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

Alpha Condé aux abois pour un 3è mandat

Bruno Lemaire, ministre français de l’économie, et Président Alpha Condé à Paris, 16 novembre 2017

Une pluie de promesses

Chaque fois qu’il séjourne en Chine, le président Alpha Condé joue au démagogue et dénonce l’impérialisme occidental.… Mais voilà que depuis hier il se tourne vers Paris pour miroiter un Plan condamné à n’être qu’une chimère, du fait même de la gestion chaotique des biens publics par son régime. RFI claironne :

« Plus de 300 investisseurs publics et privés sont réunis à Paris jeudi et vendredi pour aider la Guinée à financer son plan de développement national. La Guinée a besoin de 13 milliards de dollars ces trois prochaines années pour financer ses grands travaux et rendre le pays plus attractif. D’ores et déjà, les bailleurs de fonds internationaux ont mis sur la table près de 5,5 milliards de dollars, et la France va contribuer à hauteur de 600 millions de dollars. »

Jeune Afrique renchérit :

« 12,6 milliards de dollars d’engagements fermes ont été pris durant les deux jours de discussions entre le gouvernement guinéen et ses partenaires à Paris. Avec les appuis du FMI et de l’IFC, ainsi que les 6 milliards promis par la Chine dans un autre cadre, les financements dépasseront les 20 milliards de dollars, quand la Guinée en espérait 14,6. »

C’est presque une pluie de promesses. Mais de quel plan s’agit-il ? Triennal, quinquennal, décennal ? Qui l’a conçu, préparé et rédigé ? Où en Guinée a-t-il été examiné, amendé et ratifié ? Par quelles institutions ?

Proverbe et réalité

S’exprimant hier à Paris durant le marathon de levée de fonds pour son Plan national de développement économique et social, M. Condé aurait déclaré : « Pour attirer des mouches, il faut du miel. » La métaphore est plaisante à lire ou entendre. Mais c’est une phrase en l’air, vide. Elle me rappelle l’anecdote selon laquelle durant l’effort de guerre 1939-45, un commandant de cercle du Tchad ou de l’Oubangui-Chari (actuelle République Centrafricaine) fut sommé constamment de livrer des quantités de miel à la Métropole. Or la région où il exerçait n’avait même pas de ruches d’abeilles. Excédé, il répondit finalement à ses supérieurs : « D’accord pour miel. Stop. Envoyez abeilles. Stop. » Il fut puni et relevé de ses fonctions.

Le proverbe repris par Alpha Condé évoque, dans une certaine mesure, le dilemme du commandant colonial mentionné ci-dessus. Et il est plus sérieusement contredit par les réalité guinéennes. Au point que les investisseurs potentiels feraient bien de dire au président :
— “D’accord, monsieur le président, nous aimerions bien être vos mouches. Mais où trouverions-nous le miel dans votre pays ?”
Alpha n’a pas de réponse à cette simple question. En effet, après sept ans de sa présidence la Guinée n’a rien de mielleux et de sucré. Au contraire, elle est aigre et acidulée, pimentée et extra-salée. Pour s’en convaincre, il suffit de demander l’opinion des populations, qui tirent le diable par la queue. Et qui luttent pitoyablement pour la pitance du jour, dans un calvaire quotidien.
Le pays ne fournit simplement pas des bases élémentaires et des structures fonctionnelles capables d’exploiter en toute transparence et de faire fructifier les US$20 milliards PROMIS pour financer le plan présidentiel.

Drôle de Plan

Le gouvernement parle d’un Plan quinquennal couvrant  la période 2016-2020. Arithmétiquement l’addition  (ou la soustraction) donne quatre au lieu de cinq ans. Avec deux ans environ déjà écoulés. En d’autres termes, le gouvernement s’est endormi sur ce dossier pendant 24 mois ! Il se réveille soudain. Et le voilà qui invite 300 personnes à Paris, aux frais du contribuable, pour une méga-quête financière incertaine. Car on ne réalise rien avec des promesses. Il faut  des projets bancables exécutés par des gestionnaires compétents. Or Alpha Condé est le premier à décrier le manque de  cadres expérimentés. Curieusement,  lui, le “professeur”, ne lève pas son petit doigt pour tenter de résoudre ce problème fondamental. Pas étonnant de la part d’un président qui n’a pas tenu sa promesse électorale d’octroyer une tablette à chaque étudiant. Cela dit, une  bonne planification commence par l’identification  des sources et méthodes de financement  avant  le lancement. Le contraire revient à mettre la charrue devant les boeufs. C’est exactement ce qu’a fait M. Alpha Condé. Car c’est en fin 2017, au seuil de 2018, qu’il cherche à financer un plan démarré en 2016 ! C’est pas drôle ! Il est évident qu’il se moque éperdument de son son propre Plan. Il s’en sert simplement pour faire du tapage, monter un tape-à-l’oeil et jeter de la poudre aux yeux du public guinéen. Son but réel est d’orchester éventuellement une campagne pour un troisième mandat inconstitutionnel. Ce qu’il n’obtiendra pas. Il lui faudra alors passer outre la volonté du Peuple en modifiant, arbitrairement et à des fins égoïstes, la Loi fondamentale du pays.

Mama Kanny Diallo. Paris, novembre 2017
Mama Kanny Diallo

Lire l’interview de Mama Kanny Diallo, ministre du Plan et de la coopération, ex-épouse d’Alpha. Elle révèle que les projets d’investissements  agricoles mettent l’accent sur “la relance des cultures d’exportation telles que celles de la production d’ananas, de café et d’anacarde.” L’approche est erronée.  Au nom de la sécurité alimentaire on doit plutôt accorder la priorité à la production vivrière :  agriculture (riz, fonio, maïs, manioc, mil, igname, etc.), élevage (viande, lait, beurre, fromage, etc.), cueillette (karité, palmistes, fruits, feuilles, etc.), pêche (poisson, fruits de mer, acquaculture, etc.). Les cultures d’exportation créent une dépendance économique et financière similaire à celle engendrée par l’exploitation — sans transformation locale — des produits miniers bruts.

Environnement inadéquat

En septembre dernier Alpha Condé annonça avoir obtenu un autre prêt de US$20 milliards par la Chine à la Guinée. En octobre, il exposa devant la presse son plan-directeur d’une nouvelle ville de Conakry ! Il confond apparemment architecture et urbanisme. Et il croit que les habitants de la capitale sont de la volaille. Et qu’il suffit de bâtir des cages de poulaillers de type HLM pour moderniser la cité !… En fait une ville est un ensemble complexe de réseaux de transports (routes, chemins de fer, aéroports), de communication (Internet, Web), de santé (égoûts, de parcs, espaces verts), de quartiers résidentiels et commerciaux, de bibliothèques, de marchés, édifices, monuments, cimetières, etc.

En dehors de l’entourage d’Alpha et de lui-même, les Guinéens ne sont dupes de ces publicités fracassantes. Elles rappellent la mascarade en cours, qui fait de Conakry la capitale mondiale du livre. Alors que le pays est en majorité analphabète après 60 ans bientôt de souveraineté.

Répétons-le, la Guinée n’est pas équippée pour absorber et rentabiliser les quelque US$40 milliards qui viendraient de Beijing et de Paris. Le pays ne remplit pas les conditions nécessaires et indispensables pour employer rationnellement de tels montants de capitaux. Même si l’on étale l’exécution dans un futur plus ou moins distant. L’environnement est faible et inadéquat. Il érige de sérieux obstacles pour les investisseurs les plus “généreux”. Comme exemples de pièges on peut citer les suivants :

  • Faible qualité d’éducation
  • Faiblesse de la production et de la distribution d’eau, d’énergie et de nourriture
  • Système de santé précaire
  • Mise à l’écart du paysannat
  • Chômage endémique d’adultes et de jeunes
  • Analphabétisme prédominant
  • Main-d’oeuvre qualifiée rare
  • Monnaie non-convertible
  • Secteur bancaire anémique
  • Absence d’épargne domestique
  • Dépendance totale vis-à-vis des bailleurs étrangers bi ou multilatéraux
  • Réseau de communication numérique embryonnaire
  • Transports archaiques
  • Inféodation de la justice et du parlement au pouvoir exécutif
  • Pauvreté galopante
  • Criminalité et impunité

Alpha Condé aux abois pour un 3è mandat

Depuis sa première investiture, M. Condé a, comme il l’avait promis, ramené la Guinée là où président Sékou Touré l’avait laissée. C’est-à-dire dans la pauvreté, la démagogie l’incompétence, l’autocratie et le culte de la personnalité. Ainsi, Alpha a gaspillé sept ans précieux à se promener hors du pays, pour son intérêt personnel et au détriment de la Guinée.
Le temps a vite passé. Il ne lui reste plus que deux ans environ pour céder la présidence à un successeur élu. Mais M. Condé aimerait soit rattraper ce temps, soit l’allonger en une présidence à vie, camouflée et dissimulée derrière des projets utopiques. Il oublie que le temps perdu ne se rattrape pas. Et que la Constitution est inviolable. Elle ne sera pas tripotée pour satisfaire sa boulimie du pouvoir.

Tierno S. Bah

Dr. I. Sow, psychiatre Pullo, analyse Kumen

Arɗo (pasteur, guide, astrologue, vétérinaire, chef) tenant son bâton de commandement et entouré de sa famille. Ces éleveurs tressaient les cheveux d'hommes et de femmes. Ils ont emporté dans l'au-delà les connaissances et le mode de vie du Pulaaku. Ni paeïns, ni fétichistes, ils étaient, au contraire, monothéistes. Ils croyaient en Geno, l'Etre Suprême. Ici, une calebasse de trayeuse est posée aux pieds d'une matriarche. Un lien spiituel fécond unit cette dernière à Foroforondu, la gardienne tutélaire du laitage, et épouse de Kumen, l''archange des troupeaux. Photo <a href="http://www.webguinee.net/bbliotheque/histoire/arcin/1911/tdm.html">Arcin</a>, Fuuta-Jalon, 1911. — T.S. Bah.
Arɗo (pasteur, guide, astrologue, vétérinaire, chef) tenant son bâton pastoral de commandement et entouré de sa famille. Ces éleveurs tressaient les cheveux d’hommes et de femmes. Ils ont emporté dans l’au-delà les connaissances et le mode de vie du Pulaaku. Ni paeïns, ni fétichistes, ils étaient, au contraire, monothéistes. Ils croyaient en Geno, l’Etre Suprême. Ici, une calebasse de trayeuse est posée aux pieds d’une matriarche. Un lien spiituel fécond unit cette dernière à Foroforondu, la gardienne tutélaire du laitage, et épouse de Kumen, l”archange des troupeaux. Photo Arcin, Fuuta-Jalon, 1911. — T.S. Bah.

Dr. Ibrahima Sow épelle Koumen (en réalité Kumen) dans un article détaillé doublé d’une exégèse élaborée et originale, qu’il intitule “Le Monde Peul à travers le Mythe du Berger Céleste”. Le document parut dans Ethiopiques. Revue Négro-Africaine de Littérature et de Philosophie. Numéro 19, juillet 1979. La contribution de Dr. Sow est basée sur Koumen, Texte initiatique des Pasteurs Peuls, le chef-d’oeuvre d’Amadou Hampâté Bâ, rédigé en français en collaboration avec l’éminente ethnologue française, Germaine Dieterlen. Gardée secrète par ses détenteurs Fulɓe, la version originale Pular/Fulfulde a peut-être disparue à jamais avec la mort de Hampâté.

Il ne faut pas confondre ce spécialiste avec Prof. Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow.

Pour un glossaire sur le Pulaaku cosmogonique et culturel on peut se référer à ma liste en appendice à Koumen.

Dr. Sow est l’auteur de deux autres textes dans la même revue:

  • “Le Listixaar est-il une pratique divinatoire ?”
  • “La littérature, la philosophie, l’art et le local”

Ma réédition complète de l’analyse de Kumen par Dr. Sow est accessible sur Semantic Africa. J’ai (a) composé la table des matières, (b) créé les hyperliens internes et externes (c) ajouté des illustrations, pertinentes comme les liens Web.
La réflexion de l’auteur porte sur la cosmogonie, la centralité du Bovin, la religion, le divin, le couple Kumen/Foroforondu, le pastoralisme, les corrélations avec les sociétés voisines (Wolof, Jola, etc.). Le document met en exergue la croyance monothéiste en  Geno, l’Etre Suprême, que les Fulɓe adoraient des millénaires avant l’arrivée de l’Islam. D’où l’interchangeabilité des noms sacrés Geno et Allah dans la littérature ajamiyya islamique, sous la plume des saints et érudits musulmans, sur toute l’aire culturelle du Pulaaku, de la Mauritanie au Cameroun. Par exemple, la treizième strophe (vers 16 et 17) de la sublime Introduction de Oogirde Malal, déclare :

Geno On wi’a: « Kallaa ! ɗum waɗataa
Nafataa han nimse e wullitagol! »

L’Eternel dira : « Plus jamais ! Cela ne sera point !
A présent inutiles les regrets et les plaintes !

Le nom de Geno est fréquent sous la plume de Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, Usman ɓii Foduyee, Sheku Amadu Bari, Moodi Adama, Cerno Bokar Salif Taal, Tierno Aliyyu Ɓuuɓa Ndiyan, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, etc.

Table des matières

  • Introduction
  • Symbolisme et vision du monde peul
  • L’Autre féminin de Koumen
  • Le paradoxe, dimension du symbole
  • Le grand jeu de la réalité
  • Aux origines premières du monde
  • Le lion est un voyant
  • Foroforondou
  • Koumen le Pasteur divin
  • Une façon originale d’habiter le monde

Ardue mais bonne lecture à la découverte du Pulaaku antique et ésotérique, ni banal ou vulgaire !

Tierno S. Bah

In Memoriam D. W. Arnott (1915-2004)

D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula
D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula

This article creates the webAfriqa homage and tribute to the memory of Professor David W. Arnott (1915-2004), foremost linguist, researcher, teacher and publisher on Pular/Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe/Halpular of West and Central Africa. It is reproduces the obituary written in 2004 par Philip J. Jaggar. David Arnott belonged in the category of colonial administrators who managed to balance their official duties with in-depth social and cultural investigation of the societies their countries ruled. I publish quite a log of them throughout the webAfriqa Portal: Vieillard, Dieterlen, Delafosse, Person, Francis-Lacroix, Germain, etc.
The plan is to contributed to disseminate as much as possible the intellectual legacy of Arnott’s. Therefore, the links below are just part of the initial batch :

Tierno S. Bah


D. W. Arnott was a distinguished scholar and teacher of West African languages, principally Fulani (also known as Fula, Fulfulde and Pulaar) and Tiv, David Whitehorn Arnott, Africanist: born London 23 June 1915; Lecturer, then Reader, Africa Department, School of Oriental and African Studies 1951-66, Professor of West African Languages 1966-77 (Emeritus); married 1942 Kathleen Coulson (two daughters); died Bedale, North Yorkshire 10 March 2004.

He was one of the last members of a generation of internationally renowned British Africanists/linguists whose early and formative experience of Africa, with its immense and complex variety of peoples and languages, derived from the late colonial era.

Born in London in 1915, the elder son of a Scottish father, Robert, and mother, Nora, David Whitehorn Arnott was educated at Sheringham House School and St Paul’s School in London, before going on to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and won a “half-blue” for water polo. He received his PhD from London University in 1961, writing his dissertation on “The Tense System in Gombe Fula”.

Following graduation in 1939 Arnott joined the Colonial Administrative Service as a district officer in northern Nigeria, where he was posted to Bauchi, Benue and Zaria Provinces, often touring rural areas on a horse or by push bike. His (classical) language background helped him to learn some of the major languages in the area — Fulani, Tiv, and Hausa — and the first two in particular were to become his languages of published scientific investigation.

It was on board ship in a wartime convoy to Cape Town that Arnott met his wife-to-be, Kathleen Coulson, who was at the time a Methodist missionary in Ibadan, Nigeria. They married in Ibadan in 1942, and Kathleen became his constant companion on most of his subsequent postings in Benue and Zaria provinces, together with their two small daughters, Margaret and Rosemary.

From 1951 to 1977, David Arnott was a member of the Africa Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), London University, as Lecturer, then Reader, and was appointed Professor of West African Languages in 1966. He spent 1955-56 on research leave in West Africa, conducting a detailed linguistic survey of the many diverse dialects of Fulani, travelling from Nigeria across the southern Saharan edges of Niger, Dahomey (now Benin), Upper Volta, French Sudan (Burkina Faso and Mali), and eventually to Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea. Many of his research notes from this period are deposited in the Soas library (along with other notes, documents and teaching materials relating mainly to Tiv and Hausa poetry and songs).

He was Visiting Professor at University College, Ibadan (1961) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1963), and attended various African language and Unesco congresses in Africa, Europe, and the United States. Between 1970 and 1972 he made a number of visits to Kano, Nigeria, to teach at Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University, Kano), where he also supervised (as Acting Director) the setting up of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages, and I remember a mutual colleague once expressing genuine astonishment that “David never seemed to have made any real enemies”. This was a measure of his integrity, patience and even-handed professionalism, and the high regard in which he was held.

Arnott established his international reputation with his research on Fula(ni), a widely used language of the massive Niger-Congo family which is spoken (as a first language) by an estimated eight million people scattered throughout much of West and Central Africa, from Mauritania and Senegal to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad (as well as the Sudan), many of them nomadic cattle herders.

Between 1956 and 1998 he produced almost 30 (mainly linguistic) publications on Fulani and in 1970 published his magnum opus, The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula (an expansion of his PhD dissertation), supplementing earlier works by his predecessors, the leading British and German scholars F.W. Taylor and August Klingenheben. In this major study of the Gombe (north-east Nigeria) dialect, he described, in clear and succinct terms, the complex system of 20 or more so-called “noun classes” (a classificatory system widespread throughout the Niger-Congo family which marks singular/plural pairs, often distinguishing humans, animals, plants, mass nouns and liquids). The book also advanced our understanding of the (verbal) tense- aspect and conjugational system of Fulani. His published research encompassed, too, Fulani literature and music.

In addition to Fulani, Arnott also worked on Tiv, another Niger-Congo language mainly spoken in east/central Nigeria, and from the late 1950s onwards he wrote more than 10 articles, including several innovative treatments of Tiv tone and verbal conjugations, in addition to a paper comparing the noun-class systems of Fulani and Tiv (“Some Reflections on the Content of Individual Classes in Fula and Tiv”, La Classification Nominale dans les Langues Négro-Africaines, 1967). Some of his carefully transcribed Tiv data and insightful analyses were subsequently used by theoretical linguists following the generative (“autosegmental”) approach to sound systems. (His colleague at Soas the renowned Africanist R.C. Abraham had already published grammars and a dictionary of Tiv in the 1930s and 1940s.)

In addition to Fulani and Tiv, Arnott taught undergraduate Hausa-language classes at Soas for many years, together with F.W. (“Freddie”) Parsons, the pre-eminent Hausa scholar of his era, and Jack Carnochan and Courtenay Gidley. He also pioneered the academic study of Hausa poetry at Soas, publishing several articles on the subject, and encouraged the establishment of an academic pathway in African oral literature.

The early 1960s were a time when the available language-teaching materials were relatively sparse (we had basically to make do with cyclostyled handouts), but he overcame these resource problems by organising class lessons with great care and attention, displaying a welcome ability to synthesise and explain language facts and patterns in a simple and coherent manner. He supervised a number of PhD dissertations on West African languages (and literature), including the first linguistic study of the Hausa language written by a native Hausa speaker, M.K.M. Galadanci (1969). He was genuinely liked and admired by his students.

David Arnott was a quiet man of deep faith who was devoted to his family. Following his retirement he and Kathleen moved to Moffat in Dumfriesshire (his father had been born in the county). In 1992 they moved again, to Bedale in North Yorkshire (where he joined the local church and golf club), in order to be nearer to their two daughters, and grandchildren.

Philip J. Jaggar
The Independent

Are Fulɓe Disappearing? And Is Adlam Their Savior?

The answer to the questions in this blog’s title is flatly and emphatically No! First, Fulɓe are not about to disappear, because they are one Africa’s most distributed and populous nations. Second and consequently, the “new” Adlam alphabet cannot be their rescuer. Yet, entitled “The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing,” a paper published in The Atlantic Magazine presents Adlam as the would-be-savior of the Fulbe/Halpular Civilization. I could not disagree more and object stronger.

Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine
Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine

But I congratulate the Barry brothers for getting a write-up on Adlam in The Atlantic, a major US publication. Unfortunately, the author of the article, Kaveh Waddell, focuses on the digital technology aspects of Adlam (Unicode, Social media, computers, operating systems, mobile devices, etc.) And he does so at the expense of the history and culture of the Fulɓe (See also Fulɓe and Africa). Such a glaring omission defeats the very —and curious—idea of Adlam coming to save Fulɓe/Halpular populations from disappearing!

Before outlining some of the many points of contention, and for the sake of clarity, I should sum up my experience, which spans +40 years of teaching, research, and publishing on the Fulɓe and their  language. I majored in linguistics and African languages, and graduated from the Polytechnic Institute G. A. Nasser of Conakry, Social Sciences Department, Class of 1972 (Kwame Nkrumah). I then taught linguistics and Pular there for 10 years (1972-1982). And I concurrently chaired (from 1973 to 1978) the Pular Commission at Guinea’s Académie des Langues nationales. With my deputy —and esteemed elder—, the late Elhadj Mamadou Gangue, I did field research in the Fuuta-Jalon, inventorying dialects, meeting literati and artists, collecting data.… In 1978, President Sékou Touré sent an original visitor, Adam Bâ, to the Academy. A Pullo from Benin, Mr. Bâ wanted to offer his new Pular alphabet. In addition to the letters, he also had invented a new vocabulary for greetings, leave-takings, titles, ranking, trade, etc. In a nutshell, he was—seriously—asking us to learn a new version of our mother tongue! After listening to his pitch and debating the worthiness of his proposal, we filed back an inadmissibility (fin de non-recevoir) report to the authority.
In 1982 I won a competitive Fulbright-Hayes fellowship and came to the University of Texas at Austin as a Visiting Scholar. My selection rested mainly on my sociolinguistics essay in which I laid out a blueprint for the study of esthetic discourse and verbal art performance in Fuuta-Jalon. I focused on three communities of speech-makers: the Nyamakala (popular troubadours), the caste of Awluɓe (or griots, i.e. court historians and royal counselors) and the Cernooɓe (Muslim scholars, masters of the ajami literature).

That said, here are some of my disagreements and objections from the article.

Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
  1. The title of the paper vastly misrepresents the situation of the Fulbe/Halpular peoples. Indeed, those populations —who number in tens of millions— are in no danger of vanishing at all. Therefore, there is no ground for the journalist to claim that Adlam alphabet will rescue the Fulɓe from a hypothetical oblivion. After all, they are one of Africa’s most ancient and dynamic people. Again, to the best of my knowledge the Fulɓe/Halpular do not face an existential threat or the probability of extinction!
  2. The article refers to the Arabic alphabet 11 times. But it doesn’t say anything about the Pular/Fulfulde Ajamiyya traditional alphabet. Yet, the founders of that writing system achieved significant successes in spreading literacy and educating the faithful, from Mauritania and Fuuta-Tooro, on the Atlantic Coast, to Cameroon, in Central Africa, with Fuuta-Bundu, Fuuta-Jalon, Maasina, Sokoto, etc. in between. They developed an important literary corpus and left an impressive intellectual legacy. Some of the brilliant ajamiyya authors include Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya (Fuuta-Jalon), Usmaan ɓii Fooduye (aka Uthman dan Fodio) founder of the Sokoto Empire, Sheyku Ahmadu Bari, founder of the Diina of Maasina, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, etc.

For a partial anthology see  La Femme. La Vache. La Foi. Ecrivains et Poètes du Fuuta-Jalon

3. Ajamyiyya had the backing of the ruling aristocracy in theocentric Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1897). Moreover, it conveys the dogmas, teachings and writings of Classical Arabic in a deeply religious society. That’s why individuals were motivated to write in their language. They acknowledged what Tierno Samba Mombeya famously summarized in the Hunorde (Introduction) of his landmark poem “Oogirde Malal” (circa 1785):

Sabu neddo ko haala mu'un newotoo Nde o fahminiree ko wi'aa to yial.

Miɗo jantora himmude haala pularI compose in the Pular language
Ka no newnane fahmu nanir jaɓugol.To let you understand and accept the Truth.
Sabu neɗɗo ko haala mu’un newotooBecause  the mother tongue helps one best
Nde o fahminiree ko wi’aa to ƴial.As they try to understand what is said in the Essence.

How has History rewarded Tierno Samba and the pantheon of ajamiyya scholars? Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow has best captured their invaluable contribution. He wrote:

« If, one hundred-fifty years following its composition, the Lode of Eternal Bliss (Oogirde Malal) continues to move readers of our country, it’s chiefly because of the literacy vocation it bestows on Pular-Fulfulde, because of its balanced, sure and elegant versification, its healthy, erudite and subtle language, and the national will of cultural assertion that it embodies as well as the desire for linguistic autonomy and dignity that it expresses. »

4. “Why do Fulani people not have their own writing system?” M. Barry wondered. Actually, they do have it with Ajamiyya. By applying their curiosity and creativity they first reverse-engineered the Arabic alphabet by filling the gaps found the original Arabic graphic system. Then they took care of giving the letters descriptive and easy-to-remember Pular names. That didactic and mnemonic strategy facilitated the schooling of children.

5. Again, it is amazing that age 14 and 10 respectively, in 1990, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry began to devise an alphabet. But it was a bit late for many reasons. I’ll mention only two:
Primo. Back in 1966  UNESCO organized a conference of Experts (linguists, teachers, researchers) for Africa’s major languages in Bamako (Mali). Pular/Fulfulde ranks in the top ten group of African idioms. The proceedings from the deliberations yielded, among similar results for other languages, the Standard Alphabet of Pular/Fulfulde. Ever since, that system has gained currency and is used the world around. It covers all aspects of the language’s phonology, including the following consonants, —which are typical and frequent, but not exclusive to Pular/Fulfulde:

  • ɓ,  example ɓiɓɓe (children), ɓiɗɗo (child)
  • ɗ, example ɗiɗo (two, for people), ɗiɗi (two for animals or objects)
  • ƴ, example ƴiiƴan (blood)
  • ŋ, example ŋeeŋeeru (violin)

The respective decimal Unicode equivalents for the above letters are:

  • &#595;
  • &#599;
  • &#436;
  • &#331;

All modern text editors and browsers are programmed to automatically convert those four codes into the aforementioned Pular/Fulfulde letters.

As a Drupal site builder and content architect, it happened that I filed last night an issue ticket on the Platform’s main website. In it I requested  that —just like in Drupal v. 7— Fulah (Pular/Fulfulde) be reinstated among the  options on the Language Regionalization menu. So far the latest version of Drupal (v. 8) does not include it.

Secundo. Launched as an experiment in 1969, the Internet was 21 years old when Adlam got started in 1990. Ever since, the Digital Revolution has moved to integrate Unicode, which today provides covers all the world’s languages.

6. In 1977, as linguistics faculty at the Social sciences department of the Polytechnic Institute of Conakry, I attended the event. The speaker was none but the late Souleymane Kanté, the inventor of N’Ko. But today —forty-years later— and despite all efforts, the Nko  is still struggling. It is far from delivering its initial promises of  renaissance of the Mande culture area.
President Alpha Condé’s electoral campaign promises to support the N’Ko have been apparently forgotten. And President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali doesn’t seem to even pay attention to the N’Ko. Is it because he prides himself of being a French literature expert?

Conclusion?

No! There is no end to any debate on language, literature, culture. An alphabet is not a gauge of cultural and linguistic development. Let’s not forget that both literacy (letters) and numeracy (numbers) are required for scientific research, administration, shopping, etc. Consequently,  the emphasis on creating new alphabets is, in my view, outmoded. It is sometimes more economical to just borrow from either near or far. Western Europe did just that with the Arabic numbering system. And in this 21st century, Unicode meets all —or most— written communication needs. Luckily, Pular/Fulfulde has been endowed with a Standard Alphabet since 1966. Let’s use it and let’s not try to reinvent the wheel.

Tierno S. Bah