Fula people

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"Fulani" redirects here. For other uses, see Fulani (disambiguation).
Fulani, Fula, Fulɓe
Fulani Woman from Niger.jpg
Total population

c. 20 Million[citation needed]

significant concentrations in:

Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad
Regions with significant populations
 Nigeria 7 million[1]
 Guinea 4.7 million[2]
 Mali 2.8 million[3]
 Niger 1.5 million[4]
 Cameroon 700,000[1]
 Chad 128,000[1]
 Sudan 90,000[1]

Fula language

Foreign Languages: French, English, Hausa, Arabic, Wolof
Related ethnic groups
Tukulor, Tuareg
Person Pullo
People Fulɓe
Language Pulaar (West), Fulfulde (East)

The Fula people or Fulani or Fulɓe (Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peul; Hausa: Fulani; Portuguese: Fula; Wolof: Pël; Bambara: Fulaw) numbering approximately 20 million people in total are one of the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse of the peoples of Africa.[5] The Fulani are bound together by the common language of Fulfulde, as well as by some basic elements of Fulbe culture, such as the pulaaku, a code of conduct common to all Fulani groups.

A significant proportion of their number, (an estimated 13 million), are nomadic, making them the largest pastoral nomadic group in the world.[6] Spread over many countries, they are found mainly in West Africa and northern parts of Central Africa, but also in Sudan and Egypt.[7]


There are many names (and spellings of the names) used in other languages to refer to the Fulɓe. Fulani in English is borrowed from the Hausa term.[8] Fula, from Manding languages, is also used in English, and sometimes spelled Fulah or Fullah. Fula and Fulani are commonly used in English, including within Africa. The French borrowed the Wolof term Pël, which is variously spelled: Peul, Peulh, and even Peuhl. More recently the Fulfulde / Pulaar term Fulɓe, which is a plural noun (singular, Pullo) has been Anglicised as Fulbe,[9] which some people use. In Portuguese, the terms Fula or Futafula are used. The terms Fallata Fallatah or Fellata are of Kanuri origins, and is often the name by which Fulani people are identified by in Sudan.

Geographic distribution[edit]

African countries where they are present include Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad, Togo, Gabon, South Sudan the Central African Republic, Liberia, and as far East as the Red Sea in Sudan and Egypt. With the exception of Guinea, where the Fula make up an ethnic plurality (largest single ethnic group) or approximately 49%+ of the population,[10] and Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon, Fulas are minorities in nearly all other countries they live in. Alongside, many also speak other languages of the countries they inhabit, making many Fulani bilingual or even trilingual in nature. Such languages include Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Arabic.

Major concentrations of Fulani people exist in the Fouta Djallon highlands of central Guinea and south into the northernmost reaches of Sierra Leone; the Futa Tooro savannah grasslands of Senegal and southern Mauritania; the Macina inland Niger river delta system around Central Mali; and especially in the regions around Mopti and the Nioro Du Sahel in the Kayes region; the Borgu settlements of Benin, Togo and West-Central Nigeria; the northern parts of Burkina Faso in the Sahel region's provinces of Seno, Wadalan, and Soum; and the areas occupied by the Sokoto Caliphate, which includes what is now Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria (such as Tahoua, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zinder, Bauchi, Diffa, Yobe, Gombe, and further east, into the Benue river valley systems of North Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon).

This is the area known as the Fombina, literally meaning "The South" in Adamawa Fulfulde, because it represented the most southern and eastern reaches of Fulɓe hegemonic dominance in West Africa. In this area, Fulfulde is the local lingua franca, and language of cross cultural communication. Further east of this area, Fulani communities become predominantly nomadic, and exist at less organized social systems. These are the areas of the Chari-Baguirmi Region and its river systems, in Chad and the Central African Republic, the Ouaddaï highlands of Eastern Chad, the areas around Kordofan, Darfur and the Blue Nile, Sennar, Kassala regions of Sudan,[11] as well as the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan. The Fulani on their way to or back from the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, settled in many parts of eastern Sudan, today representing a distinct community of over 2 million people referred to as the Fellata.[12][13][14]

While their early habitat in West Africa was apparently in an area in the vicinity of the borders of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, they are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a wide band of West and Central Africa. The Fulani People occupy a vast geographical expanse located roughly in a longitudinal East-West band immediately south of the Sahara, and just north of the coastal rain forest and swamps, although situations have changed a lot in recent times, and, a sizable proportion of Fulani people now live in the heavily forested zones to the south, in countries like Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea, The Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Various Fulɓe sub-groups are now found well within the forested southern quarter of West and Central Africa.

There are approximately 20 million Fulani people. They are considered among the most “widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa.” There are generally three different types of Fulani based on settlement patterns, viz: the Nomadic/Pastoral or Mbororo, The Semi-Nomadic and the Settled or "Town Fulani". The pastoral Fulani move around with their cattle throughout the year. Typically, they do not stay around, for long stretches {not more than 2–4 months at a time} . The semi-nomadic Fulani can either be Fulɓe families who happen to settle down temporarily at particular times of the year, or Fulɓe families who do not "browse" around past their immediate surroundings, and even though they possess livestock, they do not wander away from a fixed or settled homestead not too far away, they are basically "In-betweeners" .

Settled Fulani live in villages, towns and cities permanently and have given up nomadic life completely, in favor of an urban one. These processes of settlement, concentration and military conquest led to the existence of organized and long-established communities of Fulani, varying in size from small villages to towns. Today, some major Fulani towns include: Labé, Pita, Mamou and Dalaba in Guinea, Kaedi, Matam and Podor in Senegal and Mauritania, Bandiagara, Mopti, Dori, Gorom-Gorom and Djibo in Mali and Burkina Faso, on the bend of the Niger, and Birnin Kebbi, Gombe, Yola, Jalingo, Mayo Belwa, Mubi, Maroua, Ngaoundere, Girei and Garoua in the countries of Cameroon and Nigeria, in most of these communities, the Fulani are usually perceived as a ruling class.

Main Fulani Sub-Groups, Cluster group and dialectal variety
Fulbe Adamawa  Nigeria  Cameroon  Chad  Central African Republic  Sudan Eastern Fulfulde

Adamawa (Fombinaare)

Fulbe Mbororo  Nigeria  Cameroon  Chad  Central African Republic  Sudan  Niger  Gabon Eastern Fulfulde

Sokoto (Woylaare) & Adamawa (Fombinaare)

Fulbe Bagirmi  Central African Republic  Chad Eastern Fulfulde

Adamawa (Fombinaare) & Bagirmi

Fulbe Sokoto  Nigeria  Niger Eastern Fulfulde

Sokoto (Woylaare)

Fulbe Gombe  Nigeria Eastern Fulfulde

Sokoto (Woylaare) - Adamawa (Fombinaare) Transitional

Fulbe Borgu  Nigeria  Benin  Togo Central Fulfulde

Borgu & Western Niger (Jelgoore)

Fulbe Jelgooji  Mali  Niger  Burkina Faso Central Fulfulde

Western Niger (Jelgoore) & Massina (Massinakoore)

Fulbe Massina  Mali Central Fulfulde

Massina (Massinakoore)

Fulbe Nioro  Mali  Senegal  Mauritania Western Pulaar - Fulfulde

Fuua Tooro - Massina (Massinakoore) Transitional

Fulbe Futa Jallon  Guinea  Guinea Bissau  Sierra Leone Western Pular

Fuuta Jallon

Fulbe Futa Tooro  Senegal  Mauritania Western Pulaar

Fuuta Tooro

Fulbe Fuladu  Senegal  Guinea Bissau  Gambia Western Pulaar - Pular

Fuuta Tooro - Fuuta Jallon Transitional

Typically, Fulɓe belonging to the same affinity bloc tend to cluster together in culture, customs, and dialectal variety. Eastern Fulɓe sub-groups tend to be more similar to each other than to other sub-groups, and the same applies with most Western groups. Culturally speaking, the Central Fulɓe sub-groups are roughly in between the Western and Eastern Fulani cultural niches.

For example, the Massina Fulɓe share similarities both dialectally and culturally to Nigeria/Cameroonian (Eastern) (Both of which end interrogative questions with "na?"), as well as Senegalese/Guinean (Western) Fulɓe cultures (who do not end interrogative questions in such mannerism). Accordingly, the Western groups are the most divergent from the Eastern groups and vice versa. Overall however, all share most cultural practices to a large extent.

Related groups and caste system[edit]

Fula society in most parts of West Africa features the caste divisions typical of the region. In Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal for instance, those within the fulɓe cultural sphere, but who are not ethnically Fula, are referred to as yimɓe pulaaku, i.e. (people of the Fula culture). As such, Fulani society consists of people who may or may not be ethnic Fulani.[15]

There are the Fulani proper, also referred to as the Fulɓe, including the Pullo (also called the Rimɓe (singular)) and the Dimo, meaning "noble". There is the artisan caste, including blacksmiths, potters, griots, genealogists, woodworkers, and dressmakers. They, like the Fulɓe, are free people. Then there are those groups of captive, slave or serf ancestry: the Maccuɗo, Rimmayɓe, Dimaajo, and less often Ɓaleeɓe, the Fulani equivalent of the Tuareg Ikelan known as Bouzou (Buzu)/Bella in the Hausa and Songhay languages respectively.[16][17][18]

The last two categories are not distinguishable in any significant way, and today, most are essentially free by law.[clarification needed] The castes are endogamous in nature, meaning individuals marry only within their caste. Although the Fulɓe no longer have any legal rights over the Rimmayɓe (for the most part), memories of their past relationship are still very much alive in both groups. Paul Riesman, an American ethnographer who resided among the Jelgooji Fulɓbe of Burkina Faso in the 1980s, explains:

When I was still a newcomer in the Area, people would ask me: Can you tell Fulɓe and Rimayɓe apart? (Aɗa waawi sendude Pullo e Maccuɗo na?). Sometimes, the question would be put to me, upon my arrival at a gathering of people whom I didn't know, and I would be asked to point out the Fulɓe and the Maccuɓe, or to say which was which between two men seated next to each other. At the time, I thought of this as a test of my knowledge, since people knew I was studying the language and life of the people. But on reflection, I see that it was also a test of themselves, which was meant to confirm, that even to a fairly ignorant foreigner, the Fulɓe and Maccuɓe were easy to differentiate as types. The main differences I was supposed to notice were visual. The ideal is that Fulɓe are tall, slim, and light-skinned; they have thin straight noses, and their hair tends to be long and curly. In contrast, the Rimayɓe are stocky, tending towards corpulence, dark-skinned with flat 'squashed' noses, and short kinky hair. The everyday clothing worn by the Fulɓe is easily distinguishable from that worn by the Rimayɓe. Jelgooji Fulɓe youth wear a distinctive tunic, made from homespun cloth they sew and dye themselves, while Rimayɓe youth of the same age generally wear machine woven cotton, sewn by tailors in markets or by themselves.[19][20][21]

This caste system, however, wasn't as elaborate in places like northern Nigeria, Eastern Niger or Cameroon, where in the past people were either slaves, Fulɓe, or Rimɓe.[22] According to some estimates, by the late 19th century, slaves constituted about 50% of the population of the (Fulɓe) emirate of Adamawa, where they were referred to as jeya6e (singular jeyado). Though seemingly extraordinary, these figures are representative of many other emirates of the Sokoto caliphate, of which Adamawa formed a part.

In many cases the Fulani and Hausa have taken some influences from each other's cultures. This is because, amongst the Fulɓe nomads of this region, the first group that initiated the sedentary lifestyle, were known as the Torobe clan, the majority of whom were members of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio's group. Many of them were already working in the royal courts of the Hausa Kings as well as major urban centers of Northern Nigeria, as prized religious advisers, and men of knowledge.

Upon the success recorded in the 1804 Jihad, many of them subsequently joined the ruling classes of the Northern Nigerian Emirate. They dress and speak like their Hausa neighbours and live in the same form (see Hausa-Fulani). The Fulɓe who didn't settle during this period and their descendants, however, still keep an obvious distinct identity from that of the Hausa and other surrounding groups of the region. This phenomenon is not seen outside the eastern subregion of West Africa, and in other parts of the region, cultures between the Fulani and other groups are kept largely distinct.

One closely related group is the Tukolor (Toucouleur) in the central Senegal River valley who are essentially a mixture of Serer, Wolof, Fulɓe and Rimmayɓe peoples. They had a strong kingdom paying a negotiated tribute to the Fula. Large numbers of other Fula-speakers live scattered in the region and have a lower status. They are descendants of Fula-owned slaves. Now legally emancipated, in some regions they still pay tribute to Fula elites, and they are often denied chances for upward social mobility.[23]

In-between groups are the Fula-speaking fishermen and handcraftsmen. These groups are often collectively referred to (together with Fulɓe of the region) as Haalpulaar (Fula: Haalpulaar'en, literally "Pulaar-speakers"). The Wodaabe (Fula: Woɗaaɓe), are a sub-group of the Fula people.

Another related group are the Wasulu people, who are partly ethnic Fulani living in areas of West Africa that constitute parts of Ivory Coast, Guinea and Mali. They inhabit a region that expands from the southwestern corner of Mali, to the northwestern corner of Ivory Coast, and the northeastern part of Guinea. The Wasulu settled among the Maninka (in the northeastern corner of Guinea and the southwestern corner of Mali). It is believed that they settled in Yanfolila and the surrounding areas between the 11th and 14th centuries AD. They are then held to have adopted the language and culture of the surrounding Maninka and Bambara.[24]

The Wasulu now speak the Bambara language with a mixture of Malinké, which is called Wasalunkan. Many of the Wasulu are farmers, with cotton being their main crop. Islam was introduced to the group in the late 19th century. Like their Fulani brethren, the Wasulu are today almost 100% Muslim. The internationally renowned Malian singer Oumou Sangare is originally from the Wasulu group of Mali.[24]


Traditional livelihood[edit]

The Fulani are traditionally a nomadic, pastoralist trading people. They herd cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry hinterlands of their domain, keeping somewhat separate from the local agricultural populations. They are the largest nomadic ethnic group in the world, and inhabit several territories over an area larger in size than the continental United States.

The Fulani follow a code of behavior known as pulaaku, which consists of the qualities of patience, self-control, discipline, prudence, modesty, respect for others (including foes), wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, hospitality, courage, and hard work. Among the nomadic Fulani, women in their spare time make handicrafts including engraved gourds, weavings, knitting, beautifully made covers for calabashes known as mbeedu, and baskets. The Fulani men are less involved in the production of crafts such as pottery, iron-working, and dyeing, unlike males from neighboring ethnic groups around them.

In virtually every area of West Africa, where the nomadic Fulɓe reside, there has been an increasing trend of conflicts between farmers (sedentary) and grazier (pastoral nomadic). There have been numerous such cases on the Jos Plateau, Bamenda Highlands, Central/Middle Belt regions of Nigeria, Northern Burkina Faso, and Southern Chad. The rearing of cattle is a principal activity in four of Cameroon’s ten administrative regions as well as three other provinces with herding on a lesser scale, throughout the North and Central regions of Nigeria, as well as the entire Sahel and Sudan region.[25]

For decades there have been intermittent skirmishes between the Bororo (graziers) and sedentary farmers, such as the Jukun, Tiv, Chamba, Bamileke, and sometimes even the Hausa. Such conflicts usually begin when cattle have strayed into farmlands and destroyed crops. Thousands of Fulani have been forced to migrate from their traditional homelands in the Sahel, to areas further south, because of increasing encroachment of Saharan desertification. Nigeria alone loses 2,168 square kilometers of cattle rangeland and cropland every year to desertification, posing serious threats to the livelihoods of about 20 million people.[25]

Recurrent droughts have meant that a lot of traditional herding families have been forced to give up their nomadic way of life, losing a sense of their identity in the process. Increasing urbanization has also meant that a lot of traditional Fulani grazing lands have been taken for developmental purposes, or forcefully converted into farmlands.[26] These actions often result in violent attacks and reprisal counterattacks being exchanged between the Fulani, who feel their way of life and survival are being threatened, and other populations who often feel aggrieved from loss of farm produce even if the lands they farm on were initially barren and uncultivated.

Fulani in Nigeria have often requested for the development of exclusive grazing reserves, to curb conflicts.[27] All the leading presidential aspirants of previous elections seeking Fulɓe votes have made several of such failed promises in their campaigns. Discussions among government officials, traditional rulers, and Fulani leaders on the welfare of the pastoralists have always centered on requests and pledges for protecting grazing spaces and cattle passages. The growing pressure from Ardo'en (the Fulani community leaders) for the salvation of what is left of the customary grazing land has caused some state governments with large populations of herders (such as Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, and Kaduna) to include in their development plans the reactivation and preservation of grazing reserves. Quick to grasp the desperation of cattle-keepers for land, the administrators have instituted a Grazing Reserve Committee to find a lasting solution to the rapid depletion of grazing land resources in Nigeria.[28]

The Fulani believe that the expansion of the grazing reserves will boost livestock population, lessen the difficulty of herding, reduce seasonal migration, and enhance the interaction among farmers, pastoralists, and rural dwellers. Despite these expectations, grazing reserves are not within the reach of about three-quarters of the nomadic Fulani in Nigeria, who number in the millions, and about sixty percent of migrant pastoralists who use the existing grazing reserves keep to the same reserves every year. The number and the distribution of the grazing reserves in Nigeria range from insufficient to severely insufficient for Fulani livestock. In countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso where meat supplies are entirely dependent on the Fulani, such conflicts lead to scarcity and hikes in animal protein prices. In recent times, the Nigerian senate and other lawmakers have been bitterly divided in attempts to pass bills on grazing lands and migration "corridors" for Fulani herdsmen. This was mainly due to Southern and Central Nigerian lawmakers opposing the proposal, and Northern Lawmakers being in support.[28] Fulani are involved in Communal conflicts in Nigeria.


The language of Fulani people is called Fula language. It is also called or Fula or Pulaar, or variants thereof, depending on the region. It is also the language of the Tukulor. It is closely related to Wolof and Serer. All Senegalese and Mauritanians who speak the language natively are known as the Halpulaar or Haalpulaar'en, which means "speakers of Pulaar" ("hal" is the root of the Pulaar verb haalugol, meaning "to speak"). In some areas, e.g. in northern Cameroon, Fulfulde is a local lingua franca.

Moral code[edit]

Central to the Fulani people's lifestyle is a code of behavior known as pulaaku or (Laawol Fulɓe) in Fulfulde, literally meaning the Fulani pathways which are passed on by each generation as high moral values of the Fulbe, which enable them to maintain their identity across boundaries and changes of lifestyle. Essentially viewed as what makes a person Fulani. or "Fulaniness", pulaaku consists of four basic tenets.

The dominant traits of Laawol Pulaaku or the Fulani way are munyal, hakkiilo, semteende, sagata and an intimate understanding of both the Fulfulde language and people.

Munyal is a cross between strength and courage in adversity and a stoic acceptance or endurance of the supposedly pre-ordained vicissitudes of life. It is often translated as patience.

The word hakkiilo (hakkille), meaning intelligence, foresight and common sense, conveys a blending of prudence and shrewdness in livelihood management and face-to-face encounters.

Semteende (shame) is best described both as a lacking of restraint (gacce/yaage) and self-control in daily social interaction, and evidencing a weakness when facing adversity. It is most often translated as shame. When someone acts shamefully, Fulbe say o sempti, meaning they shamed themselves, or alternatively, o walaa semteende (o wala gacce), meaning they have no shame. In other words, a pullo must know of the social constraints on behavior and be able to avoid contravening them in all situations, especially in front of others. A true pullo is in total control of his emotions and impulses.

  • Munyal: Patience, self-control, discipline, prudence
  • Gacce / Semteende: Modesty, respect for others (including foes)
  • Hakkille: Wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, hospitality
  • Sagata / Tiinaade: Courage, hard work


There are no particular outfits for all Fulani sub-groups; dressing and clothing accessories such as ornaments mostly depend on the particular region. The traditional dress of the Fulbe Wodaabe consists of long colourful flowing robes, modestly embroidered or otherwise decorated. In the Futa Jallon highlands of central Guinea, it is common to see men wearing a distinctive hat with colorful embroidery. In Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, men wear a hat that tapers off at three angular tips, known as a noppiire. Both men and women wear a characteristic white or black cotton fabric gown, adorned with intricate blue, red and green thread embroidery work, with styles differing according to region and sex.

It is not uncommon to see the women decorate their hair with bead hair accessories as well as cowrie shells. Fula women often use henna for hand, arm and feet decorations, as in other similar cultures of Africa. The Fulani women are very graceful in nature. Their long hair is put into five long braids that either hang or are sometimes looped on the sides. It is common for women and girls to have silver coins and amber attached to their braids. Some of these coins are very old and have been passed down in the family. The women enjoy wearing many bracelets on their wrists.

Like the men, the women have markings on their faces around their eyes and mouths that they were given as children. The Western Fulbe in countries like Mali, Senegal and Mauritania use indigo inks around the mouth, resulting in a blackening around the lips and gums.

Fulani men are often seen wearing solid-colored shirt and pants which go down to their lower calves, made from locally grown cotton, a long cloth wrapped around their faces, and a conical hat made from straw and leather on their turbans, and carrying their walking sticks across their shoulders with their arms resting on top of it. Often the men have markings on either side of their faces and/or on their foreheads. They received these markings as children. Fula ethics are strictly governed by the notion of pulaaku. Women wear long robes with flowery shawls. They decorate themselves with necklaces, earrings, nose rings and anklets.[29]


Fula are primarily known to be pastoralists, but are also traders in some areas. Most Fula in the countryside spend long times alone on foot, and can be seen frequently parading with their cattle throughout the west African hinterland, moving their herds in search of water and better pasture. They were, and still are, the only major migratory people group of West Africa, although the Tuareg, another nomadic tribe of North African origin, live just immediately north of Fula territory, and sometimes live alongside the Fulani in countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The Fulani, as a result of their constant wandering of the past, can be seen in every climatic zone and habitat of West Africa, from the deserts of the north, to the derived savannah and forests of the south.

From the 16th to 20th centuries many Fulani communities settled in the highlands of the Jos Plateau, the Western High Plateau of Bamenda, and Adamawa Plateau of Nigeria and the Cameroons. These are the highest elevated places in West Africa, and their altitude can reach up to 8,700 feet above sea level. The highland plateaus have a more temperate climate conducive for cattle herding activities, which allowed Fulbe populations to settle there in waves of migrations from further west. Though most Fula now live in towns or villages, a large proportion of the population is still either fully nomadic, or semi-nomadic in nature.

Wealth is counted by how large the herd of cattle is. Long ago Fulani tribes and clans used to fight over cattle and grazing rights. Being the most treasured animal that the Fulanis herd, the cows are very special. Many people say that a person cannot speak Fulfulde if he does not own a cow. The Fulani have a tradition of giving a habbanaya - a cow which is loaned to another until she calves. Once the calf is weaned it is retained and the cow is returned to its owner. This habbanaya is a highly prized animal. Upon receipt of this gift, there is a special ceremony in honor of the gift. The recipient buys special treats and invites his neighbors for this event in which the habbanaya is given a name. The habbanaya is never to be struck under any circumstance.

Fulani nomads keep various species of cattle, but the zebu cattle is the most common in the West African hinterland, due to its drought resistant traits. In the wetter areas of Fouta Djallon and Casamance, the dwarf Ndama cattle is more common, as they are highly resistant to trypanosomiasis and other conditions directly associated with high humidity. Sub-species of zebu include the White Fulani, locally known as the Aku, Akuji, Bororoji, White Kano, Yakanaji or Bunaji, which are an important beef breed of cattle found throughout the area conquered by the Fulani people and beyond in the Sahel zone of Africa.[30]

The Red Fulani, which are called the Jafun French: Djafoun in Nigeria and Cameroon, and Fellata in Chad, as well as other names such as the M'Bororo, Red Bororo, or Bodaadi, another subspecies is the Sokoto Gudali and the Adamawa Gudali or simply Gudali, which means "horned and short legged" in the Hausa language. The widely accepted theory for the origin of present-day zebu cattle in West Africa is that they came from the westward spread of the early zebu populations in East Africa through the Sudan. Other breeds of zebu are found mainly in the drier regions. Their body conformation resembles the zebu cattle of eastern Africa. The zebu did not appear in West Africa until about 1800.[30] The increasing aridity of the climate and the deterioration of the environment in the Sahel appear to have favoured the introduction and spread of the zebu, as they are superior to longhorn and shorthorn (Bos taurus) cattle in withstanding drought conditions.

The origins and classification of the Fulani remains controversial; one school of thought is of the opinion that the Fulani cattle are truly long-horned zebus that first arrived in Africa from Asia on the east coast; these are believed to have been introduced into West Africa by the Arab invaders during the 7th century AD, roughly about the same time that the short-horned zebus arrived into East Africa. This theory is supported by the appearance of the skull as well as the thoracic hump of the Fulani cattle.[30]

Another school of thought contends that these cattle originated from the Horn of Africa, present-day Ethiopia and Somalia, and that interbreeding between the short-horned zebu (which arrived in the Horn around the first millennium BC) and the ancient Hamitic Longhorn and/or Brachyceros shorthorn (which had arrived much earlier) occurred in the Horn about 2000–1500 BC. The subsequent successive introductions of the short-horned zebu cattle are believed to have displaced most of these sanga cattle into southern Africa.[30]

During this period of constant movement of people and animals within Africa, some of these sanga cattle probably intermixed with the short-horned, thoracic-humped cattle to produce the thoracic-humped sanga. The latter may have migrated, most probably along with the spread of Islam, westerly to constitute what are today the lyre-horned cattle of West and Central Africa, including the Fulani cattle. Originally the White Fulani were indigenous to north Nigeria, southeast Niger and northeast Cameroon, owned by both Fulani and Hausa people. They then spread to southern Chad and western Sudan.[30]

Every year, in the Malian town of Diafarabé, Fulani men cross the Niger river,with their cattle, in an annual cycle of transhumance. This annual festival is known in the local Fulfulde as the Dewgal. Since the founding of the village in 1818, it has always been the most important Fulani festival. It takes place on a Saturday in November or December; the day is carefully chosen based on the state of pastures and the water levels in the river Niger. During the rainy season, the river swells, and the areas around the village are inundated in water, as the level of the river Niger rises, and turns Diafarabe into an island. The cattle are kept on the lush fields up north or south, but when the West African Monsoon subsides and the drier season returns, the water level drops and the cattle can return home again.[31][32][33]

The crossing is more than a search for pastures; it is also a competition to show craftsmanship as a herdsmen. The cattle are driven into the river, and each herder, with no help from others, loudly encourages the animals to move forward as he stands or swims between them, holding on to the horns of the bulls. The smaller animals don’t have to swim, but are lifted into pirogues. When all the cattle are back, they are judged by a panel, which decides whose animals are the "fattest". That herder is awarded “best caretaker”, and he is awarded by the community.[31][32][33] The worst caretaker ends up with a shameful “prize” – a peanut.

Besides being a competition of herdsmanship, it is also a social event; the herdsmen return after having been away for the most part of the year and they meet their family and friends again. It is a time for celebration. The women decorate their house with woven mats and paint the floor with white and black clay, braid their hair with very intricate patterns, and dress up for their husbands and loved ones. Impressed by the cultural significance attached to the annual event, UNESCO included it on its list of world cultural heritage events.[31][32][33]


The Fula have a rich musical culture and play a variety of traditional instruments including drums, hoddu (a plucked skin-covered lute similar to a banjo), and riti or riiti (a one-string bowed instrument similar to a violin), in addition to vocal music. The well-known Senegalese Fula musician Baaba Maal sings in Pulaar on his recordings. Zaghareet or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.

Fulani music is as varied as its people. The numerous sub-groups all maintain unique repertoires of music and dance. Songs and dances reflect traditional life and are specifically designed for each individual occasion. Music is played at any occasion: when herding cattle, working in the fields, preparing food, or at the temple. Music is extremely important to the village life cycle with field cultivation, harvest and winnowing of millet performed to the rhythm of the songs and drums.

Fulani herders have a special affinity for the flute and violin nianioru. The young Fulani shepherd like to whistle and sing softly as they wander the silent savannah with cattle and goats. The truly Fulani instruments are the one-string viola of the Fulani (nianioru), the flute, the two to five string lute hoddu or molo, and the buuba and bawdi set of drums. But they are also influenced by the other instruments of the region such as the beautiful West African harp, the kora, and the balafon. Entertainment is the role of certain casts. The performance of music is the realm of specialized casts. The Griots or Awlube recite the history of the people, places and events of the community.


Fulani calabashes used for cheese production

Milk, known as kossam in Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani, is central to Fulbe identity. It is revered and loved as a drink or as one of its various processed forms, such as yoghurt and cheese. Kettugol is derived from milk fat, and is used in light cooking. It is common to see Fulani women hawking milk products in characteristic beautifully decorated calabashes balanced on their heads. Other meals include a heavy porridge (nyiiri) made of flour from such grains as millet, sorghum, or corn which is eaten in combination with soup (takai, haako) made from tomatoes, onions, spices, peppers, and other vegetables.[34]

Another popular meal eaten by almost all Fulani communities is made from fermenting milk into yoghurt and eaten with corn cous-cous known as latchiiri or dakkere, either in the same bowl or separately. The Fulbe Wodaabe traditionally eat millet, milk and meat as staples. Millet is eaten in the morning, noon and night as a porridge with a sauce or stew which usually contains tomatoes, peppers, bone, meat, onion, and other vegetables. On special occasions they eat meat such as goat or beef. A thick beverage similar to the Tuareg beverage eghajira is made by pounding goat cheese, milk, dates and millet.


Traditionally, nomadic Fula live in domed houses known as a bukkaru or suudu hudo, literally "grass house". During the dry season, the characteristically hemisphere-shaped domed houses are supported by compact millet stalk pillars, and by reed mats held together and tied against wood poles, in the wet or rainy season. These mobile houses are very easy to set up, and dismantle, as typical of houses from nomadic societies. When it is time to move, the houses are easily disassembled and loaded onto donkeys, horses or camels for transport. With recent trends however, many Fula now live in mud or concrete block houses.

Once they are set up, the room is divided into a sleeping compartment, and another compartment where calabashes and guards of all sizes are intricately arranged in a stack according to their sizes and functions. Spoons made from gourda are hung from the rooftop, with others meant for grain storage.


Various theories have been postulated regarding the enigmatic origins of the Fulani people. The ethnogenesis of the Fulani people, however, seems to have begun as a result of interactions between an ancient West African population and a North African population in the areas around the bend of the Niger river. They are people of combined West African as well as North African origin.

Timeline of Fulani history[edit]

Time Events
4th century The Empire of Ghana emerges in modern-day southeastern Mauritania and western Mali, as the first large-scale Sudano-Sahelian empire
5th century The Empire of Ghana becomes the most important power in Western Africa
5th century (?) The Fulbe migrate southwards and Eastwards from present day Morocco and Mauritania
9th century Tekruur founded on the lower Senegal river (present-day Senegal), upon the influx of Fulani from the east and north settling in the Senegal river valley
11th century Kingdoms of Tekruur and Gao flourish in West Africa due to gold trade
1042 Almoravids attack Takruur, after defeating the Sanhaja Berbers in 1039
1050s Islam gains a strong foothold in West Africa
1050-1146 Almoravids, (Berber) Muslims from southern Morocco / Mauritania, take over Morocco, Algeria, and part of Muslim Spain; they invade Ghana in 1076, and establish power there.
1062 Almoravids found capital at Marrakech
1100 The Empire of Ghana starts to decline in influence and importance
1147 Almohads, Berber Muslims opposed to Almoravids, seize Marrakech and go on to conquer Almoravid Spain, Algeria, and Tripoli
1150 An unprecedented resurgence of the Ghana empire, sees it reach its height, controlling vast areas of western Africa as well as Saharan trade routes in gold and salt
1200 Fulanis of Takruur emerge from the shadows of a declining Empire of Ghana, and themselves set out on a road of conquest, they take its capital Kumbi Saleh in 1203
1235 Great warrior leader Sundiata from the Mandinka ethnic group, founds Mali empire in present-day Mali, West Africa; it expands under his rule
1240-1250 Mali absorbs Ghana, Tekruur and Songhay
1324 10th Emperor of Mali, Mansa Musa, goes on his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. his procession reported to include 60,000 men, 12,000 slaves who each carried 4-lb gold bars, heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Also in the train were 80 camels, which varying reports claim carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust each
1325 The Empire of Mali reaches its height of power, covering much of Northern West Africa.
1352 Ibn Battuta, Berber scholar, travels across Africa and writes an account of all he sees
1450 The Fulani, in their search for more pasture, begin another wave of Eastward migrations from Senegal, and start gaining converts to Islam through the mid-16th century.
1461 Recorded Fulani presence in Nigeria
1462 Sonni Ali becomes ruler of the Songhay and goes on to build an empire
1490 The Mali empire is overshadowed by the Songhay Empire
16th century Songhay enters a period of massive expansion and power under Askia Mohammed. Muhammad strengthened his country and made it the largest contiguous territory ever in West African history. At its peak, the Empire encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Songhai empire in the west
Time Events
1515 The Songhay Empire reaches its zenith and pinnacle of power
1590 Songhay is defeated by invading Moroccans from further North
1650 Another wave of Fulbe migrations sees them penetrate even further in the Southern Senegal and Fouta Jallon highlands of middle Guinea
1670 Fulani people gain control of Bhundu in Senegal with Malick Sy, and the Sissibhe
1673 First unsuccessful Fulani Jihad in the Futa Tooro
1725 First successful Fulani Jihad in the Fuuta Jalon highlands, Fulbe Muslim forces prevail over non-Muslim Fulbe and other people of the area, in the battle of Talansan . Second successful Jihad launched in the Futa Toro
1730 Strong Fulani presence threaten the neighbouring Bornu Empire of the Kanuri and Kanembu peoples
1775 Fulani Muslim cleric Alfa Ibrahim appointed Commander of the Faithful in Fuuta Jalon in West Africa
1800 End of first wave of Fulani Islamic Jihads : states of Futa Toro, Futa Djallon, Wuli and Bhundu in existence
1804-1809 Fulani Jihad begins in Haussaland led by Usumanu ɓii Foduye; Sokoto Caliphate established
1808 Fulbe horsemen begin attack on the Bornu Empire. The Fulani cavalry is led by Muhammed Bello, son of Usumanu ɓii Foduye
1809 Haussa states completely defeated by Fulani Jihad. Sokoto Caliphate founded by Fulani (present-day Nigeria, Northern Benin, Southern Niger and Northern Cameroon)
1809 Fulani Jihad begins in Fombina. The 103,600 Square Kilometer Emirate of Adamawa (Subordinate to Sokoto) founded in the region of North Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, by Adama ɓii Ardo Hassana, with its capital at Yola. He led the jihad into the region, opening it up for Fulani colonization. Today, the Fulani make up the largest ethnic group in the region
1808 Bornu successfully repel Fulani forces. The Bornu Empire never recovers from the war, and thus its decline begins
1820-1827 Fulani in Mali, West Africa, found and rule the Massina Empire, under the leadership of Seku Amadu, with its capital at Hamdallahi
1824 Yoruba state of Ilorin falls to the Sokoto Fulani jihad
1830 The Sokoto Caliphate reaches its zenith of power
1852 Fulani Tukulor leader al-Hajj 'Umar launches Jihad along Senegal and upper Niger rivers to establish Islamic state. He later takes Timbuktu in 1853
1862 Macina Empire fell to Tukulor forces from Fuuta Tooro, who were led by El Hadj Umar Tall
1893 The French conquer the Fuuta Tooro Empire
1896 The French conquer the Imamate of Futa Jallon at the battle of Poredaka
1901 Adamawa Emirate is partitioned between German Kamerun and British Northern Nigeria Protectorate
1903 The British conquer the Sokoto Caliphate[35]

Early history[edit]

Tassili rock art

The earliest evidence that shed some light on the pre-historic Fulani culture can be found in the Tassili n'Ajjer rock art Fulani's artifacts, which seem to depict the early life of the people dating back thousands of years (6000 B.C.E.). Examination of these rock paintings suggests the presence of proto-Fulani cultural traits in the region by at least the 4th millennium B.C.E. Tassili-N'Ajjer in Algeria is one of the most famous North African sites of rock painting.[36]

Scholars specializing in Fulani culture believe that some of the imagery depicts rituals that are still practiced by contemporary Fulani people. At the Tin Tazarift site, for instance, historian Amadou Hampate Ba recognized a scene of the 'lotori' ceremony, a celebration of the ox's aquatic origin. In a finger motif, Ba detected an allusion to the myth of the hand of the first Fulani herdsman, Kikala. At Tin Felki, Ba recognized a hexagonal carnelian jewel as related to the Agades cross, a fertility charm still used by Fulani women. There are also details in the paintings which correspond to elements from Fulani myths taught during the initiation rites like the hermaphroditic cow.[36]

The Fulani initiation field is depicted graphically with the sun surrounded by a circle lined up with heads of cows as different phases of the moon at the bottom and surmounted by a male and a female figures. The female figure even has a hanging braid of hair to the back. Though no exact dates have been established for the paintings they are undoubtedly much earlier than the historic times when the Fulani were first noticed in Western Sahara.[36]

In the 9th century the Fulani may have been involved in the formation of a state with its capital at Takrur which is suggested to have had influx of Fulani migrating from the east and settling in the Senegal valley,[37][38] although John Donnelly Fage suggests that Takrur was formed through the interaction of Berbers from the Sahara and "Negro agricultural peoples" who were "essentially Serer".[39]

Fulani culture continued to emerge in the area of the upper Niger and Senegal Rivers. The Fulani were cattle-keeping farmers who shared their lands with other nearby groups, like the Soninke, who contributed to the rise of ancient Ghana. During the 16th century the Fula expanded through the sahel grasslands, stretching from what is today Senegal to Sudan, with eastward and westward expansion being led by nomadic groups of cattle breeders or the Fulɓe ladde. While the initial expansionist groups were small, they soon increased in size due to the availability of grazing lands in the sahel and the lands that bordered it to the immediate south.

Agricultural expansions led to a division among the Fulani, where individuals were classified as belonging either to the group of expansionist nomadic agriculturalists or the group of Fulani who found it more comfortable to abandon traditional nomadic ways and settle in towns or the Fulɓe Wuro. Fulani towns were a direct result of a nomadic heritage, and were often founded by individuals who had simply chosen to settle in a given area instead of continue on their way.

This cultural interaction most probably occurred in Senegal, where the closely linguistically related Tukulor, Serer and Wolof people predominate, ultimately leading to the ethnogenesis of the Fulani culture, language and people before subsequent expansion throughout much of West Africa. Another version is that they were originally a Berber speaking people who crossed the Senegal to pasture their cattle on the Ferlo Plateau just to the South of the Senegal river. Finding themselves cut off from their kinsmen by the Negroid communities now occupying the fertile Senegal valley, they gradually adopted the language of their new neighbours. As their herds increased, small groups found themselves forced to move eastward and further southwards and so initiated a series of migrations throughout West Africa, which endures to the present day.[40]

Evidence of Fulani migration as a whole, from the Western to the Eastern Sudan is very fragmentary. Delafosse, one of the earliest enquirers into Fulani history and customs, principally relying on oral tradition, estimated that Fulani migrants left Fuuta-Tooro, and Macina, towards the east, between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries. By the 15th century, there was a steady flow of Fulɓe immigrants into Hausaland and, later on, Bornu. Their presence in Baghirmi was later recorded when Fulani fought as allies, to Dokkenge or Birni Besif, when he founded Massenya (a Chadian town), early in the 16th century.

By the end of the 18th century Fulani settlements were dotted all over the Benue River valley and its tributaries. They spread eastwards towards Garoua and Rey Bouba, and southwards towards the Faro River, to the foot of the Mambilla mountains, which they would later ascend in subsequent years. The heaviest concentrations of their settlements were at Gurin, Chamba territory, Cheboa, Turua and Bundang. These so-called "Benue-Fulani" reduced the frequency with which they moved from place to place. The number of years they stayed at one spot depended on two factors: the reaction of the earlier settlers of that locality to their presence, and how satisfactory the conditions were, i.e., availability of pastures for their cattle.

Settlement and Islam[edit]

Settled and nomadic Fulani began to be seen as separate political entities, each group ruled by a different leader. The first leader to emerge for the nomadic Fulani in the plains between the Termes and Nioro was Tenguella Koli, who objected to the control the Songhai Empire exercised over the homelands of ancient Ghana. Primarily objecting to the Songhai rule of Askia Muhammad, because it limited available land for grazing, Tenguella led a revolt against the empire in 1512. He was killed in battle with an army led by the brother of Askia Muhammad near Diara during the same year.

The rebellion against Songhai rule continued, however, when Tengualla's son, Tengualla Koli, led his father's warriors across the Upper Senegal River and into Badiar, a region northwest of the Futa Jallon Mountains. Once in Badiar, he was joined by many Mandinka soldiers, who had rallied to his cause and embraced him as a relative of their leader, the emperor of Mali. The combined forces of the Fulani and the Mandinka continued onward to Takrur, an ancient state in Futa Toro. There they subdued the Soninke chiefs in power and set up a new line of kings in 1559. The Fulani were the first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars, and were able to take over much of the Sahel region of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious group but also as a political and economical force.

The rise of Tengualla and his son led to three major shifts in the cultural identity of the Fulani:

  • The occupation of Futa Toro caused the Fulani people to be identified as a settled, urban–based community, as opposed to the traditional pastoralist ways that emphasized the nomadic nature of cattle herding. The shift from a nomadic civilization to an urban society mandated changes in agricultural production, settlement building, and water conservation.
  • Through the occupation of Futa Toro, the Fulani people came to accept structures of urban authority not traditionally seen in nomadic tribes. For example, urban life necessitated political authority being allocated to chiefs and ruling families.
  • The Fulani that occupied Futa Toro held fast to traditional religious beliefs, instead of converting to Islam the prominent religion of the area. Their religious views caused many Muslim traders in the area to relocate to predominantly Muslim areas, leading to a decline in trade and the commercial value of Futa Toro.

Rise to dominance in West Africa[edit]

For a long time, the Fulani people remained a minority in most areas. Small groups were already familiar with Islam which had entered West Africa via the trade routes across the Sahara, and from the 18th century onwards, they became an hegemonic force, and were politically dominant in many areas. Moreover, the political situation was highly unstable in the western Sahel because an invasion by the Moroccans had led to an anarchical situation. In addition, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries periods of severe drought plagued the region, negatively affecting the political situation.[41] The jihads staged by the Fulɓe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries throughout the Sahel and Sudan of West Africa can thus be interpreted as a reaction to this political instability.

The Fulɓe established centres of political power, some of which developed into emirates. The main nuclei of Fulɓe power were the polities in the Senegal River Valley, the Fuuta Jallon mountains, in Guinea, the Inland Delta of the Niger in Mali (Maasina), the north of Nigeria and the Adamawa Plateau in Cameroon. In between these big centres there were numerous small polities dominated by the Fulɓe in the central Gourma of present-day Mali and the north and west of Burkina Faso (Jelgoji, Boboola, Dori, Liptako), northern Benin (Borgu), the Sene-Gambia, northern Senegal (Bundu), and the southern and western parts of present-day Niger (Dallol Bosso, Birni N'konni).

Imamate of Futa Jallon[edit]

The Emirate / Imamate of Timbo in the Fuuta Jallon was the first of the Fulɓe emirates in West Africa. It developed from a revolt by Islamic Fulɓe against their oppression by the pagan Pulli (non-Islamic Fulɓe), and the Jallonke (the original Mande inhabitants of the Fuuta-Jallon), during the first half of the 18th century. The first ruler took the title of Almaami and resided in Timbo, near the modern-day town of Mamou. The town became the political capital of the newly born immamate, and the holy city and religious capital, was located in Fugumba. The Council of Elders of the Futa Jallon state were also based in Fugumba, acting as a brake on the Almami's powers.

The newly formed imamate was mostly located mainly in present-day Guinea, but also spanned parts of modern-day Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. This emirate was, in fact, a federal state of nine provinces: Timbo, Fugumbaa, Ɓuuriya, Koyin, Kollaaɗe, Keebaali, Labe, Fode-Hajji, and Timbi. After the Muslim Fulɓe victory, people who had resisted the jihad were deprived of their rights to land except for a small piece for their own subsistence, and were reduced to servitude. The nomad Pulli Fulɓe lost all freedom of movement, and thus, began to settle en-masse. The Jalonke lost their noble status and became slaves (maccuɓe).

Later, due to strife between two branches of the Seediayanke royal lineage, (the Soriya and the Alphaya),[42] a system for the rotation of office between these branches was set up. This led to an almost permanent state of civil strife, since none of the parties was inclined to respect the system, which considerably weakened the power of the political centre.

The Empire of Massina[edit]

Main article: Massina Empire

The Maasina Emirate, also called Diina ("religion" in Fulfulde, with Arabic origins), was established by the Fulbe jihad led by Sheeku Aamadu in 1818. The origins of the Maasina Emirate in the Inner Delta of the Niger are also found in rebellion, this time against the Bambara / Bamana Kingdom of Segou, a political power that controlled the region from outside. This jihad was inspired by events in northern Nigeria where an important scholar of the time, Usman Dan Fodio, established an Islamic empire with Sokoto as its capital.[41]

For some time, groups of Fulbe had been dominant in parts of the delta, thereby creating a complex hierarchy dating back through several waves of conquest. However, due to internecine warfare they were never able to organize a countervailing force against the Bamana Kingdom. In 1818, an Islamic cleric named Aamadu Hammadi Buubu united the Fulbe under the banner of Islam and fought a victorious battle against the Bamana and their allies. He subsequently established his rule in the Inland Delta and the adjacent dry lands east and west of the delta.[41]

This state appears to have had tight control over its core area, as evidenced by the fact that its political and economic organization is still manifested today in the organization of agricultural production in the Inland Delta. Despite its power and omnipresence, the hegemony of the emirate was constantly threatened. During the reign of Aamadu Aamadu, the grandson of Sheeku Aamadu, internal contradictions weakened the emirate until it became easy prey for the forces of the Futanke, which subsequently overthrew the Maasina Emirate, in 1862.[41]

The Futanke / Tukulor Empire[edit]

Main article: Toucouleur Empire

Many regard the Futanke or Toucouleur conquest of the western Sudan and central Mali as a reform movement. The character of the Futanke Emirate was somewhat different, although its founding was related to the conquest of the Maasina Emirate and the Bamana Kingdoms of Segou and Kaarta in the aftermath of a movement for reform. Threatened by French colonial forces while at the same time being supplied with firearms by them, the Futanke staged a jihad to fight paganism and the competing Islamic brotherhood of the Tijannya.

Its founder, El Hadj Umar Tall an Islamic reformer originating from the Fuuta Tooro on the banks of the Senegal River, died fighting against rebels shortly after his forces defeated the Maasina Emirate. After El Hadj Umar's death, the emirate was divided into three states, each ruled by one of his sons. These three states had their capitals respectively in the towns of Nioro, Segou and Bandiagara. A most important distinction was between noblemen (free people) and the non-free (Rimmaibe or Maccube).

The noblemen consisted of the ruling class of political overlords and Islamic clerics, as well as the pastoral Fulbe populations, who helped them come to power. Together, they formed a group of vassals to the political elite, and were considered noblemen, although, in reality, their political influence was minimal. The conquered populations were reduced to servitude or slavery and more slaves were captured in order to provide enough labour for the functioning of the economy. In addition, there were groups of bards, courtiers and artisans who occupied an ambiguous political and social positions.

The Sokoto Caliphate and its various emirates[edit]

Main article: Sokoto Caliphate

The Sokoto Caliphate was by far the largest and most successful legacy of Fulani power in Western Africa. It was the largest, as well as the most well-organized, of the Fulani Jihad states. Throughout the 19th century, Sokoto was one of the largest and most powerful empires in sub-Saharan Africa until 1903, when defeated by European colonial forces. The Sokoto Caliphate included several emirates, the largest of which was Adamawa, although the Kano Emirate was the most populated. Others included, but are not limited to: Gombe Emirate, Gwandu Emirate, Bauchi Emirate, Katsina Emirate, Zazzau Emirate, and Muri Emirate.

While establishing their hegemony, the Fulbe defined a strict social hierarchy and imposed limitations on economic and trading activities, the purpose of which was to ensure a constant flow of tax revenue and commodities to the state apparatus and the standing army, especially for the cavalry. The freedom for pastoralists to move around was curtailed in order to ensure the smooth functioning of other production activities, such as cereal cultivation and, in the case of Maasina, of fishing activities.

There appears to be a considerable resistance to the forced acceptance of Islam by these emirates. For example, many nomadic Fulbe, predominantly Wodaabe fled northern Nigeria when their liberty was curtailed and they were forced to convert to Islam following the jihads instigated by Usman Dan Fodio from Sokoto. Conversion to Islam meant not only changing one's religion, but also submitting to rules dealing with every aspect of social, political and cultural life, intrusions with which many nomadic Fulbe were not comfortable.

Modern day[edit]

On the social front, Fulani are currently facing many problems. Drought often reduces their water supply and pasture for grazing cattle, disease may also strike the herds. Increasingly, there is less land available for herding purposes, and conflicts with settled populations have been on the increase. Present-day governments are also curtailing the Fulani movements or trying to force them to settle down. Many Fulani youth have migrated into the big bustling cities of West and Central Africa, which are not within traditional Fulani areas, they migrate to such cities as Lagos, Conakry, Bamako, Douala, Abidjan, Dakar, and Freetown, in search of economic opportunities.[34]

Persecution in the CAR[edit]

During the internal armed conflict in the Central African Republic in 2013, anti-balaka militiamen were targeting Muslim ethnic groups such as the Peuhl.[43]


Y-DNA (paternal)[edit]

The paternal lineages of the Fula/Fulɓe/Fulani tend to vary depending on geographic location. According to a study by Cruciani et al. (2002), around 90% of Fulani individuals from Burkina Faso carried haplotype 24, which corresponds with the common Sub-Saharan haplogroup E1b1a. The remainder belonged to haplotype 42/haplogroup E-M33. Both of these clades are today most frequent among Niger-Congo-speaking populations, particularly those inhabiting Senegal. Similarly, 53% of the Fulani in northern Cameroon bore haplogroup E-M33, with the rest mainly carrying other Sub-Saharan clades (12% haplogroup A and 6% haplogroup E1b1a). A minority carried the West Eurasian haplogroups T (18%) and R-M173 (12%).[44] Mulcare et al. (2004) observed a similar frequency of haplogroup R1 subclades in their Fulani samples from Cameroon (18%).[45]

A study by Hassan et al. (2008) on the Fulani in Sudan observed a significantly higher occurrence of the West Eurasian haplogroup R-M173 (53.8%). The remainder belonged to various Afro-Asiatic associated haplogroup E1b1b subclades, including 34.62% E-M78 and 27.2% E-V22.[46]

Bučková et al. (2013) similarly observed significant frequencies of the haplogroups R1b and E1b1b in their pastoralist Fulani groups from Niger. E1b1b attained its highest frequencies among the local Fulani Ader (60%) and R1b among the Fulani Zinder (~31%). This was in sharp contrast to most of the other Fulani pastoralist groups elsewhere, including those from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Chad. All of these latter Fulani communities instead bore over 75% Sub-Saharan paternal haplogroups.[47]

MtDNA (maternal)[edit]

In contrast to their heterogeneous paternal lineages, the Fulani largely cluster maternally with other Niger-Congo populations. Only 8.1% of their mtDNA clades were associated with West Eurasian or Afro-Asiatic groups (J1b, U5, H, and V):[48]

"Despite the large size of the contemporary nomadic Fulani population (roughly 13 million people), the genetic diversity and degree of differentiation of Fulanis compared to other sub-Saharan populations remain unknown. We sampled four Fulani nomad populations (n = 186) in three countries of sub-Saharan Africa (Chad, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso) and analyzed sequences of the first hypervariable segment of the mitochondrial DNA. Most of the haplotypes belong to haplogroups of West African origin, such as L1b, L3b, L3d, L2b, L2c, and L2d (79.6% in total), which are all well represented in each of the four geographically separated samples. The haplogroups of Western Eurasian origin, such as J1b, U5, H, and V, were also detected but in rather low frequencies (8.1% in total). As in African hunter-gatherers (Pygmies and Khoisan) and some populations from central Tunisia (Kesra and Zriba), three of the Fulani nomad samples do not reveal significant negative values of Fu's selective neutrality test. The multidimensional scaling of FST genetic distances of related sub-Saharan populations and the analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) show clear and close relationships between all pairs of the four Fulani nomad samples, irrespective of their geographic origin. The only group of nomadic Fulani that manifests some similarities with geographically related agricultural populations (from Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria) comes from Tcheboua in northern Cameroon."[48]

Autosomal DNA (overall)[edit]

According to Tishkoff et al. (2009), the Fulani's genomic ancestry clusters near that of Chadic and Central Sudanic speaking populations. Based on this, the researchers suggest that the Fulani may have adopted a Niger-Congo language at some point in their history while intermarrying with local populations. Additionally, low to moderate levels of West Eurasian admixture was also observed in the Fulani samples, which the authors propose may have been introduced via the Iberian peninsula.[49]

Political and cultural landscapes[edit]

17–20th centuries[edit]

A large number of Fula/Fulani people or people of Fula/Fulani descent have made a name in the political or cultural landscapes in recent centuries.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Kays, Stanley J. (2011). Cultivated Vegetables of the World: A Multilingual Onomasticon. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 747. ISBN 9086867200. 
  2. ^ "The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  3. ^ "The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  4. ^ "The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  5. ^ "The Fulani peoples (also known as Fulɓe or Peuls ) live in West Africa. They are among the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa.". [unreliable source?]
  6. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Fulani.aspx%7CThe 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—Fulɓe Laddi—who also farm, although they argue that they do so out of necessity, not choice. A small group, the Fulɓe Mbalu or Sheep Fulani, rely on sheep for their livelihood.
  7. ^ "the Fulani People". Scribd.com. 2010-06-06. Retrieved 2013-12-28. 
  8. ^ The homonym "Fulani" is also used by the Manding peoples, being the diminutive form of the word Fula in their language (with suffix -ni), essentially meaning "little Fula".
  9. ^ The letter "ɓ" is an implosive b sound, which does not exist in English, so is replaced by "b." In the orthography for languages of Guinea (pre-1985), this sound was represented by bh, so one would have written Fulbhe instead of Fulɓe.
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General references[edit]

  • Almanach de Bruxelles (now a paying site)
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2005): "Adamawa Fulfulde". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th ed. Dallas: SIL International. Accessed 25 June 2006.
  • Ndukwe, Pat I., Ph.D. (1996). Fulani. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
  • Christiane Seydou, (ed.) (1976). Bibliographie générale du monde peul. Niamey, Institut de Recherche en Sciences Humaines du Niger

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 12°35′36″N 12°50′45″W / 12.5933°N 12.8458°W / 12.5933; -12.8458