ALTERNATE NAMES: Fulbe; Peuls
LOCATION: From the western part of West Africa (Senegambia) to Chad in the east (some groups reaching as far as the Nile river in the countries of Sudan and Ethiopia); largest concentrations in Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea
POPULATION: More than 6 million
LANGUAGE: Fulfulde; Arabic; French; English
The Fulani peoples (also known as Fulbe or Peuls ) live in West Africa. They are among the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa. Many Fulani trace their beginnings back one thousand years to the Senegambia area. By the eighteenth century some had migrated as far east as the Niger and Benue Rivers (now in Nigeria). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some Fulani populations adopted the Islamic religion and initiated jihads (holy wars) in several parts of West Africa.
Today, one finds both nomadic, pastoral Fulani (mbororo'en) and settled Fulani (Fulbe wuro). The pastoral Fulani (full-time cattle keepers) move about with their cattle for much of the year. In contrast, the settled Fulani live permanently in villages and cities. Although both groups share a common language and origin, they regard themselves as only distantly related.
The largest concentrations of Fulani are in the countries of Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea. In these countries, Fulani became the ruling class and intermarried with the local populations. The total Fulani population numbers more than 6 million.
The language of the Fulani is known as Fulfulde (or Fula or Pulaar). There are at least five major dialects: Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, and Masina in the west and Central Nigeria; and Sokoto and Adamawa in the east. Although they have similarities in grammar and vocabulary, communication among Fulani from different regions is difficult. As Muslims, many Fulani can read and write Arabic.
An example of a saying in Fulfulde is Tid'd'o yod'ad'd'o (Work hard and succeed). An example of a Fulani proverb is: Hab'b'ere buri ginawol (Actions should be judged according to intention).
Despite the importance of Islam, some modern-day Fulani traditions recount the pre-Islamic origin of their people. These traditions state that cattle, as well as the first Fulani family, emerged from a river. They began migrating across Africa and gave birth to children who founded the various Fulani groups.
Folktales (taali) are popular among all Fulani. Children are told bedtime stories that usually have a moral. Among the nomadic Fulani, there are many stories pertaining to their cattle and migrations. All Fulani tell animal tales, recounting the adventures of squirrels, snakes, hyenas, and rabbits, some of which are extremely clever.
As Muslims, the Fulani observe the standard Islamic religious practices. They pray five times a day, learn to recite the holy scriptures (Qur'an, or Koran ) by heart, and give alms to the needy. For one month each year (Ramadan) they fast in the daytime. And at least once in their lifetime, they make a pilgrimage (hajj) to the Islamic holy land in Mecca. The most important duty is to declare one's true faith in Islam and believe that Muhammad was a prophet sent by Allah (God).
All Fulani participate in Islamic holidays (Id). The most important are the feast after the fasting period (Ramadan) and the feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. On these days, people pray in thanksgiving to Allah, visit their relatives, prepare special meals, and exchange gifts such as gowns or cloth.
Shortly after a child is born, a naming ceremony is held, following Islamic law and practice. Around the age of seven, boys are circumcised, followed by a small ceremony or gathering in their household. Shortly after this time, they begin performing herding or farming activities, sometimes on their own. At this age, girls help their mothers.
Girls are usually betrothed in marriage during their early to mid-teens. Boys remain sukaa'be (handsome young men) until around the age of twenty. At that time, they start a herd or obtain a farm, and marry. There are ceremonies to prepare the bride and groom for marriage. Afterward, their families sign a marriage contract under Islam. By middle age, a man may be known as a ndottijo (elder, old man) who has acquired wisdom over the years.
All Fulani have an elaborate code for interacting among themselves and with other people. The code, known as Pulaaku, decrees semteende (modesty), munyal (patience), and hakkiilo (common sense). All of these virtues must be practiced in public, among one's in-laws, and with one's spouse. Islam, which also requires modesty and reserve, has tended to reinforce this code.
Among the nomadic Fulani, life can be extremely harsh. They often live in small, temporary camps. These can be quickly dismantled as they move in search of pasture and water for their herds. Because of the settlements' distance from towns, modern health care is not readily available.
Fulani have also settled in towns and cities. In the cities they usually reside in large family houses or compounds.
Among the Fulani, the family includes one's immediate kin and extended family, all of whom are all treated as close kin. In rural areas, these groups tend to live close together and join in work efforts. In the towns and cities, they tend to be more widely dispersed. Each kin group (lenyol) normally recognizes a common male ancestor who lived several generations ago and founded the family.
Male family members usually choose spouses for their children. Matches are generally made between relatives (particularly cousins) and social equals. This practice helps keep wealth (cattle and land) in the family. Polygyny (multiple wives) is not uncommon in Fulani society. A man's wives all help with domestic work and can bear him many children.
Dress codes and styles vary greatly. In general, however, married men and women follow the Islamic dress code, which prescribes modesty. The men wear large gowns, trousers, and caps. Women wear wraps and blouses. Married Muslim women wear veils when they leave their household.
Nomadic Fulani also wear Islamic dress, but it is not as elaborate. The women do not wear veils. Younger men and women adorn themselves with jewelry and headdresses, and they braid their hair.
The Fulani diet usually includes milk products such as yogurt, milk, and butter. Each morning they drink milk or gruel (gari) made with sorghum. Their main meals consist of a heavy porridge (nyiiri) made of flour from such grains as millet, sorghum, or corn. They eat it with soup (takai, haako) made from tomatoes, onions, spices, peppers, and other vegetables.
All Fulani adults and older children help educate the younger children through scoldings, sayings and proverbs, and stories. Children also learn through imitation. In many communities, children from about the age of six attend Islamic (Koranic) school. Here they study, recite the scriptures, and learn about the practices, teachings, and morals of Islam. Nowadays, Fulani children in towns and cities attend primary and secondary schools. Some eventually enroll in universities.
[inset phto 1 from guinea book. Students in Guinea begin to attend school at around age six. Credit note: Consulate, Republic of Guinea]
It is more difficult for the children of nomadic families to attend school because they are often on the move.
Among the Fulani, music and art are part of daily life. Work music is sung and played on drums and flutes. Court music (drumming, horns, flutes) and praise-singing are popular in towns, especially during festivals. Praisesingers tell about a community's history and its leaders and other prominent individuals. Religious singers may cite Islamic scriptures.
Most commonly, decorative art occurs in the form of architecture, or in the form of personal adornments such as jewelry, hats, and clothing.
All Fulani communities have a strict division of labor according to age and sex. Men tend the cattle, work in the fields, or have formal employment in the city. Many men are either full-or part-time Islamic scholars or teachers. In the settled communities, Fulani men may work in government, education, business, or, to a lesser extent, as traders.
Women are responsible for managing the household (cooking, cleaning) and caring for the children. Even in the towns, most married women are housewives, but a few work as teachers, nurses, or secretaries.
Among the nomadic Fulani, young men participate in a kind of sport known as sharro. This is a test of bravery in which young men lash each other to the point of utmost endurance. This practice is most common as men enter manhood. However, some continue it until they become elders.
Among the settled Fulani, there is a variety of traditional local sports and games, including wrestling and boxing. Western sports such as soccer and track and field are now found in communities and schools.
Fulani children participate in various kinds of dances. Some are performed for their closest friends and kin, and some in the marketplace. Among the settled people, musicians and praise-singers perform at festivities such as weddings, naming ceremonies, and Islamic holidays. Today, most Fulani own radios and enjoy Western music. Among the settled Fulani, one commonly finds stereos, televisions, and VCRs.
In their spare time, Fulani women make handicrafts including engraved gourds, weavings, knitting, and baskets. Fulani men are less involved in the production of crafts such as pottery, iron-working, and dyeing than some neighboring peoples. They believe these activities may violate their code of conduct ( Pulaaku ) and bring shame upon them.
The pastoral Fulani are currently facing many problems. Drought often reduces their water supply and pasture, and disease may also strike the herds. Increasingly, there is less land available for herding, and conflicts with settled people have increased. Present-day governments are also curtailing the Fulanis' movements or trying to force them to settle down.
Hopen, C. E. Pastoral Fulbe Family in Gwandu . London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
Reisman, Paul. Freedom in Fulani Social Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Stenning, Derrick. Savanna Nomads . London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
World Travel Guide. Guinea. [Online] Available http:/www.wtgonline.com/country/gn/gen.html , 1998.