Fulani - Marriage and Family
Marriage. Ideally, the Fulani do not practice birth control because the perfect or model Fulani marriage will produce many children. Toward that goal, the Fulani marry young. No special value is placed on virginity, and women are not shy about boasting about their various experiences. In fact, the Fulani expect young women to bring sexual experience to marriage. There are even special dances in which women select mates, with the proviso that the mate selected not be her fiancé or a particular category of relative—one to whom she could be affianced, for example.
At the same time, a woman is expected to display appropriate modesty whenever the subject of marriage arises, for marriage confers on her a special status. There has been some confusion regarding what constitutes the marriage ceremony among the Fulani. Because neither bride nor groom may be present at the ceremony, owing to shame-avoidance taboos, the significance of the cattle ceremony ( koowgal ) has often been overlooked. In that ceremony, the bride's father transfers one of his herd to the groom, legalizing the marriage. There may also follow a more typical Islamic ceremony, termed kabbal Again, neither bride nor groom may actually be present at the ceremony.
An important public acknowledgment of the marriage is the movement of the bride to her husband's village, termed bangal. The women of that village come to greet her, and the welcome is a rite of passage for the bride. The bride's status increases with each child she has, especially with the birth of males.
The Fulani prefer endogamy. Their first choice of a marriage partner is a patrilateral parallel cousin. If that is not possible, their other choices are for the partners to share a great-grandfather, a great-great grandfather, or a patrilateral cross cousin.
Domestic Unit. A man is allowed four wives. Each wife brings cattle with her to the marriage. It is a major obligation for a woman to milk the cattle and prepare the dairy products. A woman receives respect from her sons and daughters-in-law.
Inheritance. Lineage members inherit cattle and widows. Among Town Fulani, inheritance generally follows Islamic prescriptions, with the exception that generally women do not contest their inheritance with their full brothers.
Socialization. At 2 years of age, children are weaned. A child's father remains distant throughout its life. Women provide for children's needs. Thus, a mother and her daughters tend to the needs of her sons. A young girl first plays at carrying dolls on her back and then moves on to carrying her baby brother.
Among the Pastoral Fulani, baby girls are given amulets for fertility and boys for virility. Mothers take care to preserve and shape their children's conformity to the Fulani ideal notions of beauty. Mothers attempt to lengthen their children's noses by pressing them between their fingers, stretching, and squeezing hard. They also attempt to shape their children's heads into the ideal round shape.
Acquiring a culture is perceived as acquiring something that is found. The Fulani term is tawaangal. There is a sense that no one invented nor can change these traditions, for they define what it is to be Fulani.
Young children are treated with great gentleness and are rarely disciplined. Adults seek to avoid giving them any emotional shocks. Most training is given by a child's mother and the other women of the compound. They are believed to be more capable of patience and reciprocity. Young girls are initiated into their adult work through games. The young girl carries her doll. At 2 or 3 years old her ears are pierced, six holes in her right ear and six in her left. Almost as soon as she can walk well, she is placed into the middle of a circle of dancing women who begin to teach her to dance and praise her efforts lavishly.
Indeed, the transition to adulthood proceeds in smooth steps. At about 5 years of age, girls are taught the rules of the moral code -mbo. There are to be no sexual relations of any kind with brothers. A woman may not look at her fiancé in the face. She must demonstrate respect for elders and must never mention her future parents-in-law. Women have two essential roles in Fulani society, that of sister and daughter. Either at her naming ceremony or just before she leaves her father's home for her husband's, a woman's father presents her with a heifer. There is shame for a man on entering his daughter's home; however, the strong affection he demonstrates for his grandchildren is meant to show his affection for his daughter as well.
Young boys play at taking care of the cattle and performing men's work. Mothers come to rely more on sons than on daughters because daughters will leave the compound upon marriage.