Yalunka people

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Portrait of a Yalunka (1861)
Regions with significant populations
Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Mali
Islam 99%
Related ethnic groups
Susu people

The Yalunka, also spelled Jallonke, Yalonga, Djallonké, Djallonka or Dialonké, are a Mande people who have lived in the Futa Jallon (French: Fouta Djallon), a mountainous region in Guinea, West Africa since about the 11th century.[1][2] The name Yalunka literally means "inhabitants of the Jallon (mountains)."

They are a branch of the Mandé peoples of West Africa, and closely related to the Susu people.[3] 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.[4] The Yalunka fought against the Fula jihads, left Futa Jallon, migrated and established new towns such as Falaba near the region where Rokel River starts, while others settled among the Koranko, Limba and Kissi people. Ultimately, the Yalunka were subdued and absorbed by the Fulani Empire.[4]

They speak the Yalunka language which belongs to the Mande branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Yalunka is mutually intelligible with Susu, another Mande language. In the contemporary era, the Yalunka are concentrated mostly in Guinea and Sierra Leone.


The ancient history of 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.[1] 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 Susu people, then renounced Islam.[4] 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.[5]

Religion and traditional beliefs[edit]

The Yalunka are predominantly Muslim (99%). 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, in order to gain powers.[6] However, they are devoted Muslims and their fear of persecution have prevented them from converting to other religions.[6]

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 (having multiple wives). 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.[6] The husband, according to Bankole Taylor, "has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them".[6]

The Yalunka society is patriarchal, consisting of households headed by a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried children.[6] 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.[6]


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, are very important 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 are also used as a means of economic exchange.

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. Honey is another important commodity among the Yalunka. The people suspend large, water-tight baskets in trees. The bees use the baskets as hives and make honey in them. Every year, between four and six gallons of honey may be gathered from each basket.

Notable Yalunka[edit]

  • Manga Sewa, was a great Yalunka chief in Northern Sierra Leone.


  1. ^ a b Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-19-533770-9.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b c Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 537. ISBN 978-1-135-45670-2.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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]