Fulɓe: Africa’s Pollinators Under Assault?

Map A. Pular (Pulaar) : western area of the language of the Fulbe.
Map A. Pular (Pulaar) : western area of the language of the Fulbe. (Source : voir Carte B)
Map B. Fulfulde : eastern area of the language of the Fulbe
Map B. Fulfulde : eastern area of the language of the Fulbe. (Source : Marquis Michel de la Vergne de Tressan. Inventaire linguistique de l’Afrique occidentale française et du Togo. Mémoires de l’Institut français d’Afrique noire. N° 30. Dakar, IFAN. 1953, 240 p. cartes)
Fulbe (Fulani) pastoralists and their cattle in Northern Nigeria. They are wearing the traditional conical hat (libitiwal, in Fuuta-Jalon dialect). They are also holding the blessed and sacred herder's stick. The Republic of the Gambia's Tourism and Culture minister, <a href="http://www.webguinee.net/blogguinee/2017/12/les-hubbu-du-fuuta-jalon-lecture-critique/">Hamat Bah</a>, was pictured sporting a similar item in his swearing-in ceremony in 2017. (T.S. Bah)
Fulbe (Fulani) pastoralists and their cattle in Northern Nigeria. They are wearing the traditional conical hat (libitiwal, in Fuuta-Jalon dialect). They are also holding the blessed and sacred herder’s stick. The Republic of the Gambia’s Tourism and Culture minister, Hamat Bah, was pictured sporting a similar item in his swearing-in ceremony in 2017. (T.S. Bah)

Titled “Genocide, hegemony and power in Nigeria” Obadiah Mailafia’s paper is a case study of pseudo-historical rambling and misguided political activism. From the title to the last line it is filled with false assumptions, malicious accusations, and malignant statements. The article illustrates the confusion sowed by “educated” and “elite” individuals and groups among the peoples of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The propagators of the growing discord are a heteroclite bunch. For instance, they include Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka as well as heretofore unknown individuals, such as Mr. Obadiah Mailafia.
I re-post his paper here in the Documents section. The tract is replete with vile insults, ignorant statements, absurd allegations, vitriolic partisanship, fallacious claims and laughable distortions of history. The author refers to the Hausa-Fulani peoples as “a new mongrel race.” How low can someone who considers himself an African be so rude and stoop so low against fellow Nigerians and other Africans? How can hurl on the Web such a derogatory and vulgar term? How can he so gratuitously and readily commit such a despicable and outrageous offense!
In this blog, I denounce, rebut, recuse and refute some of the most egregious passages of Obadiah’s inflammatory article.

Africa’s pollinators

The domestication of the bovine constituted “one of humanity’s first leap forward” (Anselin 1981). It was a watershed achievement that spurred humans’ march into civilization. In parallel with other groups in Asia, America, Africa, ancient Fulɓe partook in such an accomplishment.

See Fulbe and AfricaThe Semantic Web and Africa

In “Cattle Before Crops: The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa,” a remarkable  research paper, Fiona Marshall and Elisabeth Hildebrand argue that, contrary to the other continents, domestication of plants came after that of animals. In other words, pastoralists preceded agriculturalists in “the development of food production” aimed at meeting “the need for scheduled consumption.”
 Thus, while their prehistoric neighbors figured out plant cultivation, ancient Fulbe were a step ahead in taming the wild ancestor of the bovine. In so doing, those pastoralists and agriculturalists forebears  became, metaphorically, the pollinators of Africa. Which, in turn, as we all know, is the cradle of humankind. It is appalling that Mr. Obadiah Mailafia chose to waste his time assaulting one of Africa’s indigenous peoples.

War mongers instead peace makers

Big problems and serious contradictions —legitimate or fabricated — strife and tensions have plagued the Federal Republic of Nigeria since its founding in 1963. And in recent decades its middle section, bad blood has opposed Muslim Fulɓe (Fulani) cattle herders to Christian agriculturalists. Such hostilities are neither new, nor specific to Nigeria. Thus, Ireland is still recovering from a lengthy and bloody civil war between Protestants and Catholics. Likewise, in the tinderbox region of the Balkans, in southern Europe, peace remains fragile as new countries continue to cope with the collapse and splinter of Yougoslavia.

Read (a) The Butcher’s Trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world’s most successful manhunt (b) The Trial of Radovan Karadzic

Back in the Middle Age, France and England fought the Hundred Year’s War. It pitted Catholics against Protestants and, among other atrocities. Joan of Arc life was engulfed by fire at the stake, reducing her body in ashes. In this 21st century the world watches the Rohingya’s plight and flight from persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist extremists…
Nigeria’s Muslim/Christian divide is deep-seated in history. But they can —should and must — be negotiated amicably and resolved in peace. Unfortunately, instead of seeking positive solutions to the feuds, militants and agitators — like Obadiah Mailafia — who are recklessly bent on fanning the flames of hostility and hatred. Instead of being peace makers, they demonize their neighbors and sound like war mongers. Such a dangerous behavior must be stopped.

Obadiah Mailafia writes:

Gramsci invented the notion of “hegemonia” (hegemony) to explain the structure and anatomy of domination in political society

Error! The editors of Wikipedia would beg to differ with Obadiah Mailafia. They, who pinpoint that Gramsci studied the cultural aspect of hegemonic power, i.e., not hegemony, by and large, but one aspect of its aspects. Other manifestation of supremacy rule include the economy, warfare religions, science…

I find this concept of hegemony so relevant with what is going on in relation to the genocide being perpetrated by the Fulani militias in the Middle Belt of our country today.

Obadiah is entitled to his opinion, but not to the facts. First, he fails to cite any external references or sources. Then, he does not care to provide evidence of ongoing genocide in Nigeria. We know that such tragedy  befell the country during the Biafran War. Then, genocide stroke in Rwanda. But here, my view is nothing demagoguery brings Obadiah to claim that the recurrent attacks and retaliations in Nigeria amount to genocide.

Historians the world over agree that the original home of the Fulani people is Futa Jallon (also known in the French as Fouta Djallon) in the Upper Guinea highlands of the West African Republic of Guinea.

Wrong! Fuuta-Jalon (not Futa Jallon, or Fouta Djallon!) is one of the many regions the Fulɓe call home in 21 Africa countries. But it is certainly not their birthplace. In reality, pushing their cattle herds out of Takrur (southern Mauritania-northern Senegal), they began migrating to the region back in the 12th century C.E.. Takrur existed since the 4th century. Although it has fallen into oblivion, it was a lasting and glorious experiment that forged a new people (the Takruri) out of a melting pot of Soninke, Serer, Wolof, Mande, Fulɓe communities. And, significantly, around the 9th century Takrur became the first sub-Saharan state to adopt Islam as its official religion. However, it conquest by Emperor Sunjata Keita sealed its demised. Fulbe had been leaving the areas for quite some time. But the destruction of Takrur accelerated their exodus. They moved south toward what is today’s Fuuta-Jalon. They also headed east into Maasina, Jelgoogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, etc. In The Fulani Empire of Sokoto, historian H.A.S. Johnston indicates that Fulbe herdsmen begun settling in the Sokoto region as early as the 12th century.

Also known as Fula, Fulbe or Pullo, the Fulani are thought to have emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East in ancient times, settling in the Futa Jallon Mountains and intermarrying with the local population and creating a unique ethnic identity based on cultural and biological miscegenation.

It’s other way around, the indigenous pair (Pullo, singular / Fulɓe, plural) provides the basis for the various names given to the Fulɓe . For instance, they are called Takruri (Moors), Fellasha (Arabs), Peul (Wolof), Fula (Mande), Fulè (Sose, Jalunka) Fulani (Hausa), etc.

The Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampaté Ba famously described Futa Jallon as “the Tibet of West Africa”, on account of its surfeit of Muslim clerics, Sufi mystics, itinerant students and preachers.

Correction: Amadou Hampâté Bâ was no ordinary writer and ethnologist. He was a leader of Pulaaku, the Fulbe way of life. He coined the phrase: “In Africa, when an elder dies, its a library burning down.” Thanks to serendipity, he had received in 1953 an initiation in the sacred rite of Geno and by-gone fulɓe spirituality built around the bovine. In 1961, he teamed with Germaine Dieterlen, a noted ethnologist of religions and the author of Essai sur la religion bambara. The pair co-edited the French version of Kumen, the bible of Fulbe pastoralists. In his review of the book, ethnologist fell in aw with “La poésie saisissante de ce récit [qui] évoque les plus belles pages de la Bible”.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ once declared: “I love Fulfulde, my language. I am proud to be a Pullo poet.” For his tireless advocacy for the continent’s verbal heritage, Ivoirian writer Isaac Biton Coulibaly bestowed upon A. H. Bâ the title of “pope of African oral tradition.” Bâ lived his life as a disciple of Tierno Bokar Salif Taal, a tijaniyya sufi master who taught Islam and tolerance …
Never mind, displaying his bellicose mindset, Obadiah seeks to tarnish “the Tibet of West Africa” homage with the epithet “surfeit.” Again, Gilbert Vieillard must be turning in his grave. For he asserted that Fuuta-Jalon was the Dar-al-Islam (Door of Islam) of western Africa. And in his book The Holy War of Umar Tal: the Western Sudan in the mid-nineteenth century Prof. Robinson concurred in these terms:

« Fuuta-Jalon was much more than an Almamate dominated by a Fulɓe aristocracy. It was a magnet of learning, attracting students from Kankan to the Gambia, and featuring Jakhanke clerics at Tuba as well as Fulɓe teachers. It acted as the nerve centre for trading caravans heading in every direction. The more enterprising commercial lineages, of whatever ethnic origin, established colonies in the Futanke hills and along the principal routes. It served their interests to send their sons to Futanke schools, to support the graduates who came out to teach, and in general to extend the vast pattern of influence that radiated from Fuuta-Jalon. »

Such were, among other things, the facts that prompted A.H. Bâ to label Fuuta-Jalon, a spiritual stronghold akin to Thibet.

The second traditional home of the Fulani is Futa Toro, by the banks of the Senegal River in the current nation of Senegal.

Wrong! Fuuta-Tooro was located in the direct sphere of influence of Takrur. Therefore Fulbe lived there, first, and centuries before the headed down south toward Fuuta-Jalon.

Over the centuries the Fulani converted to Islam and some of them became zealous Muslim clerics and itinerant proselytisers. Through war and conquest they formed several kingdoms, among them Tukolor, Massina, the Caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio and Fombina in the early nineteenth century.

Wrong! In “The Social and Historical Significance of the Peul Hegemonies in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries,” Marxist historian Jean Suret-Canale join other scholars to point out that the Fulbe clerics became victorious through a combination of preaching the Word and wielding of the Sword. It behooved them to win the mind more than the body of new converts. They largely succeeded in their mission. And in Sokoto, Usman ɓii Fooduyee (Usman dan Fodio, in Hausa), his brother Abdullah, his children Mohammed and Asma’u offer a stellar example of such accomplishments.
Read The Caliph’s Sister: Nana Asma’u 1793-1865: teacher, poet and Islamic leader and One woman’s Jihad : Nana Asma’u, scholar and scribe.

To be continued.

Tierno S. 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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