Empire of Great Fulo

Coordinates: 22°N 11°W / 22°N 11°W / 22; -11
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22°N 11°W / 22°N 11°W / 22; -11

Empire of Great Fulo
Common languagesFula
Traditional Africa Religion
• 1512-1537
Koli Tenguella
LegislatureBatu Fuuta (assembly of nobles)
Historical eraEarly Modern Period
• Tenguella establishes Fuuta Kingi
• Defeat of Tenguella at the hands of the Songhai, accession of Koli
• Islamic revolution
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Mali Empire
Almamyate of Futa Toro

The Empire of Great Fulo, also known as the Denanke Kingdom or Denianke Kingdom, was a Pulaar kingdom of Senegal, which dominated the Futa Toro region. Its population dominated its neighbors through wars against the Mali and Songhai empires.

Tenguella, a Fula chief in Futa Toro, led an emigration in the 1450s to establish the Futa Kingi state. His actions disrupted trade, which threatened Mali's communication lines, and led to conflict with Songhai. In 1512, Amar Konjago of the Songhai defeated Tenguella, ending his state. Tenguella's son, Koli, led further migrations, and redirected military efforts against the Jolof Empire, hastening its collapse. After Koli's reign, the Denianke dynasty ruled a large empire but later on succession struggles, foreign intervention, and instability followed. In 1776, Sulayman Bal led a revolution, overthrowing the dynasty and establishing the Imamate of Futa Toro.


The Deniaankobe were the clan of Koli Tenguella. There are a variety of theories for the origin of the name either citing illustrious ancestors named Denia or Deeny or that Koli had settled at some point near a place called Deeni.[1]

Great Fulo is the term given to the kingdom and its leader by the Portuguese.


Tenguella (1464–1512)[edit]

Tenguella was a Fula silatigi, or chief, in Futa Toro. Pushed by an expansionist Jolof Empire, in the 1450s he led an emigration eastwards, establishing a state known as Futa Kingi in the lands of the Kingdom of Diarra. From this base, Tenguella militarily intervened in a number of neighboring areas and disrupted trade. His son Koli went to Futa Jallon to organize the Fula there against Mande domination.[2]

By 1490 Tenguella's actions in the upper Gambia river basin were threatening the communication lines between the Mali Empire and their western provinces of Kaabu as well as the Bambuk gold fields.[3] In 1511, after years of mounting tensions, Tenguella invaded the Kingdom of Diarra, the rulers of which called for help from the Songhai. Amar Konjago, a brother of Askia Mohammad I, in 1512 defeated and killed Tenguella in battle and destroyed his young state.[4]

Koli Tenguella (1512–1537)[edit]

Koli Tenguella led another armed migration north from his base in Futa Jallon, attacking many small states on his path. After re-establishing his family's rule in Futa Toro, he redirected the fledgling state's military away from Songhai towards the Jolof Empire with great success.[5] The growth of the Denianke empire would hasten the breakup of the Jolof state into several warring kingdoms. He established a fixed capital in Tumbere-Jiinde in what is today Senegal's Futa Toro region and reconquered Kingi. Koli died in 1537 during a war against the kingdom of Bussa.[6]

After the conquests of Koli and the 1549 collapse of the Jolof Empire at the Battle of Danki, the Denianke ruled over a large empire and received tribute from over a dozen vassal kingdoms. These included the Kingdom of Jolof, Waalo, Cayor, Gajaaga, Diarra and Wagadu, among others.[7] They reached the apex of their power in the early 17th century under Satigi Samba Lamu, when they controlled both the mouth of the Senegal and many of the trans-Saharan trade routes.[8]: 268 

Denianke successors[edit]

Koli was succeeded by his brother Labba Tenguella,[6] beginning the Denianke dynasty (or Denyanke) which continued to be a major power in the region ruling as animist monarchs over an increasingly Islamic populace into the late 18th century. The Torodbe became increasingly influential, opposing Denianke leadership and calling for jihads against neighboring animist Mandinka states.[9] The reign of Silatigi Siree Sawa Laamu (r.1669-1702) saw the outbreak of the Char Bouba war, an Islamist uprising against traditionalist monarchies in the Senegal river valley that sparked a civil war among the Deniankes.[10]

Futa Toro had no clear rules on the succession of the satigi, leading to regular power struggles and civil wars.[8]: 283  Beginning in the early 18th century, the Trarza Moors, supported by the sultan of Morocco Moulay Ismail, attempted to exert control over the north bank of the Senegal and the lucrative trade in gum arabic.[11]: 31  The French in Saint-Louis attempted the same, and instability and foreign intervention became endemic in Futa Toro and much of the Senegal river valley. The well-known ceddo war chief Samba Gelaajo Jeegi took power with the backing of both major powers in 1725, but was unable to break free of their influence and was driven out in 1731. Satigis succeeded each other with bewildering speed for the next few decades with the Moors holding the real power.[8]: 283–5 

The dynasty was overthrown in a revolution led by Sulayman Bal in 1776. He stepped down once the holy war was won and was replaced by Abdul Qadir ibn Hammadi, first almamy of the Imamate of Futa Toro.[9]


The silatigi was generally the oldest male of Tenguella's line, but inheritance had to be approved by the batu Fuuta, an assembly of nobles, which also functioned as a constutitional council, ensuring the smooth transition of power to the most competent candidates.[12]

Another batu was a sort of cabinet composed of members of the royal household, who each held specific dossiers such as tax collection and management of the royal estate.[13] The heir presumtive or kamalenku, for example, administered the right bank of the Senegal, including the Moors who lived there. [14] Royal control was loose and administration was decentralized, with revenues shared between the satigi and the provincial governors[15]

The king with his large herds of horses was highly mobile. Thus the capital, to the extent that there was one, moved frequently.[16]


Futa Tooro benefited from extensive trade networks, with horses and donkeys moving south from the pasturelands of the Sahel; kola nuts, iron, and slaves moving north from Kaabu; gold from Bambuk and the Soninke kingdom of Gajaaga as well as cloth moving west; and salt, and European products coming east from the coast. The kingdom's main export was hides.[17] Palm products and beeswax were also important early trade goods. In the 17th century French, English, and Dutch traders entered the market looking to purchase gold and ivory as well as slaves.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 133.
  2. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 121–3.
  3. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 126.
  4. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 123.
  5. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 145.
  6. ^ a b Kane 2004, pp. 168.
  7. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 189.
  8. ^ a b c Barry, Boubacar (1992). "Senegambia from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century: evolution of the Wolof, Sereer and 'Tukuloor'". In Ogot, B. A. (ed.). General History of Africa vol. V: Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. UNESCO. Retrieved 16 September 2023.
  9. ^ a b c Page, Willie F. (2005). Davis, R. Hunt (ed.). Encyclopedia of African History and Culture. Vol. III (Illustrated, revised ed.). Facts On File. p. 85-6.
  10. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 176–7.
  11. ^ Curtin, Philip, ed. (1967). Africa remembered; narratives by West Africans from the era of the slave trade. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Retrieved 29 June 2023.
  12. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 184.
  13. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 210.
  14. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 191.
  15. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 205.
  16. ^ Kane 2004, pp. 207.
  17. ^ Brooks, George E. (August 1985). "WESTERN AFRICA TO c1860 A.D. A PROVISIONAL HISTORICAL SCHEMA BASED ON CLIMATE PERIODS" (PDF). Indiana University African Studies Program: 166. Retrieved 30 May 2023.


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