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Africa. Its Peoples and their culture history/North and West African Pastoralism/Fulani

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Fulbe mind-mapping diagram

Part Eleven
North and West African Pastoralism
— 55 —
Fulani

Scattered throughout the western Sudan from Senegal in the west to Cameroon and French Equatorial Africa in the east live a curious people known as the Fulani, but also variously called Fellani, Fellata, Takruri, Filani, Foulah, Ful, Peul, Fulbe, and Pullo. For the most part they reside in the midst of other peoples. Particularly large groups live as ethnic minorities among such populous nations as the Bambara, Gurma, Hausa, Malinke, Mossi, Soninke, and Zerma, and others are dispersed among many smaller Voltaic and Plateau Nigerian tribes. Only in a few discontinuous districts do they constitute the dominant element in the population. These are shown in Map 16 and include, from west to east, the Senegal Valley, Fouta-Toro, Fouta-Djalon, Kita, Masina, Liptako, Sokoto, Bauchi, and Adamawa.
Because of their dispersion and their interpenetration of other peoples they cannot be said to constitute an independent culture province despite their unquestioned distinctiveness.
The latest detailed estimate of their population, by Lavergne de Tressan (1953), assigns the Fulani a total of more than 5 million people, distributed by political divisions as follows:

Cameroon 275,000
Dahomey and Togo 115,000
French Equatorial Africa 50,000
French Guinea 880,000
French Niger 275,000
French Sudan 460,000
Haute Volta 240,000
Mauritania 70,000
Northern Nigeria 2,025,000
Portuguese Guinea 110,000
Senegal 510,000
Sierra Leone and Gambia 20,000

Few regional groups of Fulani bear distinctive names. For this reason, we shall classify them by their principal areas of concentration, omitting minority groups, however large, that reside amongst other peoples.

  1. Adamawa. In this region the Fulani have usurped large tracts of grazing land from the indigenous Plateau Nigerian and Eastern Nigritic peoples, over many of whom they also exercise political sovereignty.
  2. Bauchi. In this region the Fulani have penetrated deep into the heart of the plateau Nigerian province.
  3. Fouta-Djalon. This region, whose present inhabitants are known as the Foutajalonke, was wrested by the Fulani from the Dialonke tribe of Nuclear Mande.
  4. Fouta-Toro. This region, in Senegal, was occupied very early by the Fulani.
  5. Kita. This region, whose present inhabitants are known as Fuladugu (Fouladougou), was taken by the Fulani from the Bambara and Malinke groups of Nuclear Mande.
  6. Liptako. This region was seized from the Voltaic Gurma tribe.
  7. Masina. This region was largely taken from the Bambara tribe of Nuclear Mande.
  8. Senegal Valley. This region, where the inhabitants are known as the Tukulor (Takruri, Tekarir, Torodo, Toucouleur, Tukri), has long been occupied by the Fulani.
  9. Sokoto. This region, whose nomadic inhabitants are known as the Bororo, was wrested by the Fulani from the Hausa.

Map 16. Major Concentrations of Fulani
1—Senegal Valley, 2—Fouta Toro, 3—Fouta Djalon, 4—Kita
5—Masina, 6—Liptako, 7—Sokoto, 8-Bauchi, 9—Adamawa

Accounts of the Fulani in regions remote from their place of origin, such as Northern Nigeria, describe and sometimes confuse two seemingly quite different peoples. We shall call them tentatively the A Fulani and the B Fulani. Table 4 summarizes some of their most notably contrasting characteristics.

Table 4: Characteristics of Contrasting Fulani Groups
A Fulani B Fulani
Non-Negroid in physique: “straight-nosed, straight-haired, relatively thin-lipped, wiry, copper-or-bronze complexioned” Strongly Negroid, though often displaying some admixture of other ethnic elements
Pastoral nomads Sedentary village dwellers
Indifferent Moslems and not infrequently even pagans Fanatic Moslems committed to proselytizing their faith
Peaceful herders, readily accommodating to their neighbors Aggressive addicts of “holy wars” against pagan peoples
Lacking any indigenous political organization above the level of the autonomous band and its headman Noted state builders through wars of conquest and aggrandizement

Attempts to account for these contradictory facts have usually started with the assumption that the A Fulani constitute the original nucleus of the people and that the B Fulani have been derived from them by long miscegenation with Negro slaves and subjects. The origin of the A Fulani, who everywhere contrast sharply with all their immediate neighbors in both physique and culture, has then been sought in a variety of fantastic hypotheses of their derivation by migration from some remote region, usually one inhabited by Caucasians of Hamitic speech. Those which have enjoyed the widest popularity include the theory of Delafosse that they are sprung from Syrians of Semitic (Aramaic) speech, who allegedly penetrated Negro Africa from Cyrenaica about A.D. 200, and that advanced by Meinhof deriving them from the Cushites of the Eastern Horn.

Actually, the Fulani present no insoluble mystery. We start with the fact that the A and B groups, however greatly they may differ in physical and cultural characteristics, share the same language, and we then look for its closest cognates. Greenberg (1949), rejecting the curious use of the herding and milking of cattle as diagnostic criteria of linguistic relationships, has demonstrated conclusively that the Fulani, far from being Hamitic in speech, possess a Nigritic language belonging specifically to the Atlantic subfamily of that stock and related especially closely to the Sin dialect of Serer and nearly as closely to Wolof. Except for the Fulani, most speakers of this group of languages reside in the Senegambian culture province (see Chapter 34) along the Atlantic coast and in its immediate hinterland. The ancestral Fulani can hardly have come from anywhere else. As a matter of fact, abundant historical evidence traces them back definitely to the former inhabitants of the middle region of the Senegal Valley and the savanna region of Fouta-Tooro immediately south thereof. Here they actually had as their immediate neighbors the linguistically kindred Serer and Wolof.

Our earliest historical information relates to the Tukulor, who still occupy the middle Senegal and whose name, significantly enough, is said to be a corruption of English “two colors.” The Tukulor enter history about the seventh century after Christ, when they ruled a powerful state independent of the empire of Ghana. In the eleventh century they relinquished their territory in Mauritania to the Berbers, then expanding southward from Morocco under Arab pressure from the rear, but they held fast against the intruders in the valley of the Senegal.

Erratum. — The Tukolor name has little to do with the English language. It is a mispronunciation of the word Takrur or Tekrur. — T.S. Bah

History tells us something of the interaction of the Tukulor and the Berbers, and the rest can be reconstructed with little difficulty. We know that the Tukulor, led by their ruling dynasty, accepted Islam with enthusiasm in the eleventh century and that, as the first Negro converts in the western Sudan, they were largely instrumental in spreading the new faith among the Soninke to the east and the Wolof to the west. At this time doubtless began the transition, now complete, from the original matrilineal and avunculocal social structure of the Senegambians to the present patrilineal and patrilocal system. That the Tukulor were reacting to Berber influence in this respect is reflected in their retention today of certain traits that are specifically Berber rather than Negro, e.g., the transfer of the bride-price by the girl’s parents to their daughter as a dowry.

Stopped in their political expansion by the strength of the Tukulor state, the Berbers presumably resorted to economic penetration, infiltrating with their herds into sections relatively unsuited to agriculture. On the fertile and well-watered land along the Senegal River, where there was little room for grazing, the Tukulor merely added the use of milk and butter to their dual economy and replaced their older humpless cattle with the new humped, or zebu, breed from the north. South of the river, however, the savanna country of Fouta-Tooro offered excellent pasturage, and was probably only sparsely occupied by tillers because of the difficulty of cultivation and the scarcity of water. Hence it was doubtless here that most of the Berber herdsmen established themselves. And here favorable conditions caused them to flourish. Politically subject to the Tukulor state and geographically isolated from their independent Berber kinsmen north of the Senegal, they gradually became acculturated to the dominant Negro population, accepted their language as a replacement for their own, and intermarried with them to at least some extent. In the resulting mixture, however, economic and demographic factors produced a preponderantly Caucasoid cross in the pastoral population of Fouta-Tooro but a predominantly Negroid cross among the sedentary tillers and townspeople along the Senegal. There thus arose two divisions among the “two-colored” Tukulor , ancestral respectively to our A and B Fulani.

The Tukulor state dominated Senegal until 1350, though under a Soninke dynasty after 1250. It was conquered by the Wolof around 1350, but regained its independence in 1520 and retained it until defeated by the French in 1893. The pastoral Fulani meanwhile prospered and spread.
Their success is best accounted for in ecological terms, for they filled a previously unoccupied niche in the economic life of the region. Their expansion into the territory of their neighbors caused no alarm since they took over at first only lands ill suited to agriculture. Indeed they were usually welcomed by the indigenous tillers, who gladly exchanged their agricultural products for milk and butter, employed skilled Fulani herdsmen to tend their own livestock, and were happy to have the newcomers pasture their cattle on tilled fields after the crop was harvested, for the manure served as fertilizer. There developed a close symbiotic relationship which is repeatedly attested in essentially the same form across the entire breadth of the western Sudan, for the Fulani infiltrated ever farther to the east as their healthy life and diet brought rapid population increase and consequently a continuous pressure for new grazing land.

The expansion of the pastoral Fulani can be traced historically with fair accuracy. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries they spread from Fouta-Tooro southward into Ferlo and eastward into Kaarta, mingling with the Malinke and ultimately forming populations of mixed blood that survive in many parts of the area today. One such group, in which the Fulani element predominates, is the Fuladugu of Kita.

During the fourteenth century the Fulani penetrated eastward through Soninke and Bambara country and reached Masina, where a heavy concentration still survives. In the sixteenth century a Fulani vanguard infiltrated southward from Senegal into Fouta-Djalon, where small remnants persist as the Fulakunda (Foulacounda) and Hubu (Houbbou).

Erratum. — The Hubbu or Houbbou was a 19th century religious movement and insurgency against the rulers of Fuuta-Jalon. It was not an ethnic group. Its troops successfully conquerred and occupied Timbo, the capital, twice. They killed Almami Ibrahima Sori Daara I in combat. Theologically, the Houbbou episode pitted the old Shazaliyya tariq, or order, against the emerging Tijaniyya, led by Umar Taal. — T.S. Bah

In the meantime the main movement continued eastward, forming an enclave in Liptako and penetrating the Hausa country, where they are first mentioned historically in the fifteenth century. Here their principal concentrations occur in Sokoto and Bauchi. Their vanguard reached Adamawa, another center of concentration, by at least the early eighteenth century, and smaller groups expanded eastward as far as Wadai and penetrated southeast into parts of Cameroon during the nineteenth century.

The pastoral Fulani did not migrate alone. Always they were accompanied by at least some of their sedentary and more Negroid kinsmen, better educated, more sophisticated in political matters, and far less tolerant of the infidel. When the nomads encountered local opposition to their encroachments, as was inevitable, they could call upon their Tukulor or B Fulani cousins to provide the military and political means for resistance and aggrandizement. In extreme situations the latter were prone to launch a jihad, or holy war, against the pagan “oppressors.” Several of these deserve special mention.

Around 1750 a fanatic Fulani Marabout, who had established a theocratic state in Fouta-Tooro, launched a holy war against the pagan Dialonke and Senegambians who then inhabited Fouta-Djalon; in a series of savage campaigns he drove many of them out of the country and converted and subjugated the rest. From a mixture of the conquerors and their subjects has sprung the present dominant population of Fouta-Djalon, the Fulani-speaking but largely sedentary Futajalonke.

Between 1848 and 1862 an equally fanatic Tukulor named El Hadj Omar carried Islam by fire and sword as far east as Djenne and initiated a period of ruthless devastation which ended only with the arrival of the French in 1893

Erratum. — The Fuuta-Jalon Confederacy was founded in 1725, i.e., twenty-five years before the creation of the Fuuta-Tooro Almamate. Sources indicate that Suleyman Baal, the founder of the Islamic Fuuta-Tooro state, spent time at the Fuuta-Jalon royal court. Upon returning home, he launched the successful jihad of 1750 that defeated the centuries-old ruling Deniyaaaɓe (aka Koliyaaɓe) dynasty. — T.S. Bah

Still more famous is the career of the religious zealot and conqueror Osman dan Fodio, a sedentary Fulani reared in the Hausa state of Gobir. In 1804, his fervor having brought him into conflict with the native ruler, he fled the country, assumed the title of Ruler of the Faithful, and embarked on a holy war of conquest. Between 1804 and 1809 he successively reduced the Hausa states of Gobir, Zamfara, Zaria, Katsena, Kebbi, and Kano, establishing in each conquered territory a Fulani emir, subject and tributary to him. On his death he split his dominions, leaving his son Mohammed Bello as sultan in Sokoto and his brother Abdullai as ruler in Gwandu. This dual empire ruled most of Northern Nigeria until the arrival of the British in 1903.

Note — Anthropologist Murdock’s choice of derogatory labels such as “fanatic,” “zealot” applies subjectivity and value judgments to historical processes and political events. It is an eerie reminder of colonial administrators’ hubris and stigmatization of their African adversaries. And it runs counter to his overall positive research narrative. — T.S. Bah

Disciples of Osman carried his conquests far beyond the Hausa states. One established a tributarv emirate in Bauchi in 1812; a second, one over the Nupe nation around 1820. A third, Modibo Adama by name, in 1809 launched a holy war against the pagan Negroes of the country now known, after him, as Adamawa and established himself as a tributary emir, with his capiral first at Gurin but later, after 1841, in Yola. Thence his followers extended his conquests into Cameroon, where Fulani dominance and exploitation terminated only with the arrival of the Germans in 1899.

The techniques of gouvernment instituted by the conquering Fulani are well illustrated by those of Masina. Being based on warlike predation, the state depended on a complex military organization. Five great military commanders were made responsible for border defense and aggressive warfare against as many groups of bordering peoples, namely, (1) the Bobo and Minianka, (2) the Bambara, (3) the Soninke and Zenaga, (4) the Tuareg, and (5) the Mossi and Dogon. Each village was required to maintain a fixed military contingent, of which a third was called up each year for police work, raids, or wars of conquest. They were supported by requisitions levied on the villages where they were billeted, and their families received recompense while they were on active duty. Lands seized from conquered peoples became state property. Enemies who submitted voluntarily and accepted Islam escaped enslavement. Others were reduced to serfdom and required to labor on the lands owned by the state. Livestock captured in raids or ordinary warfare were placed in the charge of district chiefs under the over-all supervision of two national officials. Those taken in a holy war were pooled and then distributed. The ruler took a fifth, giving half his share to the military commanders of the successful operation and using the other half to ransom war captives and succor the destitute. The warriors divided the remaining four-fifths, with cavalrymen receiving double shares.
The state derived its normal revenues from indemnities, confiscations, disinheritances, and a variety of regular imposts. These included:

  1. An annual tax of one-tenth of all agricultural produce, of which the tax collector kept 10 per cent, the ruler 20 per cent, and the district chief 70 per cent for his own support and that of his troops
  2. An annual livestock tax to the ruler, consisting of one steer in thirty, one cow in forty, one sheep in forty, and one goat in a hundred
  3. A capital levy of 2 1/2 per cent per annum on all gold, cowrie currency, and salt owned by individuals
  4. A sales tax on all merchandise sold hy tradesmen
  5. A head tax of a measure of threshed millet for each adult, of which the ruler kept a fifth and used the rest for the support of mosque officials and the poor.

The riverain Tukulor and the mixed Fulani of Bauchi, Fouta-Djalon, and Kita engage in agriculture to a substantial extent, cultivating crops similar to those of their neighbors. Elsewhere, however, the Fulani subsist almost exclusively by animal husbandry, leaving tillage to serfs or resorting to it only under pressure of circumstances. They do very little hunting, fishing, or gathering but depend heavily upon trade. They leave this largely, however, to other peoples, notably the Marka and Hausa; only in Liptako do mercantile Fulani constitute an important group. Transhumance is especially highly developed in Masina and Sokoto. Cattle, by far the most important domestic animals, are usually of the humped zebu breed, but the Futajalonke have adopted the humpless cattle of the indigenous Dialonke, and a similar Bambara strain rivals the zebu one in Masina. Meat is little used, but milk and butter are dietary staples everywhere. Nearly all Fulani keep sheep, goats, dogs, and chickens as well as cattle, and many of them have horses and donkeys as well. Men ordinarily herd cattle, though women often tend goats and sheep. Milking and dairy operations are normally performed by women, though men sometimes participate, especially in Adamawa.
The sedentary Fulani and Tukulor inhabit permanent villages or towns and occupy either thatched mud dwellings of the cone-cylinder type or occasionally rectangular houses with walls of sun-dried brick, flat terrace roofs, and an interior courtyard. The pastoral Fulani wander in nomadic bands and occupy only temporary camps consisting of a cluster of huts of dismountable and portable construction commonly surrounded by a thorn hedge. The dwellings are round in ground plan and of either hemispherical or beehive shape, with a framework of poles covered with mats, leaves, or grass. All Fulani practice circumcision, but clitoridectomy is reported only for the inhabitants of Fouta-Djalon, Kita, and Liptako and is specifically denied for the Tukulor and the Fulani of Adamawa and Sokoto, either headhunting nor cannibalism prevails.
Marriage always involves a bride-price in cattle, but the amount tends to be small among the pastoral Fulani. The latter also reflect their Senegambian affiliations, and contrast with most Moslems, in their lack of insistence upon premarital chastity in girls. Polygyny prevails universally in the nonsororal form, and the household unit is a polygynous rather than an extended family. The co-wives have separate huts, and the husband rotates among them. Strongly Islamized sedentary Fulani favor unions with a father’s brother’s daughter, but all others proscribe marriage with a parallel cousin, regarding a cross-cousin as the ideal spouse. This preference is correlated with cousin terminology of the Iroquois type, at least in Adamawa and Fouta-Djalon. The levirate rule prevails for secondary marriages, bur only for the widow of an elder brother.
Residence is patrilocal, but among the pastoral Fulani a wife usually returns to her parental home for the birth of her first child and remains there until it is weaned. Descent is patrilineal, with a segmentary lineage system. Exogamy characterizes at least the lineages of relatively shallow depth, except where parallel-cousin marriage has been adopted. A nomadic band normally assumes the form of an exogamous patrician. The pastoral Fulani are egalitarian except for wealth distinctions and slavery. Sedentary groups, however, are commonly stratified into nobles, commoners, serfs, slaves, and endogamous castes of griots and artisans.

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