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea
POPULATION: 12 million
LANGUAGE: Fulfulde, Arabic, French, or English
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Beninese; Chadians; Ethiopians; Guineans; Nigerians; Senegalese; Sudanese
The Fulani peoples (also known as Fulbe or Peuls) of West Africa are among the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa. They have a population of more than six million. Many Fulani trace their beginnings to the Sene-gambia area where, as early as 1000 years ago, they adopted a pastoral livelihood and began moving about with their herds of cattle. By the eighteenth century some had migrated as far east as the Niger and Benue Rivers (now in Nigeria). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some Fulani populations, which had become devoted to Islam, initiated jihads (Islamic holy wars) in several West Africa locales, seeking to spread or purify the Islamic religion. These events figure prominently in the histories of most Fulani groups, especially among those who emerged as religious and political leaders in the new kingdoms that resulted from the wars.
Fulani, a name that originated in northern Nigeria, is the most popular name currently used for these people. The terminology and sayings included in this section are from the Adamawa dialect, spoken in northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon.
Today, one finds both nomadic, pastoral Fulani (mbororo'en) and settled Fulani (Fulbe wuro). The pastoral Fulani (full-time cattle keepers) move about with their cattle for much of the year, while the settled Fulani live permanently in villages and cities. Although these two “types” of Fulani share a common language, origin, and some cultural features, they regard themselves as only distantly related. The settled Fulani are mostly concerned with the Islamic religion, whereas the pastoralists' concerns are more with their cattle.
The present population of Fulani might be about 12 million, with another wider regional population of various bilingual speakers of Fulani and other local languages. The Kano Chronicle provides a significant historical record to the Fulani and Hausa people they came to dominate in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Fulani jihads. This is most particularly the case of the Fulani jihad of Uthman dan Fodio as well as regional jihads in the Guinea highlands.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Questions of Fulani origins are disputed by scholars, but a solution is that a primordial intrusion took place from the east and then a westward spread, but during the time of the greatest Fulani jihads, return migrations from Senegal also took place. This was especially true with their horse cavalry for conquest periods and with extensive trade networks in periods of consolidation.
The Fulani populations are now found all over the savanna and semi-arid zones of West Africa to the south of the Sahara desert. This area, which has only a short rainy season, is particularly suitable for pastoralism or a combination of pastoralism and agriculture. The general distribution of these people ranges from the western part of West Africa (Senegambia) to Chad in the east, with some groups reaching as far as the Nile River in the countries of Sudan and Ethiopia. The dispersal across the continent occurred while herdsmen and their families sought to find better pasture land, to escape conflicts with settled peoples in several West African kingdoms, or to visit the Islamic holy land in the Arabian Peninsula. The largest concentrations of Fulani are in the countries of Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea, where Fulani were involved in the holy wars and settled down, became the ruling class, and intermarried with the local populations.
Fulani belongs to the sub-branch of Atlantic language family, but there are many loan words from Berber and Arabic. Despite their wide geographical distribution, the Fulani peoples believe they generally belong to the same ethnic group, but with sub-groups and different dialects. The language is known as Fulfulde (or Fula or Pulaar). There are similarities in the grammar and vocabulary of the different groups, but communication among Fulani from different regions is difficult (although not impossible). There are at least five major dialects of this language (Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, and Masina in the west and Central Nigeria; and Sokoto and Adamawa in the east). Thus, for example, a Fulani from Adamawa in Nigeria would only understand a few words when speaking with a Fulani from Senegal. As Muslims, many Fulani can read and write Arabic. Nowadays, many can also speak either French or English, depending on which European country colonized their region.
Because most Fulani are Muslims, much of their history and worldview derives from Islam. Local groups recognize important historical figures who helped spread Islam in their land and acquired additional spiritual and magical powers due to their religious devotion. Moreover, as many communities have lengthy genealogies, recollections (sometimes exaggerated) of important religious and historical figures abound in terms of their wealth, success in battle, devotion to Islam, and superhuman deeds. Despite the significance of Islam, some modern-day Fulani recount traditions of the pre-Islamic origin of the Fulani. These traditions state that cattle, as well as the first Fulani family, emerged from a river, began the migrations across Africa, and gave birth to children who founded the various Fulani groups.
Fictional stories or folktales (taali) are popular among all Fulani. Adults or storytellers gather children before bedtime to recite the stories, which usually have a moral. Among the pastoralists are many stories pertaining to their cattle and migrations. Among all Fulani, stories discuss the adventures of animals such as squirrels, snakes, hyenas, and rabbits, some of which are extremely clever. Some discuss men and women, Islamic teachers, and children. All Fulani groups have riddles, proverbs, and sayings which, together with the stories, are used to help educate children about the culture and practices of the society as well as to entertain them.
An example of a saying in Fulfulde is: Tid'd'o yod'ad'd'o (“Work hard and succeed”). An example of a Fulani proverb is: Hab'b'ere buri ginawol (“Actions should be judged according to intention” or literally, “Deliberate acts could be worse than insanity”).
As the Fulani adopted Islam, they acquired a set of beliefs about the world and their new faith. They also have obligations as Muslims, such as praying five times a day, learning to recite the holy scriptures (Quran) by heart, fasting in the daytime for one lunar month each year, making the pilgrimage (hajj) to the Islamic holy land in Mecca, and giving alms to the needy. The most important duty is to declare one's true faith in Islam and that Mohammed was a prophet sent by Allah.
One should note that the Fulani are Sunni Muslims, but are also influenced by the Muslim brotherhoods that are widespread across the Sahel as well as other syncretic beliefs and practices. The intensity of religious belief among the Fulani varies by membership in those who are more actively engaged in pastoralism and less inclined to be devout and are more syncretic versus those settled Fulani who are more devout and more inclined to be engaged in religious activism and jihads.
All Fulani participate in Islamic holidays (Id), namely the feast after the fasting period and the feast of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. On these days, people pray in thanksgiving to Allah, visit their relatives, prepare special meals, and exchange gifts such as gowns or cloth. Fulani also observe the national holidays of various African nations in which they reside.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Islam has influenced many Fulani holidays and ceremonies. Shortly after a child is born, a naming ceremony is held in which the child is given a name following Islamic law and practice. Around the age of seven, boys are circumcised, followed by a small ceremony or gathering in their household. Shortly after this time, they begin performing herding or farming activities, sometimes on their own. At this age, girls help their mothers. Also around this time, most children begin attending school. When they are close to puberty, the children socialize in the markets or other communities. Girls are usually betrothed in marriage during their early to mid-teens, while boys remain as sukaa'be (handsome young men) until around the age of 20. At that time, they start a herd or obtain a farm and marry with the intent to start a family. Following ceremonies in which the bride and groom are prepared for marriage, the families of the betrothed contract the marriage under Islam. By middle age, a man may be known as a ndottijo (elder, old man) who has acquired wisdom over the years.
All Fulani have an elaborate code for interacting among themselves and with other people. The code, known as pulaaku, prescribes certain morals and etiquette which the Fulani believe distinguish them from other people; some regard it as sacred. Pulaaku prescribes semteende (modesty and reserve), together with munyal (patience) and hakkiilo (common sense, care), which must be shown in public, among one's in-laws, and with one's spouse, all as a sign of respect for the others and for one's own dignity. Fulani thus tend to avoid showing off with people outside their group, although they are supposed to demonstrate kindness (end'am) among their kin. The pastoral Fulani may have developed pulaaku to help them preserve their economic independence and their identity and to avoid being assimilated into other groups. Nowadays, all Fulani throughout West Africa strongly adhere to this code of behavior. Islam, which also prescribes modesty and reserve, has tended to reinforce this code.
Among the pastoral Fulani, life can be extremely harsh. They often live in small, temporary camps, which they quickly dis-mantle as they often move in search of pasture and water. Some move mainly between wet and dry season camps or small villages. Transportation is often on foot, although some families have donkeys, horses, and camels. Because of the settlements' distance from towns, modern health care is not readily available. Traditional healers, whose medicines and practices have been perfected over the centuries, are more commonly consulted.
Fulani who have settled in towns are more inclined to visit modern health-care facilities such as clinics and hospitals than are the pastoral Fulani. In the cities they also have access to modern transportation, including cars and buses, and they usually reside in large family houses or compounds.
The Sahel in general is relatively underdeveloped so that Fulani are facing various difficulties of finding adequate employment in the modern sectors of the economy that require new educational and technical skills.
Among the Fulani, life centers around the family. This includes one's immediate kin, such as parents and siblings, but it also includes the extended family (cousins, aunts and uncles, and distant relatives), whose members are all treated as close kin. In the rural areas, these groups tend to live close together and join in work efforts; in the towns and cities, they tend to be more dispersed. Each kin group (lenyol) normally recognizes a common male ancestor who lived several generations ago and founded the family.
In the towns, women manage the very large Fulani households and families. Many women are in seclusion due to the Islamic prescription for the extreme modesty of women. Among the pastoralists, the women help support their families through the trade or sale of milk, and they often walk miles each day to the markets or towns to do so.
Marriage is a very important institution among the Fulani. Male family members usually choose a spouse for a child, usually among relatives (particularly cousins) and social equals. This practice helps to keep wealth (cattle and land) in the family and to maintain the moral and physical purity of each group. Polygyny (multiple wives) is not uncommon in Fulani society, as a man's wives all help with domestic work and can bear him many children. They also bring him prestige, particularly if they are modest in behavior and dress.
All Fulani communities have leaders of sorts, known as ardo'en, who influence or guide their peoples in an informal manner. Beginning with the holy wars and the settlement of Fulani populations, some individuals have acquired formal power and authority over their peoples and have become chiefs (laamb'e). Some of the larger Fulani communities have had emirs (laamiib'e) who reigned over their court and subjects in royal fashion.
Fulani traditionally prefer endogamous marriage with parallel cousins, especially patrilateral and they follow patrilineal descent with patrilocal post-marital residence.
There are a great variety of dress codes and styles among the different Fulani groups, but all are proud of their beauty and physical features, which in some respects resemble those of North Africans. Typical Fulani features include tall stature, long limbs, light skin, and relatively long and soft hair. In a broad sense, the married men and women follow the Islamic dress code in which modesty is prescribed. The men wear large gowns and trousers and caps, and women wear wrappers and blouses. As a sign of modesty, married Muslim women wear veils when they leave their household.
Pastoral men also wear Islamic dress, but it is not as elaborate as among the settled Fulani men. Women wear blouses and wrappers but not veils. Among the pastoralists, younger men and women adorn themselves with jewelry and headdresses, and they plait their hair. During certain festivals, young pastoral men wear makeup to accentuate their features, including their eyes, their pointed noses, and their lips, which they line with white paint. They dance for the women and sometimes choose a marital partner.
Most Fulani value cattle and their diet usually includes milk products such as yogurt, milk, and butter. They prefer not to slaughter their cattle for food, but purchase basic foodstuffs, including meat, in the market. Each morning they drink milk or gruel (gari) made with sorghum. Their main meals consist of a staple food or heavy porridge (nyiiri), made of flour from such grains as millet, sorghum, or corn, which they eat with soup (takai, haako) made from tomatoes, onions, spices, and peppers, and other vegetables such as okra, spinach, or baobab leaves.
From birth, Fulani children receive a rigid education to socialize them into the customs and identity of their society and prepare them for the harsh environment in which they live. All adults and senior children help educate the younger children through scolding, reciting sayings and proverbs, and telling them stories. Children also learn through imitation. In many communities, children from about the age of six attend Islamic (Qu'ranic) school, where they study and recite the scriptures and learn about the practices, teachings, and morals of Islam. Nowadays, settled Fulani children attend primary and secondary school, and some eventually enroll in universities. It is more difficult for the children of pastoral families to attend school, as they are often on the move. In some countries, however, special efforts are being made to place these children in school or to build mobile schools that follow them during their migrations.
Among the Fulani, music and art are part of daily life. Work music—with song, drums, or flutes—is found among those in rural areas working in the pasture, the fields, or the market. Court music (drumming, horns, flutes) and praise-singing are found among those in towns, especially in the palace or during festivals. The praise singers discuss community histories, leaders, and prominent individuals, whereas religious singers may cite Islamic scriptures. Most commonly, art occurs in the form of personal adornments such as jewelry, hats, and clothing, and of architecture.
For many Fulani, however, their most important cultural feature is their character or pulaaku (as discussed in the section on interpersonal relations). Fulani should be reserved and demonstrate a strong sense of shame (semteende) in all their dealings outside their household, with strangers, and with certain kinds of kin. For example, it is considered shameful if a Fulani eats outside his household. A proverb thus states, Pullo nastan luumo wade, nastatta luumo semteende (“It is better to die than be shamed in public”). These behavioral norms, in the Fulani view, distinguish them from members of other tribes or ethnic groups. Among the pastoral Fulani, herdsmanship (ngainaaka) is also a very important aspect of their culture. The settled Fulani still value cattle, and many of them own herds, but they lack the extreme enthusiasm for cattle as found among the true pastoralists.
With such an extensive multinational African distribution of the Fulani, they are found in all walks of life, in sports, military, commerce, arts, and politics. Among the most prominent personages of Fulani origin are three heads of state of Nigeria, including the President Umaru Yar'Adua. In Guinea-Conakry those with family names such as Balde and Diallo, or Alfa Yaya, or Alfa Molo were prominent leaders of Fulani origin, and the first president of Cameroon, Ahmadu Ahidjo, also shares this ethnicity.
All Fulani communities have a relatively rigid division of labor according to age and sex. Men's and women's domains are highly segregated, and children assist their parents, but they also have their own chores around the house, on the farm, or in the pasture.
Men tend the cattle, work in the fields, or have formal employment in the city. They also play an important part in decision-making about farming, herding, migrating, and other family matters. Many men are either full or part-time Islamic scholars or teachers. In the settled communities, Fulani men pursue a variety of occupations such as work in the government, as Islamic teachers and scholars, in education, in business, or, to a lesser extent, as traders.
Women's primary role is managing the household (cooking, cleaning) and caring for the children. Among the pastoralists, the women also set up and dismantle camps, tend the small animals (sheep and goats), and trade or exchange milk products in nearby towns and markets to obtain the foodstuffs they themselves do not produce. Most married women in the towns are housewives, but a few work as teachers, nurses, or secretaries. A few supplement their own or their husband's income with trading items such as jewelry, clothing, spices, cigarettes, or beverages—often from within their own household.
Young pastoral men participate in a kind of sport known as sharro. This is a test of endurance and bravery in which young men lash each other to the point of intolerance. They do so as they enter manhood, but some continue to participate in the practice until they become elders. Among the settled Fulani, there are a great variety of traditional local sports and games, including wrestling and boxing. Western sports such as soccer and track and field are now found in communities and schools. Wealthy Fulani also participate in horseracing and polo.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Among the pastoral Fulani, children participate in different kinds of dances—among their immediate friends and kin, when they meet in the market, or when kin groups gather during the rainy season. Among the settled people, musicians and praise-singers perform at festivities such as weddings, naming ceremonies, and parties and Islamic holidays. Today, most Fulani appreciate Western music and own radios. Among the settled Fulani, one commonly finds stereos, televisions, and VCRs.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Fulani women make handicrafts in their spare time, including engraved calabashes or gourds, weavings, knitting, and baskets. Some of these items are used or displayed in the household, and many are given as gifts to other women or kept as part of a woman's or her daughter's dowry for marriage. In contrast with some of their neighboring peoples, Fulani men are less involved in the production of crafts such as pottery, iron-working, and dyeing. They believe that these activities, which are undertaken in the public, may bring shame upon them, and they prefer to purchase such wares from the craftsmen among other peoples.
The pastoral Fulani are currently facing many problems. Drought often reduces their water supply and pasture, and disease may also strike the herds. As the population of West Africa has grown, there is less land available for herding, and conflicts with settled people have increased. The modern governments are also curtailing the Fulanis' movements or trying to force them to settle down. The result is that Fulani herds have declined dramatically, seriously threatening the pastoral Fulani livelihood, although many still find a way to survive. Some settled Fulani are also faced with relative poverty, as most of the countries they live in simply do not have enough resources and funds. Nevertheless, all Fulani find comfort in the fact that their kin are always willing to help those facing hardship. In addition to regional drought, desertification and unemployment are severe issues faced by modern Fulani.
Common with African Islamic societies in general the social position of women is structured with the culture-religious organization of society in which patriarchy, patrilineality, possible but limited polygyny, and patrilocal residence provides for specific domestic roles for women. Within the domestic framework there are some options open to women in the informal economy, particularly in gendered spaces that focus on food and clothing production. At the same time, this is being contested by new social movements and forces that empower women in terms of legal, economic, and human rights, as well as the necessity to bring more women into economic production along with more males moving out of the traditional compounds in search of work and opportunity. Thus, gender roles in modern Fulani society are both steadfast and traditional, while being contested by the powerful forces of change. This gender contestation is particularly acute in Nigeria whereby the federal state seeks centralization on one hand, while empowering the various states to solve their own problems. For Fulani regions which are seeking a post-colonial strengthening of Islamic law the torque between these counterforces has been problematic.
Bivins, Mary Wren. Telling Stories, Making Histories: Women, Words, and Islam in Nineteenth-Century Hausaland and the Sokoto Caliphate. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.
Bocquene Henri. Memoirs of a Mbororo: the Life of Ndudi Umaru, Fulani Nomad of Cameroon. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002.
David, Nicolas. “The Fulani Compound and the Archaeolo-gist.” World Archaeology, 3(2), 1971, 11–131.
Hopen, C. E. Pastoral Fulbe Family in Gwandu. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
Johnston, H. A. S. The Fulani Empire of Sokoto. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Ndukwe, P.I. Fulani. New York: Rosen Publishing, 1996.
Reisman, Paul. Freedom in Fulani Social Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Stenning, Derrick. Savanna Nomads. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
—revised by R. Lobban
ALTERNATE NAMES: Fulbe; Peuls
LOCATION: From the western part of West Africa (Senegambia) to Chad in the east (some groups reaching as far as the Nile river in the countries of Sudan and Ethiopia); largest concentrations in Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea
POPULATION: More than 6 million
LANGUAGE: Fulfulde; Arabic; French; English
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Fulani peoples (also known as Fulbe or Peuls ) live in West Africa. They are among the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa. Many Fulani trace their beginnings back one thousand years to the Senegambia area. By the eighteenth century some had migrated as far east as the Niger and Benue Rivers (now in Nigeria). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some Fulani populations adopted the Islamic religion and initiated jihads (holy wars) in several parts of West Africa.
Today, one finds both nomadic, pastoral Fulani (mbororo'en) and settled Fulani (Fulbe wuro). The pastoral Fulani (full-time cattle keepers) move about with their cattle for much of the year. In contrast, the settled Fulani live permanently in villages and cities. Although both groups share a common language and origin, they regard themselves as only distantly related.
2 • LOCATION
The largest concentrations of Fulani are in the countries of Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea. In these countries, Fulani became the ruling class and intermarried with the local populations. The total Fulani population numbers more than 6 million.
3 • LANGUAGE
The language of the Fulani is known as Fulfulde (or Fula or Pulaar). There are at least five major dialects: Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, and Masina in the west and Central Nigeria; and Sokoto and Adamawa in the east. Although they have similarities in grammar and vocabulary, communication among Fulani from different regions is difficult. As Muslims, many Fulani can read and write Arabic.
An example of a saying in Fulfulde is Tid'd'o yod'ad'd'o (Work hard and succeed). An example of a Fulani proverb is: Hab'b'ere buri ginawol (Actions should be judged according to intention).
4 • FOLKLORE
Despite the importance of Islam, some modern-day Fulani traditions recount the pre-Islamic origin of their people. These traditions state that cattle, as well as the first Fulani family, emerged from a river. They began migrating across Africa and gave birth to children who founded the various Fulani groups.
Folktales (taali) are popular among all Fulani. Children are told bedtime stories that usually have a moral. Among the nomadic Fulani, there are many stories pertaining to their cattle and migrations. All Fulani tell animal tales, recounting the adventures of squirrels, snakes, hyenas, and rabbits, some of which are extremely clever.
5 • RELIGION
As Muslims, the Fulani observe the standard Islamic religious practices. They pray five times a day, learn to recite the holy scriptures (Qur'an, or Koran ) by heart, and give alms to the needy. For one month each year (Ramadan) they fast in the daytime. And at least once in their lifetime, they make a pilgrimage (hajj) to the Islamic holy land in Mecca. The most important duty is to declare one's true faith in Islam and believe that Muhammad was a prophet sent by Allah (God).
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
All Fulani participate in Islamic holidays (Id). The most important are the feast after the fasting period (Ramadan) and the feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. On these days, people pray in thanksgiving to Allah, visit their relatives, prepare special meals, and exchange gifts such as gowns or cloth.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Shortly after a child is born, a naming ceremony is held, following Islamic law and practice. Around the age of seven, boys are circumcised, followed by a small ceremony or gathering in their household. Shortly after this time, they begin performing herding or farming activities, sometimes on their own. At this age, girls help their mothers.
Girls are usually betrothed in marriage during their early to mid-teens. Boys remain sukaa'be (handsome young men) until around the age of twenty. At that time, they start a herd or obtain a farm, and marry. There are ceremonies to prepare the bride and groom for marriage. Afterward, their families sign a marriage contract under Islam. By middle age, a man may be known as a ndottijo (elder, old man) who has acquired wisdom over the years.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
All Fulani have an elaborate code for interacting among themselves and with other people. The code, known as Pulaaku, decrees semteende (modesty), munyal (patience), and hakkiilo (common sense). All of these virtues must be practiced in public, among one's in-laws, and with one's spouse. Islam, which also requires modesty and reserve, has tended to reinforce this code.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Among the nomadic Fulani, life can be extremely harsh. They often live in small, temporary camps. These can be quickly dismantled as they move in search of pasture and water for their herds. Because of the settlements' distance from towns, modern health care is not readily available.
Fulani have also settled in towns and cities. In the cities they usually reside in large family houses or compounds.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Among the Fulani, the family includes one's immediate kin and extended family, all of whom are all treated as close kin. In rural areas, these groups tend to live close together and join in work efforts. In the towns and cities, they tend to be more widely dispersed. Each kin group (lenyol) normally recognizes a common male ancestor who lived several generations ago and founded the family.
Male family members usually choose spouses for their children. Matches are generally made between relatives (particularly cousins) and social equals. This practice helps keep wealth (cattle and land) in the family. Polygyny (multiple wives) is not uncommon in Fulani society. A man's wives all help with domestic work and can bear him many children.
11 • CLOTHING
Dress codes and styles vary greatly. In general, however, married men and women follow the Islamic dress code, which prescribes modesty. The men wear large gowns, trousers, and caps. Women wear wraps and blouses. Married Muslim women wear veils when they leave their household.
Nomadic Fulani also wear Islamic dress, but it is not as elaborate. The women do not wear veils. Younger men and women adorn themselves with jewelry and headdresses, and they braid their hair.
12 • FOOD
The Fulani diet usually includes milk products such as yogurt, milk, and butter. Each morning they drink milk or gruel (gari) made with sorghum. Their main meals consist of a heavy porridge (nyiiri) made of flour from such grains as millet, sorghum, or corn. They eat it with soup (takai, haako) made from tomatoes, onions, spices, peppers, and other vegetables.
13 • EDUCATION
All Fulani adults and older children help educate the younger children through scoldings, sayings and proverbs, and stories. Children also learn through imitation. In many communities, children from about the age of six attend Islamic (Koranic) school. Here they study, recite the scriptures, and learn about the practices, teachings, and morals of Islam. Nowadays, Fulani children in towns and cities attend primary and secondary schools. Some eventually enroll in universities.
[inset phto 1 from guinea book. Students in Guinea begin to attend school at around age six. Credit note: Consulate, Republic of Guinea]
It is more difficult for the children of nomadic families to attend school because they are often on the move.
14 • CULTURE
Among the Fulani, music and art are part of daily life. Work music is sung and played on drums and flutes. Court music (drumming, horns, flutes) and praise-singing are popular in towns, especially during festivals. Praisesingers tell about a community's history and its leaders and other prominent individuals. Religious singers may cite Islamic scriptures.
Most commonly, decorative art occurs in the form of architecture, or in the form of personal adornments such as jewelry, hats, and clothing.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
All Fulani communities have a strict division of labor according to age and sex. Men tend the cattle, work in the fields, or have formal employment in the city. Many men are either full-or part-time Islamic scholars or teachers. In the settled communities, Fulani men may work in government, education, business, or, to a lesser extent, as traders.
Women are responsible for managing the household (cooking, cleaning) and caring for the children. Even in the towns, most married women are housewives, but a few work as teachers, nurses, or secretaries.
16 • SPORTS
Among the nomadic Fulani, young men participate in a kind of sport known as sharro. This is a test of bravery in which young men lash each other to the point of utmost endurance. This practice is most common as men enter manhood. However, some continue it until they become elders.
Among the settled Fulani, there is a variety of traditional local sports and games, including wrestling and boxing. Western sports such as soccer and track and field are now found in communities and schools.
17 • RECREATION
Fulani children participate in various kinds of dances. Some are performed for their closest friends and kin, and some in the marketplace. Among the settled people, musicians and praise-singers perform at festivities such as weddings, naming ceremonies, and Islamic holidays. Today, most Fulani own radios and enjoy Western music. Among the settled Fulani, one commonly finds stereos, televisions, and VCRs.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
In their spare time, Fulani women make handicrafts including engraved gourds, weavings, knitting, and baskets. Fulani men are less involved in the production of crafts such as pottery, iron-working, and dyeing than some neighboring peoples. They believe these activities may violate their code of conduct (Pulaaku ) and bring shame upon them.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
The pastoral Fulani are currently facing many problems. Drought often reduces their water supply and pasture, and disease may also strike the herds. Increasingly, there is less land available for herding, and conflicts with settled people have increased. Present-day governments are also curtailing the Fulanis' movements or trying to force them to settle down.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Hopen, C. E. Pastoral Fulbe Family in Gwandu. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
Stenning, Derrick. Savanna Nomads. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
World Travel Guide. Guinea. [Online] Available http:/www.wtgonline.com/country/gn/gen.html, 1998.
Fulani (fōōlä´nē), people of W Africa, numbering approximately 14 million. They are of mixed sub-Saharan African and Berber origin. First recorded as living in the Senegambia region, they are now scattered throughout the area of the Sudan from Senegal to Cameroon. Both as a sedentary and as a nomadic people, they have played an important part in the history of W Africa. A number of African states, including ancient Ghana and Senegal, had Fulani rulers. The Fulani became zealous Muslims (11th cent.), and from 1750 to 1900 they engaged in many holy wars in the name of Islam. During the first part of the 19th cent. the Fulani carved out two important empires. One, based on Massina, for a time controlled Timbuktu; the other, centered at Sokoto, included the Hausa States and parts of Bornu and W Cameroon. The Fulani emir of Sokoto continued to rule over part of N Nigeria until the British conquest in 1903. The Fulani of Massina were conquered (1861) by al-Hajj Umar, but their resistance ultimately resulted in his death.
See D. J. Stenning, Savannah Nomads (1959, repr. 1964); H. A. S. Johnston, The Fulani Empire of Sokoto (1967).