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The Yalunka (or Jallonke; French: Djallonké or Dialonké) are a Mande people who were one of the original inhabitants of the Futa Jallon (French: Fouta Djallon), a mountainous region in Guinea, West Africa and they are a branch of the Mandinka people of West Africa. Today, the Yalunka (Jallonke) are concentrated mostly in Guinea and Sierra Leone, while small communities also live in Senegal and Mali. Most of the Yalunka in both Guinea and Sierra Leone are considered ethnic Mandinka primarily because of the similarities in costume and languages.
The name Yalunka literally means "inhabitants of the Jallon (mountains)." In the 18th century, many of the Yalunka (Jallonke) were dispersed from the Futa Jallon by the Fulani, another vast people group in the region.
Their language, also called Yalunka, belongs to the Mande branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Yalunka is partially understood by those who speak Susu, another Mande language. In fact, the Yalunka often refer to themselves as the ancestors of the Soso, and some scholars see the two as one group. The Yalunka region has tall grass with a few trees and some bush areas. The country is hilly, and most of it is 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level.
Most Yalunka (Jallonke) settlements are located in the valleys between the hills. Since the 1950s, many Yalunka have migrated to cities . In recent times, many Fulani and Maninka have moved into the Yalunka region, creating a multi-cultural environment.
The Yalunka (Jallonke) are primarily subsistence farmers, with rice and millet being their staple crops. Peanuts, sweet potatoes, maize, and beans are also grown. Chickens, herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep and goats are kept. Animals such as goats and cattle are also very important because they serve as bride-price payments. The animals are given to the girl's family before the marriage takes place. These animals are also valuable as a means of economic exchange, and are used for providing milk.
Among the Yalunka (Jallonke), herding is done by the children. The women milk the cattle, churn the butter, and help the men in some of the agricultural work. Honey is another important commodity among the Yalunka. It is gathered by suspending large water tight baskets in trees. The bees use the baskets as hives. Every year, between four and six gallons of honey may be gathered in each basket.
Costume and culture
The Yalunka (Jallonke) prefer to live in large settlements and villages as opposed to small ones. Many of the large settlements have remained in their current locations since the 18th century. The Yalunka society is basically patriarchal, which means that the family households are headed by the men. A household typically consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried children. The family is the major social unit for the Yalunka. Extended households, which consist of two or more married men and their families, may also adjoin the nuclear family, forming an extended family compound. The Yalunka live in round huts that have brick walls and cone-shaped, straw-thatched roofs. Within the village or settlement, the huts are grouped in compounds around a courtyard and are surrounded by a fence.
Polygyny (having multiple wives) is a common practice among the Yalunka. Marriages among Yalunka are traditionally arranged. According to Islamic law, a man may have up to four wives. However, his first wife has authority over any subsequent wives. The husband has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them. He also helps the wives' parents when necessary. The wives' duties include maintaining the house, preparing the meals, washing the clothes, and helping with the farm work. When a man dies, one of his brothers traditionally marries his wife or wives so that the children remain in the family.
Religion and traditional beliefs
The Yalunka are 99% Muslim. Although they follow most of the religious teachings of Islam and observe its rituals and ceremonies, some of their pre-Islamic beliefs still persist. For instance, they make sacrifices to ancestors to gain power referred to as Barinkiina. They also employ charms for personal power and have family-owned objects of power known as Suxurena which require sacrifices. They also continue to believe in Nyinanna, or "nature spirits," and sacrifices are regularly made to them. Some of the Nyinanna are said to be good spirits, helping with rice production and fertility in women; others are believed to be evil, living in the bush and stealing children from their parents. The more powerful spirits are called Yinnana.
The Yalunka also believe that witches, referred to as "night people" or Kweramuxuna, have the power to change into animals and cause harm to the villagers by eating their souls at night. Some put curses on victims' houses to ruin their crops. Special rituals are performed by diviners or sorcerers to keep the witches and evil Nyinanna away from farms and households.
- Manga Sewa, was a great Yalunka chief in Northern Sierra Leone