Fouta Djallon is a highland region in the centre of Guinea, West Africa. The indigenous name in the Pular language is Fuuta Jaloo.[a] The origin of the name is from the Fula word for the region plus the name of the original inhabitants, the Yalunka or Jalonke (French: Djallonké), a Mande people closely related to the Susu.[b].
Fouta Djallonke consists mainly of rolling grasslands, at an average elevation of about 900 m (3,000 ft). The highest point, Mount Loura, rises to 1,515 m (4,970 ft). The plateau consists of thick sandstone formations which overlie granitic basement rock. Erosion by rain and rivers has carved deep jungle canyons and valleys into the sandstone. The word Djallonke originated from the people who originally occupied the region.
It receives a great deal of rainfall, and the headwaters of three major rivers, the Tinkisso River (major upriver tributary of the Niger), the Gambia River and the Senegal River, have their sources on it. It is thus sometimes called the watertower (chateau d'eau in French literature) of West Africa. Some authors also refer to Fouta Jallon as the Switzerland of West Africa.
The population consists predominantly of Fula or Fulani people (who call themselves Fulɓe [sing. Pullo] and are known in French as Peul). In Fuuta Jaloo their language is called Pular, which is a dialect of Fula like Pulaar in Senegambia and Fulfulde further east in West Africa, but with some particular characteristics.
Since the 17th century it has been a stronghold of Islam. The revolutionaries led by Karamokho Alfa and Ibrahim Sori set up a federation divided into nine provinces. Several succession crises weakened the central power located in Timbo until 1896, when the last Almamy, Bubakar Biro, was defeated by the French army in the battle of Poredaka.
The Fulɓe of Fouta Djallonke spearheaded the expansion of Islam in Guinea. Fulɓe Muslim scholars developed an indigenous literature using the Arabic alphabet. Known as Ajamiyya, this literary achievement is represented by such great poet-theologians as Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, Tierno Saadu Dalen, Tierno Aliou Boubha Ndyan, Tierno Jaawo Pellel etc. In its heyday, Fuuta-Jaloo was
a magnet of learning, attracting students from Kankan to the Gambia, and featuring Jakhanke clerics at Tuba as well as Fulbhe teachers. It acted as the nerve centre for trading caravans heading in every direction. The more enterprising commercial lineages, of whatever ethnic origin, established colonies in the Futanke hills and along the principal routes. It served their interests to send their sons to Futanke schools, to support the graduates who came out to teach, and in general to extend the vast pattern of influence that radiated from Futa Jalon.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ has called Fuuta-Jaloo "the Tibet of West Africa" in homage to the spiritual and mystic (Sufi) tradition of its clerics.
The Fulɓe in Fouta Djallonke are sedentary. Animal husbandry is important, and cattle, sheep, and goats graze in open areas.
The main field crop is fonio, although rice is grown in richer soils. Most soils degrade quickly and are highly acidic with aluminum toxicity, which limits the kind of crops that can be grown without significant soil management. A traditional system of gardening, notably women's or kitchen gardens called cuntuuje (sing. suntuure) in the Pular language or tapades in French, involves addition of various organic inputs (kitchen scraps, harvest residues, mulching, manure). These produce a significant quantity and variety of agricultural products. The gardens are always fenced in to protect against free-grazing animals.
The largest town in the region is Labé.
Notes and References
- The Pular name is also sometimes spelled Fuuta Jalon. French is the official language of Guinea, and Fouta Djallon is the French spelling. In English the name is sometimes written Futa Jallon or Futa Jalon
- The Yalunka or Djallonke and the Susu are apparently considered by some sources to be the same. Their languages are very close.
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