Parmi les coupures mises en circulation par la Banque centrale de la République de Guinée, on trouve ce billet —ancien ? — de 5 000 francs.
Mais il me semble que la présentation artistique du billet est inexacte, voire médiocre au point de friser la caricature. En effet cette coupure groupe deux symboles culturels qui méritent chacun une place à part. Il s’agit du :
Jubaade, coiffure en cimier des femmes Fulɓe du Fuuta-Jalon
La notoriété de ces icônes dépasse le cadre guinéen. Au point qu’elle participe de la dimension universelle de l’art africain. En conséquence, la BCRG aurait dû apporter plus de recherche et de soin dans l’impression et la reproduction de ces fameuses images.
Dans un article monographique intitulé “L’art des Peuls” Jacqueline Delage résume le jubaade ainsi :
« Au Fouta-Djallon, le jubaade fait penser à un mobile d’Alexander Calder : les tresses et les coques sont prolongées en avant, parfois en arrière, par une sorte d’énorme papillon noir; les cheveux du dessus sont tressés en forme de cimier transparent tendu sur une lamelle de bambou arquée; des couronnes de fins anneaux et de pièces d’argent terminées par des pendants d’oreille torsadés ajoutent leur fragile éclat à cette étonnante architecture.»
Dans le billet de banque ci-dessus l’artiste a pris la liberté de cerner le front de la femme par des cauris (ceede). Mais n’est-ce pas là une violation de la tradition fuutanienne ? Car Delange ne mentionne pas l’utilisation de cauris dans le jubaade, au moins au niveau frontal. De plus, mon examen de plusieurs specimens photographiques révèle des piècettes (argent, cuivre), mais pas de cauris.
Note. Les mobiles de Calder sont des “assemblages de formes animées par les mouvements de l’air.” Cette désignation fut proposée par Marcel Duchamp lors de leur exposition à Paris en 1932. A l’opposé, les stabiles sont les sculptures stationnaires monumentales de Calder.
A noter également que Duchamp et Calder furent associés, de près ou de loin, aux mouvements artistiques et littéraires de contestation qui rejettèrent la barbarie et les atrocités de la Première Guerre mondiale (1914-1918) : surréalisme, dadaïsme, etc. On sait que les conscrits africains firent preuve de valeur et d’héroisme dans ce conflit.
Le surréalisme et le dadaisme furent adoptés par les intellectuels et les artistes d’Europe et d’ailleurs. Leurs membres les plus célèbres furent le peintre Pablo Picasso, l’antropologue “africaniste” Michel Leiris, etc.
Le surréalisme eut une influence positive sur les fondateurs de la négritude : Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor,Léon-Gontran Damas, etc. Mais ces derniers furent surtout éperonnés par le Harlem Renaissance, à travers les oeuvres de Claude McKay et Langston Hughes.
Lire Champ de tension entre littérature africaine et surréalisme : d’Aimé Césaire à Dambudzo Marechera (à paraître sur BlogGuinée)
Prononcé couramment Nimba, D’mba est le masque le plus lourd du monde. Il incarne la déesse de la fécondité chez les Baga du nord de la Basse-Guinée (Dubréka, Boffa). Cette sculpture fut l’une des sources d’inspiration des artistes et écrivains surréalistes en Europe, dont Pablo Picasso,
Lire bientôt sur BlogGuinée (a) “The Nimba Headdess: Art, Ritual, and History of the Baga and Nalu Peoples of Guinea” par Marie Yvonne Curtis et Ramon Sarro, (b) Champ de tension entre littérature africaine et surréalisme : D’Aimé Césaire à Dambudzo Marechera, par Anis Ben Amor.
En attendant, on peut consulter la section de mon site webCôte consacrée à l’oeuvre du professeur F. Lamp, de Yale University.
En somme, la présentation esthétique du billet de 5000 FNG pâle en comparaison avec la finesse et la majesté du jubaade, ainsi qu’avec les formes, les couleurs et la splendeur de l’art sculptural baga.
Dealing with the Fulɓe, this paper first appeared under the title “Fulɓe” in Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East. An Encylopedia. (pp. 96-100). John A. Shoup, ed. ABC-CLIO. Santa Barbara/Denver/Oxford. 2011. 377 pages.
This version has been edited, updated and expanded. It includes content from my “Fulbe Identity and Cultural Heritage” Project (exhibition, festival, conference, education, publishing), which I discussed with the management and staff of the National Museum of African Art and the Warren M. Robbins Library at the Smithsonian Institution, back in 2011.
See also Africa and the Semantic Web.
Fulɓe (plural) and Pullo (singular) are the proper names of this pastoral people of West and Central Africa. They specialize in cattle herding. Roaming the Sahel and the Savanna expanses, these nomadic cattle herders are named differently by their hosts or neighbors: Peul, Fula, Ful Fula, Fule, Fulani, Fellatah, and Silmiga, among others. Today, the majority of Fulɓe are sedentary and live in more than 18 African countries, from Senegal to Darfur, and from Mauritania to Cameroon. However, some groups, e.g., the Woɗaaɓe of Niger, northern Nigeria and Cameroon remain nomads.
The main Fulɓe regions are:
The overall population (Fulɓe and related communities) is estimated at 35 million people.
Fulɓe speak a noun-class language split into two dialectal regions; Pular (also Pulaar) is spoken west of the Niger River Bend, whereas Fulfulde extends east of that line; hence the Pular-Fulfulde compound name. Some dialects have up to 25 noun-classes, or substantive categories that are declined with suffixes:
debb- / gork-
debbo / gorko
woman / man
The noun-class system’s function is not limited to ordinary talk and informal communication. It extends beyond the boundary of the substantive to provide ample expressiveness resources. Thus, the suffix is relayed along the sentence and it influences the pronunciation of all dependent elements, whether grammatical (articles, pronouns) or lexical (adjectives). By chaining and repeating itself, the noun-class produces a redundant yet alliterative and rhythmic flow. This effective mechanism is recurrent in esthetic speech and verbal art performance. It is a mainstay in the folklore and lay genres (songs, tales, proverbs, legends, epics, riddles, tongue-twisters, lullabies), as well as in the sacred categories: written ajamiyya and its oral renditions (incantations, tajwid, chants, psalms, hymns).
UNESCO ranks it among Africa’s top 10 languages for numbers of speakers.
A wealth of linguistic resources enable the continued renewal of genres in both the oral (myths, legends, tales, epics, proverbs) and written ajami (meaning written in their language using Arabic script) literature. They shape and proceed from the quest for beauty, knowledge, and understanding: a hallmark of Fulɓe culture.
Folklore masters, court poets (griots) and scholars tap them to carry on a vibrant cultural heritage.
Theories on Fulɓe origins abound. And they range from outlandish and superficial to plausible and heuristic. They have been varyingly called “distinguished Semites,” “negricized” Caucasians, mysterious Hamites, a lost tribe of Israel, 12th-century dynasty Egypt, or Dravidian descendants.
Fulɓe civilization rests on four major groupings identified by the four family names: Baa, Bari, Jallo, and Soo, which correspond to the four natural elements (earth, water, fire, wind) and to the cardinal points (north, south, east, west). In contrast, ‘Haal-Pular are non-ethnic Fulɓe communities who natively speak Pulaar/Fulfulde. In Fuuta-Tooro, sociologist Yaya Wane (1969) lists hundreds of family names. Conversely, while retaining the four-tiered naming system, some Fulɓe communities (Wasulu, Khasonke) speak Mande, not Pular/Fulfulde.
Original naming matrix
Fula Wasulu correspondents
The Fulɓe population displays physical traits (skin tone, hair, facial features) characteristic of a phenotype. Typically the Fulɓe skin shade is copper-like, with a lower melanin complexion. The Pular/Fulfulde language reflects awareness of the phenomenon, hence Fulɓe consider themselves non-blacks and call their neighbors ɓaleeɓe (blacks). Yet, despite some phenotype peculiarities, it is quite certain that Fulɓe are indigenous to Africa. Accordingly, the timeline of their civilization breaks down into four periods :
Prehistory (12,000 BCE)
Antiquity (0-1450 CE)
The Middle Ages (5th-15th century CE)
Modern Times (16th – 21st century)
Fulɓe prehistory is embedded in the domestication of cattle.
In 2010, led by Dr Christine Elsik*, professor of computational biology and bioinformatics at Georgetown University (Washington, DC), a team of scientists published their report on the genome sequencing or description of the cow. The genetic sequencing proved that the bovine made a genetic switch some 15,000 years ago. The mutation meant the processing of low-quality food intake into high-grade output (milk, meat).
The taming of the bovine constituted “one of humanity’s first leap forward” (Anselin 1981). It was a watershed achievement that spurred humans’ march into civilization. Boubacar Diallo, cattle farming engineer (ingénieur d’élevage) from Guinea, participated in the landmark effort. Not that he enjoys a modern research infrastructure in his country. However, as a Fuuta-Jalon Pullo, his cooperation had a technical aspect and a symbolic value.
Between 12,000 and 5,000 year ago it is likely that M. Dialllo’s distant ancestors, the “Proto-Fulɓe”, adopted this ruminant as a lasting companion. In effect, the Pullo and the cow bonded together and became interdependent. A dictum warns that “the strength of the Pullo is in the bovine; if he loses it, he will face distress.”
Fulɓe devotion to their cattle started in the Sahara, when that region was a well-watered land with abundant green pastures. Fulɓe were among the area’s likely inhabitants. Ever since, the Pullo has stuck to the cow like a stick. As the desert advanced, they both migrated westward, leaving behind engravings of their pastoral lifestyle and hints of their cosmogony.
Archeologist Lhote (1959) was the first to associate contemporary Fulɓe with his findings in the caves of Tassili n’Ajjer (Algeria). Amadou Hampate Bâ and Germaine Dieterlen (2009, 1961) agreed. They pointed to similarities between today’s Fulɓe pastoral rites and some rock drawings. However, since rock art predates writing considerably, its analysis entails guesswork and, hence, warrants caution. Thus, scholars have expressed reservation about any Fulɓe Saharan legacy. However, they have not yet come up with a published refutation of the Bâ-Dieterlen-Lhote hypothesis.
The Bovidian period (4,500-2,500 BCE) sealed the connection between Fulɓe pastoral society and cattle herding.
Like Ancient Egyptians, Prehistory and Antiquity Fulɓe gave the cow and the sun a central role in their liturgy. Profoundly esoteric and filled with poetic metaphors, the Kumen text goes beyond the one physical sun. It has two main characters: Kumen, the bearded and dwarf “angel” is the protector of the herds; his wife, Foroforondu, is the “goddess” of milk and butter. They both make frequent references to “the adorable seven suns.”
However, unlike the Egyptians, the Fulɓe belief in Geno was monotheist through and through. Their credo was that Geno, the Supreme Being, created the universe from a drop of milk. A pantheon of adjunct deities (laareeji) oversaw animal husbandry and partook with herders in the animals’ well-being. Geno then created:
Kiikala, the first man
Naagara, the first woman
Ndurbeele, the first bovine, a hermaphrodite who procreated the first cattle of 22 animals. They multiplied to populate the world with herds
This other version of Fulɓe creation myth is found in La Femme, La Vache, La Foi (The Woman, The Cow, The Faith), Alfâ Ibrâhim Sow, ed. (1966), who writes:
In a pastoral society such as the Fulbe, the woman and the cow are inseparable; they are to be loved together because according to the legend “God created the Cow. He created the Woman, He created the Pullo. He put the Woman behind the Cow and the Pullo behind the Woman” thus creating the intimate trilogy.
Other sources call this ternary bonding a symbiosis.
Bull worship was widespread some 6,000 years ago. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an relate, differently, the incident of “The Sin of the Calf“. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai to seek God’s guidance, the Israelites, led by Aaron, sculpted a golden calf to worship. When Moses returned with the Ten Commandments and found his people around the altar, he became angry and threw down the two Tablets of Stone…
Strikingly, millennia later, leading Muslim Fulɓe thinkers (Tierno S. Mombeya, Usman ɓii Fooduye, circa 1780), A. H. Bâ (1940) and mystic Sufis would interchange the name Geno and Allah, thereby acknowledging God’ Oneness, above human diversity and beyond language barriers.
In his thoughtful Introduction of Oogirde Malal, stanza 13th, Tierno Samba writes:
Moving in on the bank of the Senegal River, Fulɓe eventually achieved a dual specialization: nomadic pastoralism and sedentary agriculturalist. Between the 5th and the 13th centuries, Fulɓe rulers led the centralized state of Takrur (mispronounced Tukulor). Running a standing army, they led the first state to convert to Islam in the sub-Saharan region. They engaged in domestic slavery and they alternated between vassalhoold and rivalry with the Ghana Empire. Takrur probably was the result of an alliance between nomadic leaders (silatigi), trail-heads (arɓe, sing. arɗo) and blacksmiths. In Kaydara Hammadi wonders aloud:
ko waɗi afo baylo wonti aga faa aga waylitii baylo;
But in the footnotes we learn that « the Blacksmith/Herder pair is embedded in the myth of the origin of the Fulani and the legend of Buytorin, their ancestor. » (note 156). It is also stated the denɗiraaku or joking relation that exists between blacksmiths and the Fulɓe (note 157).
Anyhow, the above trio transformed its power into a pastoral monarchy dominated by the herder-in-chief, the Aga, symbol of wealth, might, and wisdom. King Yero Jaaje was one such ruler in the ninth century, approximately.
Islam became religion of the court but was not practiced by the rest of the people.
Historical record indicates that a Takrur Fulɓe regiment participated in the Almoravid conquest of Southern Spain (Niane, 1984). At the peak of its hegemony, Takrur designated generically all sub-Saharan Africans in the Arabic literature.
In the 13th century, Sundiata Keita, emperor of Mali, vanquished both Ghana and Takrur. Fulɓe scattered throughout the region —all the way to Gobir, Nigeria— during an interregnum that took place with the rise of the Koli Teŋella Baa dynasty in the West. They also marched eastward, and by 1200 CE, they had arrived in Hausa country. Until circa 1600, these non-Muslim rulers controlled non-contiguous territories, from northern Senegal to western Guinea. Approximately three meters-long, the grave of one Teŋella successor is located in Telimele (Guinea).
Hymn to the Deniyaaɓe dynasty founded by Koli Teŋella Baa (Baaba Maal & Daande Leñol)
Samba Gelaajo by Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, 2001. Samba Gelaajo Jeegi is the archetype of chivalrous hero in the Fulbe culture of the Middle Ages, namely the Deeniyaaɓe dynasty of Koli Teŋella (12th-16th century). Read the special issue of Etudes Guinéennes about the Fulakunda who live on the Guinea-Senegal border. And the legend around his exemplary deeds lives on. It inspires traditional and modern contemporary artists: Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck, etc. Here, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté perform the ode to Samba. Notwithstanding his Mande family name, Ali Farka Touré was a leading cultural icon among Fulbe. Actually, entire Mande communities have retained their ethnic family name (Camara, Keita, Sylla, Touré, etc.) while adoping Fulbe language and/or culture throughout the Western Sudan. Exactly the inverse experience of the Wasulu Fula.
From the 17th century to the 19th century, Muslim Fulɓe scholars launched an Islamic hegemony that placed them to the forefront of history in the Western Sudan. The Jihad-driven movement began around 1625 in Fuuta-Ɓundu (Senegal). Then it spread out south, north, and east to Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1896), Fuuta-Tooro (1775-1885), Maasina (1804-1865), Sokoto (1814-1908), Adamawa (1815-1909), and to lesser dominions and chiefdoms. The main leaders of these Sunni theocracies were: the Sisiiɓe (Sy), Karamoko Alfa, Sulayman Baal, Sheyku Amadu, Shehu Usman ɓii Fooduye (aka Uthman dan Fodio), Moodi Adama, and last but not the least, Al-Hajj ‘Umar Taal, arguably the most erudite of these leaders, he spent twenty years learning and lecturing in the Middle-East.
Imitating the model of the Prophet Muhammad, these warriors-priests mastered the intellectual (esoteric and exoteric) and the aesthetic dimension of Islam. They proselytized and built empires. Their states ruled over stratified societies of aristocrats, free communities, castes, and captives. Critics have emphasized the practice of slavery under Fulɓe hegemony. But, on one hand, although time-immemorial, dehumanizing and reprehensible, slavery remains a universal activity. On the other hand, slavery under Fulɓe rule should not deny or negate the achievements of those leaders, who learned, taught, wrote, and upheld the spiritual and temporal duality of their system of government.
At the peak of the Fulɓe state , two great minds, Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya and Usman ɓii Fooduye (aka Usman dan Fodio), separately took Pular-Fulfulde ajami literature to new heights. Yet, at the same time, Muslim Fulɓe supremacy significantly altered pre-Islamic traditions, for example, by replacing indigenous names (people, places) with Arabic words. Furthermore, the Muslim rulers’ narrative sought to give Fulɓe an Arab ancestry. However, this move was a secular construct purposely invented by the elites to strengthen their grisp on power.
Nonetheless, in the 18th century some leading scholars questioned the prevalent rote learning in Arabic. They advocated the meaningful teaching of the masses in Pular. A fierce debate erupted between partisans and opponents of this (ajamiyya) localization. The tension was not unlike the divide between the Latin and the vulgar languages camps in medieval Europe. To make his case, Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, the standard-bearer, composed his masterwork: Oogirde Malal (The Lode of Eternal Bliss). Theologian, philosopher, artful teacher, his superb poetry flows through Classical Arabic metrics. But it yields rhymed and alliterative verses that heighten the redundancies of Pular’s rich noun class system and nuanced verbal framework. They lend themselves to regular reading, declaim, chant and recital. Their content synthesizes the dogmas and canons, codes and laws, rules and regulations of life and living in the theocratic Confederacy.
Tierno Samba and his opus became instantly popular. They gained respectively the status of an emblem and an anthem, which keeps growing with time. Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow (1971) captured the essence of this chef d’oeuvre when he wrote:
« If one hundred years following his composition, the Lode of Eternal Bliss continues to move readers of our country, it’s chiefly because of the literary vocation it bestows on Pular/Fulfulde, because of its balance, sure and elegant versification, its healthy, erudite and subtle language, and because of the national will of cultural assertion it embodies as well as the desire for linguistic autonomy and dignity that it expresses. »
As “West Africa’ master cattle herders,” the Fulɓe created an original material art and a universal intangible culture. Today that dual heritage truly stands out as a shining component of Africa’s contribution to the dialog of civilizations. Pulaaku, the bosom Fulɓe/Haal-Pular identity, is acknowledged throughout the world. It evolves with each stage: nomadic, Islamic, modern. Pulaaku encompasses more than what cursive definitions say. For instance, Monteil (1963) breaks down Pulaaku (aka fulanité) to: courage, excellence and reserve. In reality, Pulaaku runs deeper. It echoes Fulɓe eras and worldviews that are long lost.
The Fulɓe creation myths and millennia-old way of life point to a perpetual quest for enlightenment and wisdom, as expressed in verbal art, speech mastery, and abundant poetry. Hence, in the epic poem Kaydara, the journey of the hero, Hammadi, evokes the pre-Christian and Arthurian quest for the “Holy Grail,” or the search for the unattainable.
In-between the two world wars colonial ethnographers collected and published extensive records on Fulɓe history and culture. Following up on brilliant precursors, colonial administrator Gilbert Vieillard championed Fulɓe studies. After extensive fieldwork he published pioneering ethnographic works. Upon his death on the World War II front, Fulɓe Ponty graduates from Fuuta-Jalon formed the Amicale Vieillard to carry on Gilbert’s legacy. Eventually, the group switched to partisan politics in Guinea, at the dawn of the French Fourth Republic in 1946.
Slavery and colonialism were altogether aberrant and violent. And the independence series of the 1960s were supposed to reverse Europe’s Scramble for Africa in the 1880. Unfortunately, given its dismal record, African writers now that independence and the post-colonial experience have been as much a blessing as a bane. Nonetheless, Hampâté Bâ championed the promotion of Fulɓe and African oral tradition. Drawing on serendipity, tireless fieldwork and privileged access to secretive pastoral initiation rites, he wrote Kumen (1961) with G. Dieterlen.
Although short, the masterpiece fuses the Verb with the Spirit, the Act with the Idea. Thus, it nurtures the Mind and the Soul. Its form is so pristine and its substance so genuine that a critic compared “the striking poetry of the text” to “the most beautiful pages of the Bible.” (Hubert Deschamps, 1961)
Then, A.H. Bâ composed the beautiful Kaydara (1969) and Layteere Koodal (1974) epics.
Bâ’s memorable phrase « In Africa , when an elder dies, it’s a library that burns down, » was greeted around the world. UNESCO has etched it in marble at its Paris headquarters. His indefatigable efforts earned him the moniker of “pope of African oral tradition.”
In the arts, the creativity is as vibrant, as names such as Sori Bobo, Hamidou Balde, Ali Farka Touré, Bintal Laali Sow, Baaba Maal, Aly Wagué, Oumou Sy, Mamar Kassé, Cole Arɗo Sow, Oumane Sow, Oumou Sangaré, etc. contribute significantly to the vitality of the culture.
The overall roster is long. And the above listings are just indicative and by no means exhaustive. They mix living and departed authors. To the latter, Ad perpetuam rei memoriam. To the former, cheers and keep at it! To all, thank you for making Fulbe one of the most studied, published and celebrated people in Africa and perhaps in the whole world.
George Colinet. Afro-Pop Worldwide. Fula Music
Finally, Fulɓe politicians participated in the birth and the expansion of post-World War II African nationalism. In 1963, Guinea’s Telli Diallo became the first Secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union).
Beginning with his May 29, 2015 inauguration, Muhammadu Buhari becomes — after Olusegun Obasanjo — the second Nigerian General to lead the Federal Republic twice. Both officers come to power the first time in a military coup, and the second time, as elected politicians. In 1983, General Buhari toppled President Shehu Shagari, although both of them are Fulɓe.
Macky Sall, the current president of Senegal, is a Halpular.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania have had Fulɓe/Halpular heads of state.
General Murtala Mohammed was born in Kano on November 8, 1938 into the Gynawa clan of the Fulani. He was assassinated in Lagos on February 13, 1976.
Former heads of state Captain Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Alpha Oumar Konare (Mali), and the now President of the Republic of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, are all sons of Fulɓe mothers. And their fathers are respectively Mõnrè, Bamana, and Soninke.
Yet, like elsewhere on the continent, the economic prospects are bleak. Missed priorities, wrong policies and environmental disasters combine to threaten the Fulɓe way of life (Pulaaku). But various grassroots associations are active in each country and region. They fight to stem the negative trends and they strive to rise to colossal challenges.
On the Internet, dozens of Web sites publish Fulɓe content in Pular/Fulfulde and/or in European languages.
Last but not least, the Wodaaɓe face painting and male beauty contests (jeerewol ) inspire educational literature and are a main stay in world tourism. It is a fitting tribute to the originality vitality and universality of Fulɓe/Haal-Pulaar civilization.
Caveats, failures, prospects
This blog only scratches the surface of a complex and permanent field of investigation. Fulɓe’s African roots range among the deepest. Their prehistoric and contemporary presence spans at least three out of the five regions of the continent. This somewhat near ubiquity in Africa inspired the coinage of such expressions as Fulɓe Planet, Peul Archipelago… Despite the dispersion dictated by nomadism, they retained their cultural identity through time. They built alliances and complementarity with agriculturalists and other toolmakers: blacksmiths, leather workers, woodcarvers, etc. They valued fusion in Takrur, and they experienced fission with Wasulu. They faced adversity, overcame rivalry, and fought hostility…
But “life is an unfinished business” that unfolds as an imperfect —even non-perfectible process. Those truisms apply equally to individuals and communities. And Fulɓe/Halpular fit right in.
Therefore an objective, positive or upbeat account must to be balanced by an awareness of the shortcomings and failures in the Fulɓe/Halpular —past and ongoing—experience.
The failings and gaps are found in history and in present times.
Historically, Fulɓe and Africa have been stuck in the subsistence economy mode for millennia.
We learn increasingly why and how Western Europe made the – lengthy and painful — capitalist switch from subsistence economy to a wealthy society through the Industrial Revolution (18th century). The transformation was evolutionary. It dates back from the Middle Ages and it leveraged the wheel, literacy, the clock (an early automaton that has made its way into the heart of today’s digital computing and networking systems), etc.
Why the process did not spread elsewhere in the world? Why did it elude the other continents, especially Africa. Moral and psychological arguments (work ethic) and ideological claims (racial supremacy) are inconclusive and controversial. As a result, an objective and satisfactory answer is yet to be formulated. Meanwhile, the discrepancy in development between continents takes on tragic and vexing dimensions with slavery and colonialism. Those two phenomena do not simply linger on. They never ended and are still alive. And today Fulɓe and Africa find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, rich countries (Western Europe, North America, Japan and now China) are unwilling to share their knowledge, technology and financial resources. On the other, leadership —Fulɓe and African— is unwilling or unable to conquer and indigenize those prerequisites for development. Anthropologists and social scientists diagnose this behavior as “technological somnambulism”, in this case, a lack of policies aimed at embedding technology, effective and innovative tool-building processes into these societies.
Concretely, for Fulɓe this attitude translates into:
The inability to process, store and distribute dairy products (cheese, butter, meat)
The non-adoption of crops-growing techniques useful, for instance, in hay cultivation
The failure to cross-breed bovine species for enhanced milk and meat productivity
In a paper titled “The Fulani and cattle breeds: crossbreeding and heritage strategies” Jean Boutrais (2007) writes that Fulɓe “cross and change cattle breeds in order to adapt to new ecological or sociopolitical conditions.” But he focuses on grassroots practices in two ares of Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Here, I am suggesting a continental strategy and broader policies aiming to improve cattle species.
Bad habits die hard. But let’s hope for a revolution in the mindset and the attitude of African and Fulɓe economic, political, social and religious leaders. May they realistically embrace the world, reduce consumerism, increase production, lessen dependency so that, in unison, they can show the way in carving out Africa’s rightful place in the globalization era.
Tierno Siradiou Bah
Anthropologist, Fulɓe Studies
Smithsonian Institution Research Associate, National Museum of African Art. Washington, DC. (2006-2012)
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* In their report “The Genome Sequence of Taurine Cattle: A Window to Ruminant Biology and Evolution” published in Science, Christine G. Elsik, Ross L. Tellam and Kim C. Worley, members of the Bovine Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, wrote: « Domesticated cattle (Bos taurus and Bos taurus indicus) provide a significant source of nutrition and livelihood to nearly 6.6 billion humans. Cattle belong to a clade phylogenetically distant from humans and rodents, the Cetartiodactyl order of eutherian mammals, which first appeared ~60 million years ago. Cattle represent the Ruminantia, which occupy diverse terrestrial environments with their ability to efficiently convert low-quality forage into energy-dense fat, muscle, and milk. These biological processes have been exploited by humans since domestication, which began in the Near East some 8000 to 10,000 years ago. Since then, over 800 cattle breeds have been established, representing an important world heritage and a scientific resource for understanding the genetics of complex traits. » (Science, Vol. 324, no. 5926. April 2009, pp. 522-528)
Delange, J. “Fulɓe Art.” In The Arts of the Peoples of Africa. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co, 1974
Elsik, Christine G., Ross L. Tellam, and Kim C. Worley. “The Genome Sequence of Taurine Cattle: A Window to Ruminant Biology and Evolution. The Bovine Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium.” In Science 324, no. 522 (2009).
Fisher, A. Africa Adorned. New York: Harry N. Abram , Inc, 1984.
Loftdöttir, Kristin. The Bush Is Sweet: Identity, Power and Development among Woɗaaɓe Fulani in Niger. Uppsala: Nordika Afrikainstitutet, 2008.
Loftu , T. Ronan, David E. Machugh, et al. “Evidence for two independent domestications of cattle …” Evolution 91 (1994):2757-61.
Yaya Wane. Les Toucouleur du Fouta Tooro (Sénégal). Stratification sociale et structure familiale. Université de Dakar. Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire. Collection Initiations et Etudes Africaines. N°XXV. Dakar. 1969. 250 p.
Traduits en français, les prénoms Nabi Ibrahim signifient Prophète Abraham.
Nabi est une épellation française et la prononciation en sosokui (littéralement langue soso ou soussou) du nom arabe نبیnabi, qui signifie envoyé, prophète. En l’occurrence, il s’agit du second des cinq principaux prophètes de la religion musulmane :
Isâ (Jésus de Nazareth)
Muhammad (Celui qui est loué, en arabe)
Quant au nom de famille, Youla, il résulte d’une déformation du patronyme Dioula (Jula). La communauté du Moriya (Forécariya) — dont Nabi est issu — est en effet un rameau de l’aire de civilisation manding. Le rôle des Dioula est largement présenté par Yves Person dans Samori, une révolution dyula. Mais le sosokui, langue natale de Nabi Youla, convertit la consonne J (Dy) en son Y, surtout lorsque celle-ci apparaît dans la syllabe initiale du mot. C’est un aspect du phénomène universel connu sous divers noms : interférence linguistique, substitution phonétique, etc. Ainsi, en sosokui Diallo est souvent prononcé Yallo, Diariyatou change en Yariyatou, Diawara devient Yawara, Diané se transforme en Yané, etc.
Né en 1918, Nabi Youla était peut-être le dernier de la génération de Sékou Touré. Ses rôles et sa place historiques sont frappants par leur diversité et leurs contrastes.
Sportif, instituteur, jeune premier, sapeur extraordinaire (rivalisant d’élégance avec Fodéba Keita et Sékou Touré), acteur, musicien, agent de courtage, politicien, dirigeant fondateur en 1947 de la section guinéenne du Rassemblement démocratique africain (qui devint le Parti démocratique de Guinée en 1948), haut-fonctionnaire, entrepreneur, auteur, diplomate, allié, opposant, conseiller, mari, père de famille, homme de culture, sage, etc.
Sa longevité lui permit d’être tout cela, successivement et parfois simultanément. Il reçut les accolades. Et il connut la controverse. Il fut décoré et honoré. Et il essuya la critique. Ce qui n’est guère surprenant pour 96 années de présence active ici-bas.
Esquivant son portait, je concluais par la formule “Il n’est jamais tard pou bien faire.” C’était un souhait et une invitation. Proche de ses cent ans, Nabi Youla paraissait sain et lucide. Bien que l’âge l’ait fragilisé et rendu frèle.
Hélas, il a rendu l’âme en ce mois pieux du saint sacrifice du Prophète dont il est un homonyme, parmi tant d’autres.
Il a partagé un peu de sa longue expérience dans quelques écrits et des interviews. Mais considérant le spectre de ses activités (participant-observateur d’évènements cruciaux, proche collaborateur des deux premiers présidents de la Guinée), ce ne sont là que des bribes, des miettes…
En définitive, c’est la Guinée et l’Afrique qui perdent. Pour n’avoir pas su tirer profit de la vie prodigieuse de Nabi Youla.
Selon la fameuse remarque d’Amadou Hampâté Bâ, “en Afrique lorsqu’un vieillard meurt, c’est une bibliothèque qui brûle.”
De façon anthume et posthume, Nabi Youla appartient, hélas, à ce panthéon de vecteurs inexploités du savoir.
In his previous quoted opinion-piece “Africa on the Rise” Nicholas Kristof writes: “All in all, though, Africa is becoming more democratic…”
But the author gives no evidence to back his statement. In such case, as the saying goes, he is entitled to his opinions, not to the facts. And regarding democracy, in devil is in the details, not in broad proclamations, especially in Africa, .
Let’s survey briefly the continent’s political landscape.
Among other things, democracy means alternation and change in leadership. But we notice that the US-Africa Summit included several presidents who have ruled their countries since last century, i.e., when Barack Obama was in college. The list includes:
Equatorial Guinea, 1979
Burkina Faso, 1987
Other countries (DRC, Gabon, Togo) experience the hereditary presidency phenomenon. Others barely escaped it (Guinea, Senegal, Libya). Elsewhere (Congo, Cameroon, Uganda), presidential sons —not the daughters, by the way— are being groomed to succeed their father.
In Kenya, Barack Obama’s ancestral home, President Uhuru Kenyatta is on trial at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the post-election violence that left 1,200 dead and displaced 600,000 people.
In Burkina Faso and in Uganda, the Constitution is likely to be tweaked to allow another run and win by the sitting presidents.
Thus, having preceded Barack Obama in the presidential function, MM. Yoweri Museveni and Blaise Compaoré will probably be still in office in 2016, after their US counterpart has returned to private life.
That’s unthinkable in America. Popular or unpopular, successful or not, occupants of the White House come and go after a four or eight-year mandate. And life goes on in the U.S.A.
Strong institutions are better than strong men, Obama reminded wisely, in 2011, the visiting Presidents of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Niger.
All that said, many African states hold scheduled polls and enjoy regular and peaceful changes at the helm of the state.
But, how many rotten apples does it take to spoil the barrel?
Notwithstanding the exceptions, post-colonial Africa has been, overall, under the spell of a misguided leadership.
Africa’s current ruling minorities took over at the end of the colonial system beginning in the late 1950s and ending with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.
Post-colonial leaders have been unable or unwilling to steer the continent toward genuine development. Actually, their very existence means that African societies are two-layered systems. On top, one finds westernized groups (politicians, administrators, professional categories, business groups, health care specialists, educators, etc.). Fluent in the language of the former colonizer, this layer is in power. At the bottom, there are rural majorities, who speak no European languages, and who hold onto the native languages. In general, they do not read or write in their own idioms.
Note that even in regions more homogeneous, such as the Maghreb, the above divide persists, sometimes for worse. Hence, the Algerian Civil War (1991-2002) killed hundreds of thousands of peoples. It pitted traditional Islamist groups against the civilian and military elite, more open to Western governmental principles and methods. Likewise, in Egypt, a secularist military officers and the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood have been fighting each other since the aftermath of Gamal A. Nasser’s coup in 1954. Although it has known short periods of compromises, the intense rivalry has gone unabated since then. Its milestones include the hanging of the Brotherhood main theoretician, Sayyid Qutb (1966), the lethal assault on President Anwar Sadat (1981), the bloody crackdown against Morsi’s supporters (2013).
Based on the preceding, we can safely say that there are two Africa.
The USA-Africa Washington DC Summit dealt with the official and top one.
Unfortunately, this powerful group has so far answered the question “Am I my brothers/sisters keeper?” negatively.
Specifically, it has failed to eradicate illiteracy as a means of enfranchisement of the majority of citizens across Africa. …
Contrary to Kristof’s statement, Africa will become democratic only when each state has fulfilled its obligation to spread social, functional literacy among citizens.
Whether oral or written, true knowledge is valuable. But the written word has an edge over verbal communication. It gives actual meaning to the motto: knowledge is power. …
Alone, literacy is not a sufficient proof of democracy. However, it sustains the creation of open channels of communication between leaders and citizens. That, in turn, may result in productive social dialog and participatory politics.
Unfortunately, in Africa poverty and illiteracy thwart and impede the emergence of democratic societies.
In politics, literacy reduces the citizens’ dependency on official propaganda and party demagoguery. It empowers them to access diverse sources and dissenting opinions.
Oppressive regimes and systems discourage the emergence of literate citizenry.
During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, slaves were prohibited from learning to read and write.
In the aftermath of the Abolition of slavery, the Jim Crow laws and the Literacy Tests prevented Blacks from acquiring literacy. They established tricky tests aimed at voiding the registration and/or ballot of African-Americans.
In Africa, illiteracy has been the breeding ground for poverty, ignorance and authoritarian rule and dictatorship.
Voters depend on false oral information, rumors, and ethnic affinities in casting their ballot.
Politicians play on ethnic sensibilities to win votes and hang on to power.
Political campaigns are not necessarily based on elaborate programs and relevant socioeconomic projects. On the contrary, they consist in ephemeral tours and rallies, which set the stage for empty promises and stale speeches.
Once the electoral campaign over, the country goes back to business as usual, i.e. the neglect of the vital needs of the peasantry.
This is not new. Back in the 1960s, in his landmark Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon, accurately characterized and predicted the failures of the African petite-bourgeoisie in the chapter “National Consciousness”.
His scathing but accurate portrayal fits the Republic Guinea, then and now, like hand and glove.
Insincere and opportunistic, the regime of President Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958-1984), run successively, but unsuccessfully, two literacy campaigns. The Shah of Iran financed the first operation in 1964. It led to a dead-end. In 1968, Sekou Toure ordered the substitution of French by the local languages in schools, without any preparation whatsoever. Never mind the confusion and chaos created but the abrupt measure in the minds of parents and students. It was fine as long as it allowed him to score a fictional political victory against imperialism.
From 1968 to his death at the Cleveland Heart Clinic in 1984, compilations of Sekou Toure’s ideological speeches replaced literary and philosophy books and manuals in high-school and in university curricula.
Meanwhile, personality cult, nepotism, corruption, impunity, human rights violations, torture and death at the Boiro Concentration Camp, did the rest to ruin Guinea.
At his inauguration in 2010, President Alpha Condé —Sekou Touré’s fourth successor— promised the revival of literacy campaigns and support for literacy in the indigenous Mande Nko writing system.
During the first two of his five-year term, Alpha Condé ignored the country’s hinterland. He visited it only on the eve of the legislative elections. People made the connection between his presence and the scheduled poll. Disappointed, some youth booed and heckled him in his electoral stronghold of Kankan. True to his impulsive temperament, he lost control. Responding angrily, he awkwardly taunted back his challengers.
If President Condé showed reluctance to touch base with the Guinean populations, he was, on the contrary, eager to jet around the world. In the 2010-2012 period, he made dozens of trips abroad.
In July 2013, violent ethnic confrontations erupted in the Forest region. More than a hundred people died. Many more sustained serious injuries amid widespread property destruction. Instead of rushing to stop the conflict, comfort mourning families and visit the wounded, he flew to an ECOWAS Summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
Finally, despite the ongoing Ebola crisis in Guinea, he opted for travelling to Washington, DC. His peers from Liberia and Sierra Leone stayed at home to monitor the epidemic. Yet, it is commonly known and scientifically established that Southeastern Guinea is the epicenter of the virus in West Africa.
Under Mr. Conde’s administration the living standards of the populations have declined.
Meanwhile, a series of dubious financial dealings have come to light. They include revelations about the licensing schemes for the Simandou’s rich iron ore deposits. The scandal originated with the late dictator, General Lansana Conté and his fourth wife, Mamadie Touré. But it is still unfolding and it may not spar Guinea’s sitting president.
Bottom line, since 2010, Guineans have learned that they can expect little from (a) M. Condé’s casual and derelict attitude toward them and, among other things, their unmet literacy needs (b) his obsession with mining in the land of the so-called “geological scandal.”