Yalunka people

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Portrait of a Yalunka (1861)
Total population
[better source needed]
Regions with significant populations
 Sierra Leone51,781[2]
Yalunka, French, English
Predominately Islam
Related ethnic groups
Soussou people, Kouranko people, Mikhifore people, Jakhanke people, Mandinka people

The Yalunka, also spelled Jalanke, Jalinke, Jallonke, Jalonke, Jaloonke, Jalonca, Jalonga, Jallonka, Jalonka, Jalunga, Jallunka, Jalunka, Jallunke, Jalunke, Jalunko, Yalonka, Yalonke, Yalunke, Yalunko, Jalounka, Jalounke, Yalonga, Yalounka, Yalounke, Dialanké, Dialinké, Diallonka, Dialonka, Diallonké, Diallounka, Dialounka, Diallounké, Dialounké, Djallonka, Djalonka, Djallonké, Djalonké, Djallounka, Djalounka, Djallounké, Djalounké, Dyalonka, Dyalonké, Dyalounka, 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. According to Henry Louis they have lived there since the eleventh century.[3][4][5] The name Jalonke literally means "inhabitants of the Jallon (mountains)".

The Yalunka are a branch of the Mandé peoples, and are closely related to the Soussou people.[6] Some scholars classify the two as one group, The Yalunka are notable for having first converted to Islam, but then renouncing Islam en masse when Muslim Fula people began dominating their region. In the eighteenth century, many of the Yalunka's were displaced from the Futa Jallon by the Invading Fulani.[7][8] The Yalunka fought against the Fula jihads, left Futa Jallon, migrating south to the foothills of the mountains in Mamou or east to live amongst the Mandinka of Upper Guinea, others migrated and established new towns such as Falaba near the region where Rokel River starts, while others went further into the mountains to settle among the Kouranko, Limba and Kissi people. Ultimately, The Yalunka were subdued and absorbed by the Fulani Empire.[7][9]

They speak the Yalunka language, which belongs to the Mande branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Yalunka is mutually intelligible with Susu language.


The Mandinka name Jalunka is said to be what the Yalunka people originally referred to themselves as before the English and French referendings. The name Jalonké is the French transcription of the Mandinka word "Jalunka," also rendered in English alongside Yalunka. According to Montrat, the suffix is the French transcription of what the Jalunka, in this case, pronounce as ka. Its meaning is "The people of," giving Jalunka or Jalonka the meaning "inhabitants of Jalun" or "inhabitants of Jalon."[10] A Soussou researcher, Mahawa Bangoura translates the term 'Djallon,' correctly meaning 'mountain', which explains why the Yalunka people already called themselves Djallonké, she also suggests it means "Gold Labourers" in Old Yalunka.[11]


The Interior of a Yalunka village

The ancient history of the Yalunka people is unknown. The earliest evidence suggests that sometime around the eleventh century, the Yalunka people arrived in the hilly plateau region of the Futa Jallon in Guinea.[5] They converted to Islam. After the seventeenth century, Islamic theocracies supported by the Fula people began a period of Fula dominance and their version of Islam in the region traditionally occupied by the Yalunka. The Yalunka people, along with the Soussou, then renounced Islam.[7] The Fula people and their leaders, such as Ibrahima Musa and Ibrahima Sori, launched a series of jihads targeted against the Yalunka in the eighteenth century. The Yalunka were defeated, subdued, and returned to Islam in 1778.[12]

Religion and traditional beliefs[edit]

A Yalunka woman from Upper Guinea

The Yalunka are predominantly Muslim. At the same time, they have retained many pre-Islamic beliefs and practices, combining the two in a syncretic way. One of their traditional practice is Barinkiina, which involves making sacrifices in memory of their ancestors to gain power. They also make sacrifices for Suxurena and Nyinanna, or nature spirits, to gain powers.[13] However, they are devoted Muslims and their fear of persecution have prevented them from converting to other religions.[13]

The New Testament was translated into the Yalunka language by Pioneer Bible Translators's current president, Greg Pruett in 2013.[citation needed]


The Yalunka live in larger settlements established since the 18th century. The Yalunka region is mixed savannah and forest. The country is hilly, and most of it is 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level. Most Yalunka settlements are located in the valleys between the hills. Since the 1950s, many Yalunka have migrated to cities to find work.[citation needed]

The Yalunka people commonly practice polygyny. Arranged marriages are their traditional practice, and they follow the Islamic law that a man may have up to four living wives. The first wife has seniority and authority over wives he marries later.[13] The husband, according to Bankole Taylor, "has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them".[13]

The Yalunka society is patriarchal, consisting of households headed by a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried children.[13] Extended households form a compound, which may consist of two or more married men from the same father and their families, each living in a separate hut.[13]

Demographics and distribution[edit]

The Yalunka are primarily found in contemporary Guinea, particularly in Faranah. They also are found in southeastern Senegal, southwestern Mali, and northeastern Sierra Leone.[citation needed]


The Yalunka 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. Goats and cattle provide milk as a food source, which is used directly and processed for cheese and other products. This livestock, such as goats and cattle, is significant as a marker of wealth and because they serve as bride-price payments. The boy's family gives animals to the girl's family before the marriage takes place. These animals used as a means of economic exchange.[citation needed]

Among the Yalunka, herding is done by the children. The women milk the cattle, churn the butter, and help the men in some of the agricultural work.[citation needed]

Notable Yalunka[edit]


  1. ^ "Yalunka estimated Populace".
  2. ^ "Sierra Leone 2015 Population and Housing Census National Analytical Report" (PDF). Statistics Sierra Leone. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  3. ^ David Wheat (2016). Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640. University of North Carolina Press. pp. xviii, 48. ISBN 978-1-4696-2380-1.
  4. ^ Bankole Kamara Taylor (2014). Sierra Leone: The Land, Its People and History. New Africa Pres. p. 150. ISBN 978-9987-16-038-9.
  5. ^ a b Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-19-533770-9.
  6. ^ David Wheat (2016). Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-1-4696-2380-1.
  7. ^ a b c Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 537. ISBN 978-1-135-45670-2.
  8. ^ S.J. Shennan, ed. (2003). Archaeological Approaches to Cultural Identity. Taylor & Francis. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-1348-6629-8.
  9. ^ Harold D. Nelson (1976). Area Handbook for Guinea. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 67.
  10. ^ Ronald Judy (1993). (Dis)forming the American Canon African-Arabic Slave Narratives and the Vernacular. University of Minnesota Press. p. 136.
  11. ^ C. Magbaily Fyle (1979). The Solima Yalunka Kingdom: Pre-colonial Politics, Economics & Society. Nyakon Publishers. p. vi, 6.
  12. ^ Mark R. Lipschutz; R. Kent Rasmussen (1989). Dictionary of African Historical Biography. University of California Press. pp. 88, 113, 236. ISBN 978-0-520-06611-3.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Bankole Kamara Taylor (2014). Sierra Leone: The Land, Its People and History. New Africa Pres. p. 153. ISBN 978-9987-16-038-9.

External links[edit]