Identification. The Fali belong to the vast paleonegritic group of people who are sometimes designated "Kirdi" (pagans), as opposed to the Islamized Peul or Fulbe, with whom they share the northern part of Cameroon. The name "Fali," by which they designate themselves, does not seem to be an ancient one. Indeed, it appears that, until colonialization, they were largely called by names of tribes, place-names of origin, or geographical localities. Nowadays more or less resulting from the influence of the colonial administration, they divide themselves into four large groups: the Tinguelin Fali, the Kangou Fali, the Fali of Bossoum, and those of Peské-Bori, four different appellations that correspond to as many territorial units.
Until about 1980, the Fali were easily distinguished from other peoples by their clothing. For men, that consisted of a two-piece cotton loincloth embroidered with bright colors in symbolic geometric motifs, and for women, a kind of petticoat made of bean fibers dyed black and ornamented with glass beads and cowries.
Location. Fali country stretches from 9°20′ to 10°00′ N and from 13°20′ to 13°50′ E. On the north, it is bounded by the Mandara Mountains; on the south, by the valley of the Benue; on the east, by that of the Mayo Louti; and on the west, by that of the Mayo Tiel. This is a mountainous region of about 4,000 square kilometers. The relief, not very marked but somewhat broken because of its volcanic nature, includes plateaus separated by small mountainous islands, the elevations of which vary from 600 to 1,135 meters.
The climate belongs to the tropical type in transition, with two well-marked seasons: a dry season of seven months and a rainy season lasting from July to December. Maximum temperatures on the order of 45° C are sometimes reached in the months of March and May, but they may fall to 6°C after a tornado during the rainy season.
The flora is intermediate between typical Sudanese and sub-Sahelian: a savanna with thorny shrubs. Its most northern part approaches the Chadian steppe.
The fauna was very rich until about 1970, but it has been considerably reduced by poaching and—especially—by the use of pesticides for cotton raising. The great predators—lions, panthers, cheetahs, hyenas—have today completely disappeared from the region.
Demography. In 1933 the population was estimated to be 36,000 individuals. It probably varied little until about 1960. Although their population is probably rising, the Fali in the 1990s number only about 20,000 culturally identifiable individuals.
Linguistic Affiliation. The language is classified in the Chad-Adamawa Language Group. It includes six principal dialects, two of which exist only on the Massif de Tinguelin territory nearest to the valley of the Benue and the modern city of Garoua. The Fali use Fulfuldé (the language of the Fulbe) as a vehicular language and, more rarely, they also use Hausa. In spite of their proximity to English-speaking Nigeria, the tendency among the Fali is probably toward the adoption of French.