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

Fulani Proverbial Lore and Word-Play

D. W. Arnott first published this paper in 1957 under the title “Proverbial Lore and Word-Play of the Fulani” (Africa. Volume 27, Issue 4, October 1957, pp. 379-396). I have shortened it a bit for web search engines.
Only the summaries are posted here, pending publication of the full text of the document.
See also: In Memoriam  Professor D. W. Arnott (1915-2004)
Tierno S. Bah


The wit and wisdom of the Fulani, as of other African peoples, are expressed most characteristically in their proverbs and riddles. Their proverbs are amply illustrated by the collections of H. Gaden and C. E. J. Whitting, and a selection of riddles appeared in a recent article in Africa by M. Dupire and the Marquis de Tressan. But there are other types of oral literature—both light and serious—which various writers have mentioned, without quoting examples. So Mlle Dupire refers to formes litteraires alambiquées and ritournelles des enfants Bororo, and G. Pfeffer, in his article on ‘Prose and Poetry of the Fulbe,’ speaks of jokes and tongue-twisters. The aim of this article is to present some examples of these types of proverbial lore and word-play—epigrams, tongue-twisters, and chain-rhymes—which were recorded, along with many more riddles and proverbs, in the course of linguistic research during a recent tour of the Fula-speaking areas of West Africa, and to consider their relation to proverbs and riddles. These types of oral literature are of course by no means peculiar to the Fulani, and a number of the examples here quoted may well have parallels in other languages of West Africa or farther afield. But an examination of such pieces in one language may perhaps contribute something to the general study of this kind of lore.

Proverbes et devinettes peules

Bien que les proverbes et les devinettes soient l’expression la plus caractéristique de l’esprit et de la sagesse des Peuls, il existe d’autres types de littérature orale—des épigrammes, des phrases difficiles à prononcer et des rimes enchaînées — qui partagent certaines particularités avec eux.
Les devinettes ne sont pas basées sur un jeu de mots, comme la plupart des devinettes anglaises, mais sur un jeu d’idées ou d’images (généralement visuelles, mais quelquefois auditives, ou une combinaison des deux), la comparaison de deux phénomènes qui se ressemblent par leur situation, leur caractère ou leur comportement. Quelquefois la devinette est posée en termes généraux et celui qui veut la résoudre doit trouver la particularité appropriée; mais ordinairement une particularité est donnée et celui qui cherche à résoudre la devinette doit choisir correctement ses traits saillants et trouver un autre objet ayant les mêmes traits.

De même, certains proverbes énoncent un principe général, mais la grande majorité, tout en donnant un exemple d’un principe général, sont exprimés en termes d’une situation particulière. Leur application à d’autres situations entraîne un procès de comparaison analogue à celui associé avec l’invention et la solution de devinettes.

Les épigrammes, comme les proverbes, sont des considérations aphoristiques sur la vie, mais elles sont plus longues et plus compliquées. Elles consistent en un rapprochement de plusieurs phénomènes ayant des caractéristiques générales en commun qui sont habituellement disposés par trois ou par groupes de trois ; les caractéristiques générales peuvent être décrites ou rester implicites, tandis qu’un troisième type classe plusieurs objets apparentés en catégories nettes.

Ces épigrammes ont une structure formelle typique et diverses autres particularités qui les distinguent du langage ordinaire, et qu’ils partagent dans une mesure plus ou moins grande avec les proverbes et les devinettes — une légère anomalie grammaticale, une régularité cadencée et certains procédés stylistiques, tels que la répétition des phrases parallèles et l’assonance basée sur l’utilisation de suffixes identiques.

La structure de la langue peule se prête à de telles assonances et également à la ‘ jonglerie ’ verbale de phrases difficiles à prononcer, tandis que la subtilité de celles-ci égale l’ingénuosité des rimes enchaînées. Ces dernières consistent en un enchaînement d’idées où le dernier mot de chaque ligne évoque le thème de la ligne suivante. Elles montrent également quelques unes des particularités stylistiques et autres, déjà constatées dans les épigrammes, les proverbes et les devinettes. Ainsi, les divers types de littérature orale peule, dont certains sont frivoles et d’autres sont sérieux, sont rapprochés par ces caractéristiques communes comme des éléments intimement liés d’une seule tradition littéraire.

D.W. Arnott

Gambia, Och-Ziff, Guinea, Niger, Chad, RDC

Former president Yahya Jammeh departs Banjul, Jan. 21
Former president Yahya Jammeh departs Banjul, Jan. 21

President Alpha Condé stepped  in the Gambian post-electoral crisis at the last minute. He and Mauritanian president “convinced” former president Yahya Jammeh to yield to President Adama Barrow  and head into exile.
In Conakry, people quickly credited President Condé, deeming it a foreign policy victory. Unfortunately, they have little to say in support of their allegation.  Actually, Yahya was caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he had long lost credibility and now the vote of the majority of citizens. On the other, and if it came to that, ECOWAS military forces were determined to remove Mr. Jammeh from the presidential palace.

It appears now that all Jammeh wanted was to keep his stolen money and ill-gotten luxury goods. He has amassed immense personal wealth at the expense of the Gambian people.

Tactically though, ECOWAS agreed to last minute negotiations that involved General Idriss Déby Itno, president of Chad since 1990, who offered a freight plane to transport Yahya cherished possessions to Malabo.
Once that deal was sealed, Jammeh, escorted by Alpha Condé, flew out of Banjul into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Mindful of Jammeh’s post-electoral illegitimacy and greedy bargaining, African presidents simply acknowledged his departure. They did not celebrate the event, nor did they use it as a domestic politics scoring game. Only Alpha Condé and his cronies  resorted to such gimmicks and nonsense.

A case in point, President has appointed Tibou Kamara —Yahya Jammeh brother-in-law— as one of his many counselors, an empty title due to the lack of functions. Yesterday, political enemies, the two men are now allies. The pair has come to realize that the same personal and sterile ambition drives them. Birds of the same feathers flock together.

Anyhow, there are lessons to be learned from African dictators’ fall from grace. In 2014, it was the popular insurrection against Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso. And now, after a stunning electoral defeat, Yahya Jammeh reneged and tried to hang on to power. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN would have none of it.

Mr. Condé has been dogged lately by revelations about his own suspicious wheeling and dealing in the Simandou  corruption scandal.

A federal court in Brooklyn has charged Michael Cohen and Vanja Baros, executives of Hedge Fund giant Och-Ziff, for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2010 Och-Ziff wired millions of dollars to the Swiss bank account of a French lobbyist, and former adviser to President Condé.
That payment has been linked to other Och-Ziff corruption allegations in Niger, Chad  and the DRC. Will Alpha Condé face a political fallout and judicial implications for his financial schemes?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, just like Blaise and Yahya before hime, Alpha should remember this: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Tierno S. Bah

Hedge Fund Execs Charged in Multi-Million Dollar Bribery Scheme

U.S. securities regulators on Thursday accused two former executives at hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management of masterminding a far-reaching scheme to pay tens of millions of dollars in bribes to African officials.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Michael Cohen, who headed Och-Ziff’s European office, and Vanja Baros, a former analyst, of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The lawsuit came after Och-Ziff agreed in September to pay $412 million to resolve U.S. investigations relating to the hedge fund’s role in bribing officials in several African countries.

That settlement led to a subsidiary of Och-Ziff pleading guilty to participating in a scheme to bribe officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what prosecutors said marked the first U.S. foreign bribery case against a hedge fund.

In its lawsuit, the SEC said Cohen, 45, and Baros, 44, from 2007 to 2012 caused bribes to be paid to officials in Libya, Chad, Niger, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo through agents, intermediaries, and business partners.

Those bribes were paid to secure a $300 million investment from the Libyan Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund; an investment in a Libyan real estate development project; and to secure mining deals, the SEC said.

Ronald White, a lawyer Cohen, said in a statement he “has done nothing wrong and is confident that when all the evidence is presented, it will be shown that the SEC’s civil charges are baseless.”

A lawyer for Baros did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An Och-Ziff spokesman declined to comment.

In settling in September, Och-Ziff entered a deferred prosecution agreement, in which charges related to conduct in several countries would be dropped after three years if it followed the deal’s terms.

Och-Ziff CEO Daniel Och meanwhile agreed with the SEC to pay $2.17 million, and the commission also settled with the company’s chief financial officer.

To date, only one individual has been criminally charged in connection with the probe, Samuel Mebiame, a son of the late former Gabon Prime Minister Leon Mebiame who prosecutors say acted as a “fixer” for a joint-venture involving Och-Ziff.

In December, Mebiame pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, admitting he schemed to provide “improper benefits” to officials in African countries such as Guinea in exchange for obtaining business opportunities.


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 pular I 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 newotoo Because  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:

  • ɓ
  • ɗ
  • ƴ
  • ŋ

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?


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

Théodore Monod. Plaidoyer pour la diversité

Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1901-1991) avec son ami Pr Théodore Monod (1902-2000) ancien membre de l'Académie des Sciences et professeur honoraire au Muséum.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1901-1991) avec son ami Pr Théodore Monod (1902-2000) ancien membre de l’Académie des Sciences et professeur honoraire au Muséum.

Le texte ci-dessous illustre et appuie la réflexion sur le pastoralisme et la quête du Pulaaku. Lire Promotion du pastoralisme Fulɓe (Peul), Réflexion sur le pastoralisme. Le Talon d’Achille, Fulɓe and Africa … Son auteur, Théodore Monod, créa l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) à Dakar en 1936. Il dirigea et développa l’institution pendant des décennies, collaborant de près avec Gilbert Vieillard, et associant un jeune Africain de son âge : Amadou Hampâté Bâ. Commencée en pleine Deuxième Guerre mondiale (1939-1945) la collaboration et l’amitié des deux chercheurs ne prit fin qu’avec leur disparition physique. Mais leur énorme contribution reste un trésor inépuisable de ressources et une grande source d’inspiration.

Tierno S. Bah

Plaidoyer pour la diversité

Quel thème choisir pour cette brève intervention ? J’avoue avoir été fort embarrassé et en lisant le titre : « Les apports occidentaux », je me suis demandé s’il s’agissait des conquêtes de la technologie et de leurs limites, ou de la diffusion à travers le monde d’une certaine notion de progrès, tenu pour ne devant jamais s’arrêter, même s’il doit conduire aux gaspillages les plus scandaleux, aux barbaries les plus scientifiques et à une course aux armements devenue démentielle. Ou bien d’un apport occidental plus soucieux des valeurs humaines les plus solides, celles qui échappent au règne de la quantité et à la religion de ce qui se pèse, se mesure et, bien entendu, se vend, c’est-à-dire qui songent à côté du sacro-saint PNB (Produit National Brut) à un paramètre trop rarement évoqué, le BNB, le bonheur national brut.

La logique productiviste de notre matérialisme a-t-elle le droit de prétendre à une application universelle ? Dans un article paru dans Les Etudes en 1976, René Bureau a noté l’importance de la distinction à faire entre ce que l’on appelait autrefois « pays sous-développés » et ce qu’il appelle, lui, « pays autrement développés ». Car « sous-développés » par rapport à quel modèle ?

René Bureau (1929-2004), ethno-sociologue
René Bureau (1929-2004), ethno-sociologue

La civilisation de la bombe atomique et du plutonium serait-elle axiomatiquement « la » Civilisation ? Bureau rejette donc le progrès défini comme un simple accroissement des biens matériels, et comme une production indéfiniment croissante, fût-ce au prix d’une dégradation des rapports humains, sans parler de l’environnement.
Il oppose la civilisation, domaine de l’avoir, et la culture, domaine de l’être. La première, porteuse d’ordre et de contrainte, est uniformisante; la seconde est personnifiante et diversifiante. C’est l’opposition bien connue entre la sagesse et la puissance, entre le plus et le mieux. L’uniformité et l’unité ne sont pas la même chose. L’unité est une somme vivante de diversités, et Teilhard de Chardin disait que pour s’unir il faut se savoir différents.

Ces remarques pourraient paraître un peu philosophiques, encore que les projets les plus concrets devraient s’insérer dans une vision générale de l’homme et du monde. Mais nous en sommes arrivés trop souvent à réaliser d’abord, et à réfléchir ensuite. D’où cette aberration morale qui consiste aujourd’hui à faire les choses uniquement parce qu’on peut matériellement les faire, discutable justification pour un Homo soi-disant sapiens.

Je voudrais maintenant évoquer un sujet africain, qui me paraît grave : celui du nomadisme pastoral et de son avenir.
On a parlé, à juste titre, ces dernières années, de la sécheresse dans une partie de l’Afrique. Mais il faut distinguer du désert vrai les régions sahéliennes. Dans le désert vrai, où il y a peu d’habitants, s’est établi au cours des siècles une sorte d’équilibre entre le pouvoir d’agression de l’homme, soit directement, soit par l’intermédiaire de son bétail, et le pouvoir de régénération du couvert végétal. Autrement dit, les hommes vont partout, mais ils ne vont pas partout en même temps et ils sont relativement peu nombreux.

Il y a quelques années, l’Unesco avait donné la possibilité à ce qui était l’Institut français d’Afrique noire (IFAN) de créer dans l’Adrar de Mauritanie des parcelles protégées permettant de suivre l’évolution naturelle de la végétation. Nous avions établi plusieurs enclos, protégés de grillages, dans des biotopes différents, sur le sable, sur le calcaire, dans des fonds argileux. Dès qu’on soustrait un espace à l’action des hommes et des bêtes, on constate très vite des modifications, et en particulier les arbres se développent. Cela montre que même dans le climat actuel, si la végétation n’était pas soumise à une agression trop violente et trop insistante, le couvert végétal serait différent de ce que nous voyons.

L’action de l’homme est évidente et une ville dévore énormément de bois. Au Sahel, il y a eu excès de bétail, mais c’était autrefois une assurance pour le nomade. Ce bétail était savamment réparti, la propriété dispersée de façon à l’assurer contre les dangers qui la menacent, autrefois bien plus nombreux qu’aujourd’hui. Il y avait d’abord le rezzou, l’expédition de pillage, presque une industrie : on organisait un grand rezzou comme on monte une société par actions. Il y avait les maladies, les sécheresses.

Un nomade privé de la totalité de son troupeau ne peut repartir. S’il reste quelques animaux après le rezzou, la sécheresse ou l’épidémie, le nomade a la possibilité de reprendre une activité normale. Il ne suffit pas de multiplier les puits pour résoudre les problèmes. Certains puits nouveaux ont amené une telle concentration de troupeaux qu’une mobilisation des sables est intervenue et qu’il y a autour de ces puits une large auréole désertifiée.

Il n’est pas question bien entendu de nier les apports possibles de la science et de la technique même dans le domaine de ce pastoralisme africain. On peut songer à des rotations de pâturage, au problème du foin dans les régions sahéliennes où il pleut tous les ans. On peut penser à des plantations d’arbres, à la multiplication par semis d’espèces utiles, etc. Il y a aussi la zootechnie, mais c’est peut-être l’amélioration de la santé des bêtes qui a amené un excès de bétail dans certaines zones.

Un point me semble capital. Oui, on peut aider efficacement, mais à condition que les projets soient compris et acceptés par les principaux intéressés, et assimilés par leurs traditions culturelles. Toute solution artificielle, coercitive, purement administrative ne pourrait que susciter des conflits. C’est tout le problème de la sédentarisation 1. Beaucoup de pays où existent des nomades sont tentés par cette formule. Le nomade est rarement bien vu des administrations centrales. Il vit autrement que les bons citoyens plus dociles et ne facilite pas la tâche du percepteur ou du gendarme. Il se peut que le nomadisme pastoral qui repose sur une adaptation écologique remarquable soit condamné à disparaître.
Souhaitons au moins qu’il ne succombe pas simplement aux intrusions d’une économie mercantile prête à faire bon marché des identités comme des richesses d’un groupe humain détenteur d’une irremplaçable expérience.
Espérons en tous les cas que les techniciens étrangers, qui sont parfois si sûrs de leur science, et les lointains bureaux administratifs, sachent effectuer à temps les choix intelligents qui s’imposent.

Pr Théodore Monod
Revue Tiers Monde, t. XX, n° 78, Avril-Juin 1979, pp. 260-262

1. La question est alors : le nomadisme ou rien, l’élevage nomade étant ici non seulement la meilleure forme d’exploitation des ressources naturelles, mais la seule.