Paul Marty. L’Islam en Guinée : Fouta-Djallon

Paul Marty.  Muslim education — Islamic teaching

Translated from French by Tierno S. Bah

I. The clerics (marabout, karamoko)

Fouta-Diallon is replete with clerical schools or dudhe, singular dudhal. There is no single village, even the most humble hamlet, that does not have its teaching karamoko.
There is usually one teacher. However, there is exception to that rule. And it consists in the dozen of important religious centers, convents, or monasteries (zawiya), where up to four professors can hold teaching jobs under the watch of the chief of the brotherhood. Otherwise, the school has but only one teacher, even when the attendance rises to 40 or 50 students.

In such cases, the teachers relies on the older students, who serve as assistants.

In general, the cleric is of the same genealogical lineage as the village inhabitants. Parents are reluctant to depend on a teacher of foreign origin for the education of their children. As a result, the clerics are generally FulBe in the Fouta-Diallon, Maninka and Soninke in the colonies et villages of those ethnic groups… The Diallonké, who are superficially islamized do not have their own teacher. They send their children to FulBe or Malinke schools.

Contrary to Senegal and Mauritania, there are no women heads of schools in the Fouta-Diallon. The Karamoko is always a man, even though his classes often count more girls than boys.

The religious affiliation of the Karamoko has been discussed in detail in previous chapters. It appears that the FulBe belong in majority to the Tidianiya mysticism (Sufi tarikh), as a result of the campaigns of Cheikh Umar Taal from Fouta-Toro and the Toucouleurs of Dinguiraye.
Umar Tall convinced the Fouta-Diallon Karamoko, who accepted his teachings, and who in turn ‘converted’ their students, relatives and the entire country to Tidianiya.

A small number of FulBe Karamokos have remained loya to the Chadeliya tarikh of their their ancestors. That is the case namely in Zawia (Labé) and various other constituencies in Yamberen, Binani, Ndama, and Pita. The Maninka and their cousins, the Diakanké, belong almost all to the Qadria tarikh. The Soninke Karamoko — rulers of the Ghana empire 7th-12th century— are split between the Qaderiya of the Moors Cheikhs and the Tidianiya of the Tukulor masters of Dinguiraye.
Most Karamokos are agriculturalists. And they integrate the teaching curiculum
with the labor of their students. Some are imams at mosques or muezzin (salli). Few are dealers (dioula). None of them holds public functions (province or village chief, tribunal juges). Tradition holds that such functions are incompatible with Koranic teaching…

The Karamoko are routinely involved in the supply of amulettes and other spiritual objects. Some of them derived considerable income from such activities.
Every teaching cleric owns a small book collection, whose content rarely varies:

  • The Coran form two or three different editions, and in often manuscript version.
  • One or two law books: the Risaala, Tohfa, or the Lakhdari « Concise »
  • A treaty or two about mysticism and theology, such as the “Little Soleymi” and the Rima by Al-Hadj Omar
  • Writings in Pular
  • Pious works such as the Dalaïl al-Khairat.

Catalogs of the most important arabic libraries owned by Clerics are listed in the appendix.

One finds also old issues of newspapers and journals or magazines from Morocco and the Middle East. Often, there are handwritten fragments of recipes for amulettes, charms, and other magical objects. Sometimes, excerpts from the Protestant Bible, published in London or Boston, and sold by preachers based in Sierra-Leone…

II. The students

The number of Koranic schools is hard to estimate. It’s in perpetual change. Perhaps, it has decreased a little in recent years, particularly in the provinces where it was flourishing before our [the French] occupation: Labé, Touba, Dinguiraye.

The average number of students (Karanden, a Maninka composite term from karan = to read and den = pupil) seems to have dropped both in the institutions of higher learning (zawiya) and in the elementary koranic local schools.

The Karamoko and others attribute the drop in Koranic school enrollment to the freeing of the servile labor by French colonial authorities. As a result, the economic status of former well-to-do families has been severely affected. And such families were the main source of enrollment of students in Koranic schools. They must now employ their children to work in the fields, or to watch the herds of cattle, or to gather india-rubber. Consequently, those offspring can no longer attend the dudhal. Others drop out as soon as they have acquired the minimum familiarity with the Koran.

Conversely, the captives, who formerly paid no attention to instruction, are able to provide for themselves and, imitating their former masters, are sending their children to Koranic schools.

On the other hand, the coming of the French school has deprived Karamokos of some of their educational practice, and perhaps of the best elements. Yesterday’s chiefs, today’s up-and-coming elements, all perceive that european know-how and the mastery of French language, are absolutely necessary to achieve and to keep up by oneself with the French authorities. Accordingly, they shorten the Koranic curriculum of their children to free them for the French school…

Girls enrollment in Koranic schools is quite impressive. They represent a third, sometimes half of the school. Most parents allow them to study for two or three years. This is the length of time needed for learning the Fatiha, the short Opening the Holy Book, and the ritual of prayer.

Boys study longer. The setting is co-educational, but the two sex-groups each study in their corner. For equal schooling, the girl shows equal intellectual progress as her male schoolmates.

Up until recently, the French colonial government had organized the timetable so as to allow teaching in both Arabic and French. The schedule was a follows:

  • 7-10 am: French class
  • 10 – 11:30 am: Arabic class
  • 14-16 pm: French class
  • 16 – 17:30 pm: Arabic class

The experiment was quite successful. And the natives enjoyed it. Their performance in Arabic at the detriment of the French results. They advanced their knowledge of the Koran, the Borhan, the Risala and the Miyara, well ahead of their master of the metric system. The Arabic instructor copied his lessons from the French teacher, and he heeded the latter advice. Thus, all over Fouta-Diallo little merdersas flourished, where Arabic thrived at the expense of modern instruction. Today, it has been established that such fusion of the two school systems does not benefit the French component. Besides, we do not have to work for the expansion of the Arabic language and the religion of the Prophet. Consequently, the two schools were separated… Insistance was placed on the need for Koranic dudhe to provide the French school with as many students as possible.

The Karamoko —Foula, Toucouleur or Diakanké— is very interested in the future of his pupils. He monitors them closely, even after-school hours. He keeps their parents informed of their work and school results…

III. The school
1. Physical environment.

The class takes place in open air. There is no specific building or housing. It is held in the middle of the compound (galle), between the houses; in the rainy season, it uses the verandah of the house of the teacher.

There is even sometimes an itinerant school. The teacher travels with his pupils and he teaches during halts and stop-overs.

The teaching equipment is rudimentary. First, the small plank (alluwal, from Arabic al-luhaa) of rectangular shape rounded up at the top, and purchase for 50 centimes at the blacksmith shop. Often it is made of two joint small planks, linked by a cupper ring. The plank is carved out of green wood. It dries up with time and the fiber tends to fall apart.

The planks are made out of well-known tree species: endhamma, munnirke, belende, and koyli.

The pen is a reed made of various acquatic species found on the banks of rivers, or with bamboo cuts.

Ink (ndaha) is of two types. It is fabricated with local ingredients.

• The first type of ink comes from the fruit of the boori and wombuDi trees. The fruits are boiled for hours, then a small piece of iron (from an ax or a hoe) is added, along with tobacco. The concoction is left to simmer for awhile before the product is exposed to the sunlight for days.

The other type of ink is made of bark from the kahi-boodye tree. It follows the same procedure as above. However, the iron piece is replaced with residue from the blacksmith’s crucible. The students make their ink and pens, under the teacher’s supervision. The industrial ink is unknown in Koranic schools.

The plank is cleaned and polished white with the green leaves of the nyennye tree. When they become dry, it is used a sponge after been soaked in water.

2. Time table

There are three class sessions a day.

In the early morning, from sunup to 8 am. The students rise earlier than their parents, or even their Karamoko. They arrive individually, silently pick up their plank in the verandah, and they begin reading aloud and memorizing their lesson. Arguably, this hum does not interfere with the sleep of the teacher, who appears only at 7 am. His presence is not acknowledge by any mark of deference or politeness.

  • From 8 am to noon, the class works in the field of the teacher. At noon, come the break, the meal and some rest.
  • From 2 pm to 4 pm, work resumes in the field. At 4 pm, the students scatter in the bush to gather firewood, thatch grass, ink ingredients, pen stems, etc. This exercise is more like a recreation intended to enliven a long evening. However, it allows for the gathering of the supplies needed for lighting and the nightwork.
  • From 6 pm to 8 pm, more studying. Then, the teacher says: Enough. The children pile up the planks as usual in the verandah, and everyone goes home.

The young students can misbehave. The little oversight from the teacher allows them to play and chat. And they do not hesitate. Accordingly, there is no specific time set aside for breaks in the class schedule. They are playful even in presence of the teacher, although they behave mischeviously. A proverb says that :

If you see a karanden misbehave, that’s because he is out of sight of the Karamoko.

There are two holidays per week: Thursday and Friday. Thursday is a resting in homage to the leave given to the children of Mecca, in honor of his son-in-law, Ali, who had come home a victor. Friday is a holy day, and work is not allowed, therefore the Karamoko cannot teach. Thursday is for the children, and Friday for the teacher.

The periods of vacation (gurte) varient widely from the Senegalese or the Moors.There are two annual periods.

The entire month of Shua’l, or second month of the lunar calendar.

The first two decades sometimes including the third decade of the month of Hijja, the twelth month of the year.

The Koranic teachers recommend to the children to work a little durant the vacation. Older students must read every day a few chapters (Surats). The little ones keep their plank to review it.

The season of fieldwork induce a noticeable reduction in the intellectual fervor. The children must carry out intense work in the property of their Karamoko: tillage, sowing, weeding, and harvest. Such a schedule only allows them to return to the village in the evening. By that time, they have no desire to spend time reading their lesson. And the teacher is quite understanding.

Sometimes also, especially when the gardens are somewhat distant, the children stay away for five days of servile labor. They return home only on Friday evening. In such cases, the Karamoko ask them to take their plank so that they can study a little during pauses.

The regular regime is non-residency. Children go home when class is dismissed. However, often, —and this rules applies to the older students—, they live in a hut within the compound of the teacher and under his responsibility. Their parents supply the food, and they eat together.

For children whose parents reside in distant hamlets, such rule applies generally. Then the children have a host family, who send them day and night a meal of maize or fonio. The parents compensate the expenses. The Karamoko does not intervene.

School holidays coincide with the progress of the students in their learning of the Koranic text. There are six levels of such acknowledgment. They are examined in detail the sub-section about the curriculum. Each level is the occasion of culinary celebrations. The parents send to the compound of the Karamoko calebashes filled to the rim with maize, mil, or fonio.

They complement the food with a live chicken, a goat, a sheep, and toward the completion of the cycle, one or several bulls. Everyone shares the meals and enjoys the feast.

The Foula sobriety precludes the inclusion of music and drum beating in such festivities, as is customary in other black countries. However, external signs are evident: visits, exchange of gifts, congratulations, new clothes, pulled out of the coffres and jewelry testify to the accomplishments of these school laureates.

3. The teaching.

The overall objective is to teach students the fundamental texts of Islam, beginning with the Kur’an. The advanced stages of learning will dispense the basics of law and interpretation, in Pular this time, as opposed to the mechanical memorization of the lower degrees.

Meanwhile, the Karamoko emphasizes the initiation to the rites of the prayer, the technique of zikr of the brotherhood, the recitation of the wird etc. All in all, he accomplishes a mission of practical catechism, unknown to the other Black marabouts.

The pedagogy of teaching is structured as follows:

  • Jangugol: Reading
  • Windugol: Writing
  • Firugol: Explanation of the Koran in en Pular, or pratical exegesis
  • Fennyingol: Advanced studies.

A. Jangugol, or the first cycle of teaching, aims at teaching the children to read in Arabic. It includes three parts:

  • Ba or study of the alphabet
  • Sigi or pronunciation and spelling
  • Findituru or rendingol, assembling together letters, sounds, and words, for correct reading.

The Karamoko begins with tracing on the child’s plank the first word of the Koran:

Bismi « In the Name of » and he teaches him to chant, by breaking down the letters

  • ba, sin-nyiiyhe, miimu, ra, i.e., « the ba, then the siin-with-teeth, the rat-like miim »Such a method is perfectly reminiscent of the Lancelot [college] at Port-Royal [during the French Renaissance] and the Garden of Greek Roots [Onos « the donkey that sings so well ».The Karamoko continues with the second word:« Allah », which yield the following four letters:
  • Alif, lam, lam, haa-piBo [the curved H].

It goes on for the entire Fatiha, then for the last Surats of the Koran, studying in reverse from the last Surats du Coran, up to Waylun li Kulli (Sourat IV, Hamza).

The Ba ends at that level. All the letters of alphabet have been reviewed in their different occurrence in the syllable and the word. They are now familiar.

Then, it’s back to the Fatiha for the drilling in correct pronunciation and spelling (Sigi). The same passages of the Koran are used.

Finally, the focus —still on the same corpus of texts— shifts to reading proper, combining letters and sentences.

The Jangugol ends. It’s time for the first school celebration.

Henceforth, the study of the Koran resumes uninterrupted. Based on the tradition, it is carried out from bottom up, in six portions, each punctuated with a feast. Those periods are:

  • From the Opening (Fatiha) of the Koran to Surat IV, Hamza
  • From Surat Hamza to Surat Al-Malk (LLXXII)
  • From Surat Al-Malk to Surat Yaasin
  • From Surat Yaasin to Surat Mariama
  • From Surat Mariama to Surat Tuuba IX
  • From Surat Tuuba to Surat II (The Cow)

Even before completing the Jangugol, the child begins the rudiments of writing, or Windugol.

The Karamoko trains the karanden in the usage of the writing reed (karambol, sing.; karambi, plur.) as he makes copy a sample text he wrote himself at the top of the plank. Once they are fluent in this exercise, the Karamoko give the students a copy of the Kur’an. They must transcribe a passage every day. Such a practice of the book by the Foula differs markedly from the Moorish custom, where the student receives a Kur’an only after he has memorized thoroughly the Surats. That way, he is compelled to learn them. In Fouta-Diallon, to the contrary, the teachers are unanimous in their finding that mnemonic knowledge has been declined considerably in the last quarter century. They blame the phenomenon on the widespread availability of copies of the Kur’an at bargain prices. Hence, it has become needless to rehash indefinitely the holy book, since one could get a copy for 3.50 Fr. at the dealer.

C. Jangugol and Windugol

They are carried out until the age of circumcision. Indeed, most karanden do not complete the first two cycles. As soon as they reached the level of « DursuBe » (sing. « DursuDo »), i.e., graduates in Kur’an, they move on.

After circumcision, the level of higher learning begins, with theologie and exegesis. It is the Firugol, which includes:

• Kabbhe (or Tobbhe), the equivalent of Arabic Tawhid , which is the study of Divine One-ness, considered as the founding principle and the bedrock of islamic catechism.

• Tafsir, exegesis of the Koranic text, with interpretation et explication in Pul-pulle [Pular].

For a while, the French colonial authorities made a big fuss about Kabbhe, perceived either as a secret society or as a mysticism special to the Foula. Actually, Kabbhe is simply a translation in Pul-pulle [Pular] of the Arabic word Tawhid. In Islamic studies, the science of Kabbhe teaches the tenets of divine unity, in short the theological dogma itself.

On the basis of the teaching of the Soleymis (Soleymi Bobo and Soleymi Mawnde, i.e., the Little and the Great Soleymi), as well as the Barahin of Sanusi, the FulBe scholars build combinations of words, letters and numbers: a practice they share with Eastern and Western erudites. This brings to memory the academic rivalries in the universities of the Middle Age.Today, it is perpetuated in the “brain teasing” sections of newspapers. There is not even the shadow of a cabal or a sect here. The initiates are simply the most learned people, and their mysterious knowledge is only those of the savant who has deepened the discovery of the dogma and who has consumed the fruit of the tree of science. All things that are out of reach for the servant and the Pullo Buruuro (the non-educated Bush Pullo)

Here are the opening words of the Kabbhe, as they are found in the works of Arab theologians. They are provided to refute the current opinion lending to this Foula teaching the mystery of a cabal.

The books revealed by God to humans number in 104. However, 100 still remain unknown to us in this day and age. The four we know are:

  1. The Pentateuque of Moses
  2. The Psaums of David
  3. The Evangile of Issa (Jesus Christ)
  4. The Kor’an of Muhammed

But the doctrines of the 104 revealed books are contained and condensed in the last four.

The last four are contained and condensed in the Qur’an.

The entire Qur’an is contained within Fatiha, which is the Opener of the Holy Book.

The Fatiha is contained in its entierety in introductory formula:

  • In
    Arabic: Bismilaahi Rahmani Rahiimi
  • In Pular: En barkinorii Inde Allaahu, Jom Moyyhere Huubhunde, Jom Moyyhere Heeriinde.
  • In English: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

That formula is condensed in Allah. The numerical value of the letters composing Allah is 66. It breaks down as follows:

A (1) L (30) L (30) AH (5)

By adding up the above numbers, we get a result: 66 (sittu wa sittuuna, in Arabic), which is a sacred number. All the qualities of Allah (50) and his Prophet, Muhammad (16) are embedded within.

Those divines qualities are as follows:

  • 25 positives qualities:
    • Existence
    • Eternity
    • Immutability, etc.,
  • 25 negative qualities (i.e. that are NOT applicable to Allah):
    • Non-existence
    • Contingence
    • Non-permanence, etc.

The same schema applies for the 16 Prophetic qualities.

After the Qur’an, the students assimilate quickly those introductory notions to the Kabbhe (Nodes of Knowledge), which are prerequisites, argue the Karamoko, for a fulfilled life.

A Pullo who does not know these fundamental truths cannot validly and ritually slaughter an animal (hirsugol ko dagii). These revelations are at the roots of Islam.

The study of the Kabbhe is followed up by the Tafsir, or exegesis and interpretation of the Koranic text. The FulBe have long established that their language is a sacred idiom, second only to Arabic, but preceding by far the languages of their neighbors, fetishists as well as Muslims.

It is a fact that Qur’an can only preserve its sacred nature by keeping its arabic form. A translation would thus alter its formal composition and its meaning. That explains why up until recently, the great Sheick ul-Islam of Istanbul, issued a interdiction (fatwa) against the translation of the Qur’an in any foreign language.

For quite some time, however, the Qur’an has been translated in Pular, both orally and in writing. Several versions, remarquable for their precision and elegance, circulate among the Karamoko of Fouta. Such works are the basis of the instruction that the Foula give to their students. The school system relies probably less on memory, but it is more intelligent and rational than that of the other Black countries.

In addition to the literary arabic publications already mentionned, (the two Soleymi, Sanusi and all the other commentaries of the Holy Book) the Firugol includes the study of several local works. These contributions complement the religious studies with elements of mystical science:

  • Rimah
  • Soyuf
  • Safinat as-sa’ada
  • Djuahir al-Maani

Al-Hadj Omar authored the first three, which provide ascetic and mystical grounding. The last book, by the founder of the Tijaniya tarikh, is a manual of piety, a breviary, and a meditation guide.

Last, M. A. Le Chatelier has underscored the local characteristic of Foula religious studies. Already in 1888 he had noticed a collection of works written in Pular by FulBe authors, who are still revered in the universities of the country. The most renowned are:

  • A book of theology by Usman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto empire (Northern Nigeria)
  • A book of prayer and ethics by Tierno Saadou Dalen, named: Jangen Yo Musibbhe « Let us read, O my brothers »
  • A book of theology and law by Tierno Mamadou Samba Mombeya and titled Oogirde Malal (the Source of Eternal Bliss).
  • A book of law and ethics, titled Kabbhe Pular, also by Tierno Mamadou Samba
  • The Ballafuyee by Tierno Jaaje, a poetic compilation in honor of the Prophet.

The Firugol culminates in an exam taken in the yard of the mosque, in presence of a jury composed of the main Karamoko of the province. An examiner reads out loud a passage excerpt from the lower end of the Qur’an (location of the longer and more difficult chapters). The postulant must translate the portion in Pular, highlighting his translation with the appropriate comments.

Upon admission, he is conferred with the title of Tierno, which is a lifetime distinction and title. The ritual slaughter of a bull marks the end of this academic ceremony.

D. The top students who have completed the Firugol enter the Fennyu or general domaine islamic sciences . Essentially, this means the study of:

  • Law,
    Fiqh or Fiqha in the following books: Tohfa, Risaala, Lakhdaari, Khalil and the various comments available about them
  • Classical Arabic as availableintreateses such as:
    • Maqamat
    • Dura’id
    • Borda
    • Mu’allaqat, etc.
  • Grammar in the Jarrumiyya, the Alfiya, etc.
  • Various collections of Hadiths, etc.

Only an elite of few in Fouta-Diallon possesses such a high degree of knowledge of Islamic culture. They are the Alfa, which is Pular abbreviation of the Arabic expression Al-Fahim, i.e., the savant, the sage. In essence, this academic title crowns the cycle of islamic studies. It’s the last graduate degree of knowledge. Somehow, it’s the equivalent of the doctorate inasmuch as Tierno was comparatively the equivalent of a masters degree. It requires a public exam before a jury at the Mosque, just like the Tierno ceremony. Upon passing the test, the Alfa earns the right to bear a turban, just like the Almamy. A significant distinction is enforced though: the tail of the headcover must fall on the back not on the shoulder, which is the exclusive hallmark of the Almamy. Also, the Alfa can wear his turban only of Fridays and on other holidays. In contrast the Almamy bears his in permanence.

As for the Qutubu and Waliyu titles, they derive from Arabic. They designate an erudite Karamoko who has reached the level of perfect sainthood (Waliyu), or the full mastery of islamic science (Qutubu). Currently, public opinion holds that Tierno Aliou Bhuubha Ndiyan of Labe, Tierno Ma’awiatu of Pita and Tierno Mamadou Chérifou, of Zawiya (Labe), are all Waliyu.

Tierno S. Bah
Technical & Cultural Adviser
Prince Among Slaves.
Washington, DC. 2005

Tierno Siradiou Bah

Author: Tierno Siradiou Bah

Founder and publisher of webAfriqa, the African content portal, comprising: webAFriqa.net, webFuuta.net, webPulaaku,net, webMande.net, webCote.net, webForet.net, webGuinee.net, WikiGuinee.net, Campboiro.org, AfriXML.net, and webAmeriqa.com.

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