William Derman
Serfs, Peasants, and Socialists:
A former Serf Village in the Republic of Guinea

University of California Press. 1968. 280 p.

Geography and History

The physical setting

The Fouta-Djallon, now the province of Middle Guinea (Moyenne Guinée), has been subject to long and intensive human occupation. Throughout the central Fouta-Djallon, villages are rarely separated by more than a few kilometers and the isolated hamlet has become quite rare. There are few forests, as the land has been cultivated time and time again.
The Fouta-Djallon can be subdivided into three geographical areas :

  • the central and northern plateaus (in the regions of Dalaba, Pita, and Labe)
  • the eastern plateaus (in the regions of Timbo, Dalaba and Tougué) and
  • the western transition areas of the regions of Gaoual, Telimele, and Kindia.

The central and northern plateaus often are denuded of trees, intensively cultivated, and relatively densely populated. Here sedentarization has been fairly complete since the early nineteenth century. The altitude of this area varies from 1000 to 1515 meters, the highest in Guinea, and the terrain is marked by river valleys that extend into the province of Upper Guinea. In this area is the historic capital of the Fouta, Timbo, and Fougoumba, the place where the almamys, rulers of the Fouta-Djallon confederation, received the turban of office. The population density of the eastern plateau was, and is, less than the central.
In the past, there were three different kinds of villages:

  • the misiide, where the mosque, and usually the residence of a chief were built
  • the fulasoo, a Fulɓe village
  • the runde, a serf village

All three kinds of villages were constructed in the same manner, but the Fulɓe village was usually on high ground, and the serf village on lower ground. The misiides were invariably on strategically important high ground overlooking large areas. Villages were and are permanent, and the history of each compound in a village is known precisely.
The climate of the Fouta is tropical, but because of the altitude there is neither overwhelming heat during the dry season, nor continuous rain during the rainy season. The rainy season is from May through November, but most of the rain falls during the July, August, and September. According to Guinean government figures the average yearly rainfall at Labe from 1959 to 1962 was 207.9 centimeters.
The population density of the Fouta-Djallon varies greatly from area to area. The highest density is found on the central plateaus, where the village of Hollaande is located. As of the last census in 1962, the population of the region of Labe was 271,632 people in an area of 7,616 square kilometers. This is a density of 35.6 inhabitants per square kilometer. Although the density of the region of Labe is high, it is not the highest in the Fouta-Djallon. Just south of Labe on the same plateau, but in the region of Pita, is an area known as Bantinhel, which has a density greater than 68 inhabitants per square kilometer (Richard-Molard 1951: 101).
There is another demographic statistic for the Fouta-Djallon of great interest. Jacques Richard-Molard observed that the greater the density of population in an area of the Fouta, the greater the percentage of serfs in the population. In his enquiry he found that serfs comprised 35.6 percent of the population of Labe whereas in the canton of Djimma (Koubia) in the eastern Fouta he comprised 29 percent. I agree with Richard-Molard’s conclusion that the percentage of serfs grew with the density of population and that the highest percentages of serfs were to be found in proximity to political and military centers such as Labe where the leaders took the lion’s share of the booty of war (1951: 104).
In order to place Hollaande in its proper social and political context the traditional, the colonial, and the modern administrative organization must be considered. Traditionally, Hollaande was a satellite village of Popodara, the village where the mosque was located and where the chief of the area resided. Hollaande in Fulfulde means « plain ». In particular it refers to those plains that absorb water and become muddy during the rainy season. Popodara was part of the diiwal (traditional province) of Labe, which was much larger than the present region of Labe. After their conquest of the Fouta-Djallon the French adopted a different governing scheme. Ultimately they formed the Cercle de Labe, which was divided into fifteen cantons. One of these cantons was called Hoore Komba, but was also known as Popodara. The village of Popodara was the residence for the French-appointed chef de canton, or « chief ». This system was brought to an end with the achievement of independence.
Today the Fouta-Djallon is one of the four provinces of Guinea – Middle Guinea. (The other three provinces are Maritime (or Lower) Guinea, Forested Guinea, and Upper-Guinea). Middle Guinea is divided into a number of smaller administrative units known as régions. Hollaande is located in the region of Labe
The villages are now grouped into committees, which are the functioning political groups in the countryside. There is now a Committee of Popodara, but it is tiny in size compared to the area and numbers of people formerly under the chef de canton. The size of committees approximates the size of the traditional groupings of villages around a mosque. However, the division of villages into committees has not necessarily followed the older lines of where people go to pray. Whereas the village of Hollaande was formerly directly under Popodara, Popodara is now in one committee, and Hollaande in another.
Popodara has served as the commercial center for the surrounding area, and the school and infirmary are there. To the south and east of Popodara is the Regional Farm of Labe. Founded by the French in 1935, it is presently a government farm which serves as a source of employment for the local people. At the farm there is also a primary school and a new College d’Enseignement Rural.
A village that was a political and religious center during both traditional and colonial times, Popodara dominates its environs physically, being located on a hill that overlooks the plains and valleys in all directions. Both the mosque and the chief’s former residence are located on the highest point in the surrounding area. Popodara no longer retains the political dominance it had during traditional and colonial times; the former chief still lives there, but he no longer has any real authority.
As one looks at the countryside from Popodara, one sees villages that seem, from a distance, to be wooded areas. The forests, however, have been destroyed over a long period of time by the peoples who have inhabitated the Fouta, the extent of deforestation having increased even within the lifetime of the oldest men. My older informants were all very specific as to areas that are now treeless but which formerly were wooded. They attributed the deforestation to the great increase in the number of people.
The village of Hollaande lies one kilometer to the south of Popodara on a road built in the 1930s for a chef de canton, Alfa Yaya. The physical and social relation of Hollaande to Popodara can be exemplified by the fact that during the rainy season all the water from Popodara flows downhill to Hollaande, turning much of the land into mud, while Popodara remains dry. The inhabitants of Popodara maintained that they would never go to Hollaande during the rainy season because of the mud. (The social implications of this statement will be discussed later.)
Hollaande lies against a small hill, where the market is located, and spreads out onto a plain that ends rather abruptly about one kilometer from the village where the terrain descends sharply into a large valley known as aynde Sombili or « Sombili river valley ».
Two roads pass through the village of Hollaande.

  • The first, still used for vehicle traffic, was constructed with forced labor by a chef de canton so he could drive his automobile to his private gardens, which he also had built with forced labor.
  • The second road was built by the French in an attempt to bypass a bridge on the Senegal road which was continually being washed out. However, after they had constructed several kilometers of the alternative route and thus split the village of Hollaande in two, they decided against the alternative. As a result of the French mistake Hollaande was divided in two, and several inhabitants were forced to move their compounds. The former-serf villagers still speak bitterly of both road projects, and state that the Fulɓe did not have to provide most of the forced labor for the chief’s road or provide the shelter and food for the workers who built it.

Hollaande, with the exception of the two dividing roads, is now made up mainly of contiguous compounds. It has a population of 319 people who live in 129 houses. This represents a large and rapid increase in population during the recent past. Formerly the village limits were smaller and the compounds were not contiguous. At first, houses were built only on the tops of the termite hills that dot the plain so as to avoid their standing in water during the rainy season, which would have made them wet and uncomfortable and led to their rapid deterioration. However, building on termite hills had its obvious disadvantages, for the termites in the Fouta eat both the wood of the houses and the mud brick of which they are built. Then during the 1920S and 30s the pattern changed in a way unknown to me; houses were no longer built on the termite hills and villagers began building rock foundations two to three feet high for their houses. The houses are now dry and are no longer eaten by termites. Moreover, they now stand a minimum of twelve years without repairs. Further, the technological innovation in the building of houses gave a new appearance to the village. The houses are no longer dispersed, located on the tops of separated termite hills. The construction of rock foundations permitted the occupation of areas between termite hills, and the village coalesced as it grew, rather than expanding and dispersing, as would have been the case if the older pattern of housebuilding had continued.

The historical setting

To provide a background for the discussion of a present-day village of former serfs, I shall attempt a brief reconstruction of Fulɓe society in 1880 based on accounts of French administrators and interviews with older informants. Crucial institutions of the precolonial period are now often unknown to young people. The description that follows is more an « ideal » view of the nineteenth century than of the « actual » organization.

Precolonial social and political organization

The Fulɓe entered the Fouta-Djallon as cattle pastoralists, filtering in from what is now the Republic of Mali during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Until that time the Fouta-Djallon had been inhabited by an agricultural people known as the Diallonke or Yalunka . A symbiotic relation, typical between cattleherders and cultivators, developed between the Fulɓe pastoralists and the Diallonke cultivators. The Fulɓe exchanged milk and manure for grains and rights to pasturage. According to Fulɓe legends, they were not Islamic during this period, and they regarded themselves as guests in the lands of the Diallonke. The relatively peaceful relations between the two peoples ended in war. In what was probably the first Fulɓe-led jihad in West Africa, beginning around 1727, Muslim Fulɓe defeated and expelled the Diallonke . Despite Fulɓe claims in the Tarikas (written history in this context) extolling the swiftness and decisiveness of their victory one reads in the same Tariika that the Diallonke were « decisively defeated » in the same place four times over a period of many years. In fact, the warring between the Fulɓe and the « pagan » Diallonke for control of the Fouta-Djallon appears to have lasted for fifty years, although little is known of the chronology of the jihad. The Islamization of the Fouta and the sedentarization of much of the Fulɓe population seems to have taken place at around the same time. Thus in a relatively short period pagan Fulɓe pastoralists groups became sedentary Islamic communities
The resistance to the Muslims was led by the Diallonke and some pagan Fulɓe (the Poulli) with allies from the Susu, Baga, and Foulakounda, as well as from the Malinke and Wassoulanke . The conquered Diallonke, Susu, and Poullis were reduced to serfdom (except for their earliest allies, who managed to keep their lands, and the last-minute converts, who lost their land but kept their freedom). Those who escaped went to the border territories – the Susu toward the coast and the Diallonke toward the east
Sometime during the course of the jihad, when the victory of the Muslim Fulɓe was no longer in doubt, an assembly of the nine chiefs of the Muslim groups (accompanied undoubtedly by close important kinsmen) gathered to prepare the constitution for a confederation of the Fouta-Djallon. The name Fouta-Djallon probably indicates a union of Fulɓe and Diallonke elements (Suret-Canale n.d.: 73). The nine Muslim groups became the nine traditional provinces of the Fouta-Djallon confederation:

Chosen from among the nine chiefs of the Muslim groups, now chiefs of the nine provinces, was one chief to head the entire Fouta-Djallon. He was referred to as the almamy Fouta. Almamy was used in two senses: to designate either the head of the Fouta-Djallon, or the religious head of a mosque. The individual chosen to be the first almamy was Ibrahima Sambegu of Timbo, known historically as Karamoko Alfa. Thereafter the office of head of Timbo and almamy Fouta remained together. Whosoever became almamy Fouta also became chief of the province of Timbo. Only those who were direct descendants of a province chief could become a province chief, and only those who were sons of an almamy Fouta were eligible to become almamy Fouta.
The power of the almamy Fouta outside of his own province of Timbo was limited. He served as the organizer for the defense of the Fouta from outside enemies. His authorization was needed when province chiefs wanted to war or to trade outside the Fouta. The office of almamy also provided the means for the resolving of inter-province conflicts and the most important prerogaive of the almamy was the nomination of the other province chiefs. But, in all his acts the almamy was controlled by a council of elders (teekun) who had the ultimate right to depose the almamy (Demougeot 1944: 16).
Each province chief was equal in stature to the chiefs of the other provinces, all being the direct patrilineal descendants of the nine leaders of the jihad. The chief of each province had his own army and source of wealth. However, differences in power existed among the chiefs due to the variation in the size and wealth of the provinces. The largest province in terms of both area and popuIation, and possibly in terms of power, was not the almamy‘s province of Timbo, but Labe.
Each province was divided into clusters of villages, each cluster having a mosque as its religious and political center. Each cluster of villages around its mosque was known as a misiide. The word misiide is used by the Fulɓe in two senses: a cluster of villages around a mosque, or a village that has a mosque. Each misiide was headed by a chief, landho misiide, who was a member of the patrilineage of the chief of that province. The chief of the misiide was appointed by the province chief from among the eligible candidates. With each misiide were three kinds of villages:

  • the misiide proper, the village with the mosque
  • the fulasoo or marga, a village inhabited by Fulɓe but without a mosque; and
  • the runde, a village of serfs.

This set of units – diiwal, misiide, fulasso, runde – furnishes the basic territorial grid of the Fouta-Djallon after Islamization. Those who have written about the Fouta-Djallon have described its sociopolitical organization as feudal (Vieillard 1939, 1940; Arcin 1911; Marty 1921, and Suret-Canale 1961) or theocratic (Sow 1966). Suret-Canale (1964: 21-42) has reconsidered his view and now argues that there are many African groups who can be included under the rubric of the Asiatic Mode of Production. The Fulɓe of the Fouta-Djallon do not lend themselves to an easy classification, but in terms of the evolution of the Fouta-Djallon one can view the political territorial organization as having been superimposed upon an earlier kin organization. These two principles were always in contradiction; their synthesis was never attained. Cantrelle and Dupire reached a similar conclusion:

This patriarchal structure [refers to patrilineages, see below] is itself contained in a hierarchical political organization. There isn’t any rupture between the primitive organization of these herders who became Muslim conquerors, and their new religious and political forms that were implanted and then came to dominate the Fouta. Hereditary social power, political power, and religious supremacy were united in the hands of several noble families (1964: 75). (All translations, unless otherwise noted, are mine.)

In sum, the state never became fully distinct from the earlier kin organization.
The kin organization of the Fouta-Djallon was based on patrilineages. These were:

  • the lenyol, the maximal patrilineage;
  • the gorol, the major patrilineage; and
  • the suudu, the minimal patrilineage.

A lenyol is a geographically dispersed, patrilineal, agamous group with descent demonstrable from a common male ancestor.
There were at least forty maximal patrilineages within the region of Labe.
The distribution of a maximal lineage, was not restricted to one province. The maximal patrilineages were grouped into three ranked categories, each having a defined sociopolitical and economic status:

  • the chiefly maximal patrilineage
  • the free maximal patrilineages (Fulɓe lasiliibhe); and
  • Fulɓe of the bush (Fulɓe buruure).

To these three can be added the fourth rank of

  • serf (mattyudo).

There was a ruling, or chiefly, maximal lineage for each province. The maximal lineage of the almamy Fouta, the Seidiyanke, was not the maximal lineage of the other province chiefs; rather, there were five different maximal lineages that provided the chiefs of the other provinces. The Khalduyanke provided the chiefs for Labe, Kankalabe, and Kollaadhe. Although the chieftainship in a province was limited to one maximal lineage, the residence of members of the chiefly lineage of one province was not limited to that province. Thus one finds members of the Khalduyanke living in Timbi where another maximal patrilineage provided the chief. The Khalduyanke in Labe provided both the province chief and the chief of each misiide. Accession to chieftainship was governed by a rule based upon genealogical closeness to a former chief. While the specifics of succession must remain beyond the scope of this study, it should be pointed out that succession to office was complicated by a division within all the chiefly maximal lineages between Soroya and Alfaya. This factionalism apparently had its roots in the succession to the almamy-ship after the death of the second almamy. The first almamy, Karamoko Alfa, went mad and was succceded by his father’s brother’s son Sory. Upon the death of Sory there was a struggle between the sons of Sory and Karamoko Alfa for the succession. This resulted in the formation of two factions:

  • the Alfayas, those loyal to the descendants of Karamoko Alfa, and
  • the Soriyas, those loyal to the descendants of Sory.

The lasiliibhe, the free maximal lineages (or literally « the free men »), were reckoned from those leaders who elected to follow and aid the jihad. In the province of Labe there were seven such maximal lineages. Because of the assistance they rendered during the jihad, they were free of obligations to the chiefly maximal lineage of the province.
The Fulɓe buruure or « Fulɓe of the bush », comprised the largest number of maximal lineages in Labe. They are said not to have helped the chiefly lenyol during the jihad, and in some instances hindered it. They were subordinate to the chiefly maximal lineage, and when a Fulɓe of the bush died, a significant, but varying amount of his wealth had to be given to the chief of his misiide. This obligation, the kummabite, was typically paid in cattle, although it might be paid in land or gold. In addition, a Fulɓe of the bush could be obligated to give part of his harvest to the misiide chief in return for the privilege of living in the misiide
The mattyubhe, or serfs, did not have maximal lineages, but « took » the maximal lineages of their masters. However, this did not confer social position. The serf of a master who belonged to a chiefly maximal lineage did not have higher status than the serf of a lower-ranking master. Any Fulɓe could own serfs, although a chief was likely to have more.
In sum, the population of the Fouta-Djallon can be divided into four horizontal strata . The proportions of the strata, especially the proportion of serfs, varied from one province to another.
Another traditional social grouping was the four yettoore. The term derives from yettude, « to great », « to salute » or « to praise ». Yettoore refers to the four « family » names that still include all the Fulɓe of the present-day Fouta-Djallon, and which cut across ranks. These family names are:

  • Ba
  • Bari
  • Diallo
  • Sow

Most serfs took the yettoore of their masters. Cantrelle and Dupire (1964: 74) have taken the yettoore to be patriclans. In their genealogy (1964: 76), they list the four names as the common ancestors for all Fulɓe. They observed that the social function of the yettoore was the use of yettoore names in salutation and in joking between a pair of yettoore. Cantrelle and Dupire suggest that cross-cousin joking and cross-yettoore joking are tied to the preferential marriage system (1964: 74). During my stay I was unable to discern any continuing significance of the yettoore, except that family names arc derived from the yettoore.
The problem of the yettoore raises the question of Fulɓe accounts of their ancestry. On the one hand, members of the chiefly maximal lineages have claimed Arab origin (and therefore noble and Islamic) to justify and validate their chieftainship. On the other hand, members of the free lineages claim they are free because their ancestors assisted the Khalduyanke in the jihad. The former serfs of Labe attempt to show their ancestors’ connection with the leaders who directed the jihad in Labe, thus proving their reIigiosity and longstanding residence in the province.
One account of Fulɓe origins, transcribed from the narration of an elder of the former chiefly lineage, accords with the notion that a common genealogy relates all Fulɓe. According to this myth, Fulɓe history begins with the generation of Saidina Umaru Bun Cattabi of Missira He sent some men to explore the world. He put them in a boat and named Umaru Bun Asi as their chief. Saidina told Umaru Bun Asi to spend two months in the interior of the country near Macina (Mali). If he found the inhabitants were Muslim, he should aid them in following the law of Islam. If he found they were heathens, he should make them pay tribute and convert them to Islam. Umaru Bun Asi left as he was told. Upon arriving at Macina, he found the inhabitants to be heathens. He called for their chief. He asked him to become a Muslim. The chief obeyed. The chief paid tribute and Bun Asi stayed with the chief for two months. At the end of the two months he asked the chief if he could return to Missira. The chief responded by appealing to Bun Asi not to abandon them, but to leave them a religious teacher. Bun Asi left Ugu Battu Bun Yasir; the others departed for home. Ugu Battu Bun Yasir married a woman from Macina. From this union there were four children:

  • Ra’abu, the oldest, ancestor of the Ba’s
  • Wunaiyu, ancestor’s of the Sow’s
  • Bodewol, ancestor of the Diallo’s; and
  • Da’atu, the youngest ancestor of the Bari, the chiefs of the Fouta-Djallon.

The ancestors of Ugu Battu became numerous at Macina and they went into other countries, countries of the blacks. Among the countries where they went was the Fouta-Djallon. There they found the Diallonke.
According to this myth, all Fulɓe are descended from the same ancestor. It is possible that because of the strength of Islam, this myth will become accepted by all Fulɓe in the future. Presently, however, the origin tales of the maximal patrilineages do not concord with this myth of common ancestry. Two examples are the origin accounts of the Seriyanke and Seidiyanke maximal lineages, according to whom the nobles of the Fouta-Djallon originate from Fas, their maximal lineages connected to an Arab family. Two of their ancestors, Seidi and Seeri, went to the country of the Diakanke, where they visited the home of a saint of God, el Hadj Salimou Souare, ancestor of the Mande. They told him, « We have come to you to ask your benediction. Troubles have broken out in our country ». He told them, « Continue until you come to a country called the Fouta-Djallon. There you will establish yourselves. » He prayed for them. They continued on their way until they came to the Fouta. Upon their arrival in the Fouta they found their kinsmen living in a heathen state. Seidi and Seeri however, are the ancestors of only two maximal lineages:

  • the Seriyanke of Fougoumba, and
  • the Seidiyanke of Timbo.

Figure 1. Genealogy of the chiefly maximal lineage of the Fouta-Djallon


An example of a genealogy (see Fig. 1) explaining the origin of two maximal lineages is that of the « royal » families of the Fouta- Djallon, the Seriyanke of Fongoumba, who had the right to wrap the turban around the head of the almamy Fouta, and the Seidiyanke, who furnished the almamys of the Fouta. This genealogy is from a written history obtained from a Fulɓe elder in Labe. Sekou Abbana is regarded as their common ancestor. His son gave birth to two sons, Fode Seri and Fode Seidi, the recognized ancestors of the two maximal lineages. Within the Seidiyanke are a great number of major patrilineages that originated after Nuhu and Maliki. Nuhu and Maliki were, respectively, the fathers of the first and second almamys, Karamoko Alfa and Sory.
The maximal lineages were geographically dispersed, quite often over noncontiguous areas, and sometimes over more than one province. Unfortunately, there are no population estimates for them during the nineteenth century. Each of the various maximal lineages had the same internal structure; it was composed of a number of different major patrilineages (gorol, sing. gori, plur.). Members of the same major patrilineage usually lived in the same misiide, but not necessarily in the same village. Each major lineage was composed of a number of minimal lineages (suudu, sing. tyuudhi, pl.) Each minimal lineage was composed of households (bheynguure).

The maximal patrilineage represented the widest unit within which close ties of kinship were expressed. The maximal lineage was agamous, although the four ranks tended to be endogamous. Thus marriage within the same social status was more frequent than between the different ranks. The maximal lineage, however, was not the key kin group; the major lineage was. It was through the major lineage that one entered society and obtained rights to land. Its members lived in proximity to one another, although not necessarily in the same village. In larger villages more than one major lineage would usually be found.
While I was living in Hollaande, the opportunity arose to visit three villages of the same small maximal lineage which were separated from each other by seventy-five kilometers. None of these villages was in the same misiide. One village, the ancestors of whose inhabitants had helped the Labe leader of the jihad, Karamoko Alfa (the same name but a different individual than the almamy Fouta) against the heathens and thus became free men, was viewed by all as the oldest village. Not too long after the jihad some members of the maximal lineage founded a village near Labe, forty kilometers from the original village. As this village grew in size and available cultivable land became difficult to obtain, several members moved again fifty kilometers to the northwest and founded a third village. When people of all three villages were asked for specific obligations between maximal lineage members, there were no direct responses. There remained relatively close ties, however, between inhabitants of all three villages. These ties which were viewed as a function of their common maximal lineage, consisted of economic assistance, intermarriage and frequent visits.
In precolonial times the operational groups within the misiide were not the villages but the major lineages. The eldest active male member served as its head (mawdho gorol). One obtained this position regardless of whether or not one’s father served in that capacity. The major lineage head acted in concert with the other elders of their patrilineage to look after its internal affairs. They concerned themselves with questions of marriage, divorce, inheritance, distribution of land, and furnishing of recruits for jihads. Expressions of solidarity and aid were expressed in terms of the maximal or major lineages, not in terms of misiide (the basic territorial unit). In cases of conflict between two misiides, if one had major patrilineage members in the other misiide, one would not fight and one might even aid one’s kinsmen. Such behavior suggests that a territorial form of organization was imposed historically upon a preexisting kin organization.
The relation between misiide and kin groups leads us to consider briefly the political organization of the precolonial misiide. Each misiide had its own chief (landho or lamdho, sing; or lambhe, pl.), selected by the province chief from the available candidates. Candidates for the chieftainship could be either sons of the deceased chief or his surviving brothers. The descendants of two brothers who had been chiefs often competed for the chieftainship. Moreover, the province chief retained the right to name as chief someone drawn from outside the misiide. This was one of the means used by the province chief to thwart legitimate competitors seeking his office. At Popodara, the misiide chief always belonged to the maximal chiefly lineage Khaldouyanke and was not drawn from outside the misiide.
The position of members of the chiefly lineage ultimately resided in their political dominance resulting from the jihad. Their tie to the rest of the Fulɓe was the relation of superordinate to subordinate, not of kinsmen to kinsmen. Their political position found its expressioh in the territorial relation of diiwal to misiide. However, this expression was not complete, because the internal organization of the chiefly lineage did not differ substantially from other maximal lineages, and they therefore could not force their subjects to show a political loyalty that fundamentally transcended their own kin organization and the kin groups of their subordinates. An additional weakness of the chiefly maximal lineage was its division into the Soriyas and Alfaya factions. The chiefly maximal lineage of every misiide was either one or the other. The province chief could expect consistent support only from his own faction.
The misiide chief’s functions were those of both a decision maker and of an enforcer of decisions. His political superior was the province chief, and at the level of the misiide he worked with the elders and judges of the mosque. The misiide chief was not exempt from economic tasks; he was not a full-time political specialist. The primary source of his & «; fund of power » was the kummabite, his right to part of the inheritance from Fulɓe of the bush. He also received gifts throughout the year and in turn redistributed much of what he received.
The last aspect of the misiide to be considered is the role of the almamy and the mosque. In precolonial times the mosque played a significant political role in addition to its religious ones. The almamy, three judges, nyawoobhe), and the misiide chief interpreted the Koran and Islamic law and served as the regulators of disputes. They ruled on the payment of compensation (dia) when the blood of a fellow believer was shed, land disputes, and knotty problems of inheritance and divorce. The mosque handled problems that arose between major patrilineages or which the major patrilineages were unable to resolve themselves. Although political office was restricted to the chiefly lineage, positions within the mosque were not. The selection of the almamy was made by the elders of the mosque. This group comprised all Fulɓe learned in Islamic law and the misiide chief. The maximal lineage of the almamy was not necessarily the chiefly lineage of his misiide.
In areas where the chiefly lineages were newcomers, they permitted the position of the almamy to remain in the hands of the maximal lineages that had been there before them. At Popodara the two indigenous maximal lineages were the Ranhaabhe (figure 2) and the Seeleyaabhe. Only after the jihad had been fought in the area did the Khalduyanke settle at Popodara and assume the chieftainship. At both Popodara and at Labe itself, the almamy has never been a Khalduyanke. However, in other areas of the province of Labe there were large and older groups of Khalduyanke who served not only as chiefs but as almamys.
The judges of the mosque were chosen from among those who obtained the status of tierno, a religious status open to any Fulɓe regardless of his maximal lineage but not to serfs – upon completion of the translation of the entire Koran from Arabic into Pular. This accomplishment, known as firugol or timmingol tafsir, carried high prestige and led one to be automatically included among the most important members of a mosque. For a chief to rule effectively he had to have the support of these elders of the mosque.
In conclusion, the dual role of Islam in the precolonia1 sociopolitical organization should be discussed. Islam provided the model and the means by which greater political integration was achieved. The territorial units misiide and diiwal stem from Arabic words and are connected with the importance of the mosque. However, Islam also prevented the concentration of power in the hands of the group. Status and positions of power within the mosque were open to all except serfs. It is significant, therefore, that the serfs became Muslims, even though Islam provided the ideological justification for their status. Before discussing the precolonial serf village (runde), it is necessary to note briefly some features of the precolonial Fulɓe economy.

Figure 2. Genealogy of the maximal lineage Ranhaabhe and its division into major patrilineages
The Ranhaabhe had been masters of many of the former serfs of Hollaande.


Although the Fulɓe as an ethnic group are best known for their cattle raising, agriculture was and is the dominant economic activity of the Fulɓe in the Fouta-Djallon (with the exception of such small groups as the Fulakunda in the western part of the Fouta). The agricultural sector of the economy is based primarily on fonio and rice crops, grown in fields (ngesa) on mountains and plains, and on corn, taro, and manioc crops, grown in women’s gardens (suntuure). The fields are cultivated by means of a slash and burn technique with fallow periods of 12-20 years and cultivating periods of -3 years. The women’s gardens, located next to the houses and enclosed by fences to protect them from animals, are cultivated intensively and annually. Gardening is the responsibility of women, who are aided by their children. The men are responsible only for the upkeep of the surrounding fence.
Although Fulɓe and serfs followed the same agricultural practices, cattle raising was the exclusive preserve of the Fulɓe 7. Serfs did all sorts of work for their masters, but they never served as cattle herders. With the sedentarization of the Fulɓe, cattle declined in economic importance. By the end of the nineteenth century, nomadism had virtually ended (except at the edges of the Fouta) and cattle were kept primarily for social and ceremonial reasons. Besides cattle the Fulɓe kept goats, sheep and chickens. There were seasonal movements of the cattle from the lowlands to the highlands during the rainy season to avoid the tsétsé, and from high areas to river areas during the dry season to find adequate pasturage.
Within the past two centuries at least, cattle have been owned by individuals. Serfs, like cattle, were also « owned » by individuals. The individual ownership of serfs and cattle made the transition to a market economy easier. Land was not individually owned, but was held collectively by major lineages. It was not worked collectively, however, but was divided among the various minimal lineages, which in turn divided the fields among the households composing each minimal lineage. According to informants and observations each household head divided his share of the fields held by his minimal lineage among himself, his wives, and perhaps his older unmarried children. Each individual received the harvest of his own area, although the field was worked collectively by the household.
Markets were indigenous to many parts of West Africa, but they were not found in the Fouta-Djallon. Trade was carried on by barter. A series of measures were used, and an extensive system of equivalents was established. The Fulɓe also engaged in long-distance trading. Salt, gold, and kola were the most important items of trade, later to be supplemented with slaves. The Fulɓe of Labe had extensive contact with the Portuguese and later the French at the ports of the Rio Nunez, where they obtained cloth and guns, in exchange primarily for slaves. They also traded with the English in Freetown.
An indication of the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the province chiefs is provided by a list of the possessions of one province chief, Alfa Yaya. The French did not expect Alfa Yaya to cooperate or to accept passively the dismembering of the province of Labe, and so sent him into exile to prevent his opposition to their program, thus making him a victim of their destruction of the traditional territorial organization of the Fouta-Djallon. They made a survey of his possessions which is preserved in the National Archives of Guinea (1907). Alfa Yaya’s wealth came from three different geographic areas.

  • In Kade, where he was born, he owned 973 cattle, 70 horses, and there was no list of his serfs.
  • At Yambering, he had 384 serfs and 53 cattle.
  • In the town of Labe he had 306 serfs and 5,000 kilograms of grain.

Whether such concentration was possible prior to colonization is not clear. However, there was a great difference in the wealth of the province chief and that of the misiide chief.

Precolonial Serfdom

The serfs of the Fouta-Djallon during the precolonial period do not fit easily into the categories of either serf or slave . There were aspects of their position which fit the common definition of a slave. According to Nieboer, a man is a slave if he is « the property or possession of another beyond the limits of the family » (1900: 6). Tuden and Plotnicov view slavery as the « legal institutionalization of persons as property » (1970: 9-10). What is critical about both these definitions is the nature of content of « property » in any given society, and why and how slavery and serfdom are distinguished from each other. Much of the discussion up to the present has been a series of preferences. Thus Stenning and Hopen refer to Fulɓe slaves, whereas Vieillard, Froelich and Lestringant refer to Fulɓe serfs and servitude. At this point what is most important is a discussion of the characteristics of a subservient population, and how subservience continues or does not continue among the Fulɓe in particular and in Africa in general. Tuden and Plotnicov contend that slavery (and I understand them to include « serfdom ») was an « ephemeral and transitory status «; that slavery « has had no major influence on the systems of stratification that have since emerged, and which exist today, with the possible exception of South Africa »’ (1970: 15). Their conclusion appears inaccurate for the Fulɓe populations of West Africa I would contend that rural stratification systems continue to reflect earlier social divisions. These earlier social divisions themselves are reflected in patterns of land ownership and land tenure, and in the rural power structure. The inability of the P.A.I.G.C. in Guinea-Bissau to integrate the Fulɓe into their guerrilla army has much to do with the continuation of the Fulɓe stratificational system.
Among the Fulɓe the « owner » of the woman serf was the « owner » of her children. Because a master regarded his serfs as his property, one needs to know the specific social meaning and definition of « property ». In the Fouta, there were ill-defined limits to ownership. The story is told of a famous judge from a village not far from Hollaande who was faced with a difficult case. A Fulɓe in his village gave the child of one of his serfs to the misiide chief as a gift. The chief accepted, although the judge maintained that the transfer was not proper according to Islamic law. The judge did not have convincing arguments, however, and shortly thereafter left the Fouta to study in North Africa. Upon his return several years later, he reopened the case, arguing that according to Islamic law, no one, regardless of status, had the right to separate a child from its mother. In short, the limits of the rights of masters over their serfs were not clearly defined.
Although the status of the serfs of the Fouta contained strong elements of what has been considered slavery, there was also a significant way in which they were not slaves: they were economically self-sufficient. They lived in their own villages, they cultivated their own fields and women’s gardens (although they did not own the land), owned property, and had their own kin groups. On the basis of their economic self-sufficiency we have referred to them as « serfs ». However, use of the term does not imply that their social position was the same as that of serfs in Europe.
Serfdom was part of the Fouta-Djallon since at least 1750. Nineteenth century European observers of the Fouta all commented on serfdom and Fulɓe dependence on their serfs. Noirot stated that « l’esclavage est la plus grande source de richesses » (1882: 43). The most detailed comments were made by G. Mollien.

The rumbdes which I have several times had occasion to mention, are establishments truly honourable to humanity. Each village, or several inhabitants of village, assemble their slaves, and make them build themselves huts close to each other, this place is called a rumbdé. They choose a chief from among themselves; if his children are worthy of the distinction, they succeed to the post after his death. These slaves, who are so but in name, cultivate the plantations of their masters, and accompany them to carry their burdens when they travel. They are never sold when they are born in the country, any departure from this practice would cause the desertion of the whole rumbdé; but the slave who conducts himself improperly is delivered up by his comrades to their master that he may sell him (1820: 299-300).

Today both French and Guinean scholars believe that the majority of serfs are descendants of the earlier, non-Fulɓe population of the Fouta who were bound into serfdom by the Fulɓe during the jihad. There are indications that this is in part correct, but in the course of my own study I observed that much of the serf population was built up by trade and by war. Evidence to support the contention that at least a large proportion of the former serfs were descended from war captives brought into the Fouta comes from the genealogy of the village of Hollaande. There are eight minimal lineages in the village, seven of them descendants of war captives brought to the village during the nineteenth century. Within the area around Hollaande, at least one village was founded solely for the war captives and serfs brought to the area by members of the chiefly lineage.
The Fulɓe have common origin myths written in Arabic script. The former serfs have no common or written accounts of their origin. They have linked their myths to the coming of the Fulɓe to the Fouta-Djallon. A Fulɓe is proud of his past and his ancestry. He will without reluctance or hesitance relate his genealogy. Former serfs are hesitant, ill at ease, and will not tell their true origins without confidence in the interviewer. Below is a widespread account of the origins of serfdom (mattyangaaku), according to the Fulɓe, and obviously based on Genesis. This account was related by four different Fulɓe.

Adaama and Hawaa had two sons, Haabiila and Gaabiila. During this time, as there weren’t enough people on earth, brothers and sisters could intermarry. Adamwa said that Haabiila ought to marry his twin sister. Gaabiila would then marry his sister closest in age to him. But the girl Gaabilla had to marry was nasty and mean. He protested against marrying this girl and in desperation killed his brother. He took the corpse on his head to bury it. No one would aid him in interring the corpse; even the earth refused to receive the body since Gaabiila had killed his own brother. For three days he carried the cadaver on his head; it began to smell bad. The hideous smell detached itself from the body and stuck to Gaabiila. Since that day the serfs have always smelled bad. Afterward God told Gaabiila that his descendants would work forever more for the children of Haabiila. Then God asked what had become of the blood spilled during the murder. The earth wasn’t able to recover it, because the blood had run inside it. After that day, God forbade the earth to absorb blood as the earth absorbed water. Since that day, the earth no longer would absorb blood.

The history of one of the families of Hollaande illustrates the serfs’ attempts to connect their ancestors with the Fulɓe. This family claims descent from the original inhabitants of the Fouta.

At the time of the jihad their ancestor took fright and fled into the mountains. Subsequently, there was a large battle at Toule, just southwest of Popodara, where they were living. The Fulɓe, under Karamoko Alfa, were victorious. After the battle the ancestor debated and debated with himself about what to do. He ultimately went before Karamoko Alfa and explained how he had fled Karamoko Alfa asked him if he would accept the religion, and he replied yes. With the acceptance of Islam, he was given a compound at Hollaande Tosokere (a village near Hollaande). Both former serfs and Fulɓe say his descendants are the Q~y indigenous serfs of the area.

There are two social categories within the former serf population: ndima, or « indigenous » and ardoobhe, « those who have been brought ». These distinctions are not absolute, however, for families who were brought five generations ago are called ndima, whereas those who were brought three generations ago are referred to ardoobhe. Moreover, among the ndima no one could maintain with any certainty that they were descended from the Diallonke. These categories, it would seem, are important only for one or two generations; a serf was a serf regardless of his earlier origins.
The way new individuals were bound into serfdom during the nineteenth century is interesting. The Fulɓe did not attempt to make adults serfs. They sought children preferably under ten years of age. These children, either bought or captured, were brought back from the frontier zones of the Fouta-Djallon and placed with the other serfs of the children’s owner. It then became the responsibility of one serf to raise the children. According to informants, the children learned Fulfulde quickly and did not speak their native language once in their new home They were cared for by the serfs as their own children with the consequent obligations and privileges. Upon marriage of such a serf girl the « adopted » parents would receive their share of the bridewealth; if the child was a boy they would have to give their share of the bridewealth.
The relative proportion of the autochthonous Diallonke population to that of serfs brought by war and trade within the total population of serfs cannot be assessed at this point. Moreover, there is probably regional variability in this matter. However, for the area around the capital of Labe there appear to be very few, if any, descendants of the original Diallonke. Most serfs came as a result of war or sale. Suret-Canale (1967), using the results of the 1954-1955 demographic study of Guinea, cites the ethnic origins of the population of Tyoukou, a runde in Labe. Of 121 persons, including only married adults or widows,

  • 45 came as a result of the wars of Samory:
    • 18 Kouranko
    • 9 Kissi
    • 8 Wassoulunke
    • 7 Toma
    • 3 Konianke
  • 33 came from the former Soudan, who were probably made captives as a result of the activities of the Toucouleurs of Segou. Among them were
  • 30 Bambara and
  • 3 Sarakolle

Two-thirds of the captives had been acquired by purchase, and none were from ethnic groups that bordered the Fouta-Djallon. A third group of 26 captives lived in areas raided or acquired by the landho of Labe during the nineteenth century. These ethnic groups include

  • 13 Malinke of Gabu (Portuguese Guinea)
  • 6 Tyapi
  • 3 Tenda
  • 2 Fulakunda
  • 1 Diakanke, and
  • 1Dioula.

Finally, there were 15 former serfs of Diallonke origin (21 percent of the whole) from Sangalan, a region subject to perpetual raids by the Fulɓe of Labe. 10
Suret-Canale concludes that the figures from Labe are probably different from those of other parts of the Fouta-Djallon. And he is also quite right that it would be very difficult to redo such an enquiry in light of the political position of the Democratic Party of Guinea that such differences no longer exist and that reference to anterior economic and political subservience is destructive to current efforts toward national integration. In another generation it will probably be impossible to have an accurate census, because the descendants of serfs already know little of their familial origins.
The serf population of the Fouta-Djallon was potentially self-increasing without new wars or trade. This was demonstrated by the fact that after French conquest ended the wars and thus denied new sources of serfs to the Fulɓe, the serf population increased, and the former serf population continues to do so.
The serfs spoke Fulfulde, and the organization of their villages was fundamentally like that of their masters. Serfs were owned by individual Fulɓe, both men and women, although the latter was rare. They lived in their own villages (runde), and the serfs of many different masters (who might be from different villages) would often be found within one serf village. This was possible in part because of the relatively high population density of the Fouta and the close proximity of villages.
There were villages near Hollaande where there were both Fulɓe and serfs. These situations were of recent origin and came about for two reasons. A few Fulɓe desired to have their serfs live in the same village with them, as in one such instance at Popodara which involved a few Khalduyanke. Some Fulɓe had little land in their natal village (members of a land-poor minimal lineage probably) but owned land in a nearby runde, where they would then reside. There was one such example at misiide Popodara which took place during the colonial period.
Serfs did not own land, but cultivated and lived on land borrowed from the Fulɓe. Both the master of the serf and the owner of the land (the two were not necessarily the same) retained the right to throw a serf off the land, although they were subject to certain customary restraints.
The origin of Hollaande, founded around 1870, demonstrates the Fulɓe’s power to expropriate the land of serfs. The first inhabitant of the village, founder of the part of Hollaande called Binde Pellun, originally came from another village several kilometers away. When the Fulɓe owners of the land he was living on wanted it for their own cultivation, he and his wife moved to another village. There they settled on land owned by the chiefly maximal lineage, the Khalduyanke. Soon after, a wife of the misiide chief asked to have this land and they were forced to move again, this time to the present location of Hollaande. The family grew and remained together for about forty years until their masters’ village split, and half the Fulɓe moved one-hundred kilometers away in search of new land, taking their serfs with them. In the process brothers were separated and, in one instance’ husband from wife.
The second section of the village, known as Hoore Tianhe, was founded slightly later. This case involved a serf woman from a village four kilometers from Hollaande. One day the cattle of her master entered her compound and ate the corn She asked for compensation and was refused. She retaliated by entering the compound of her master one night and destroying his corn. He in turn demanded that she leave his land. Her husband found land for a new compound at Hollaande, where they both settled.
Ten percent of a serf’s harvest from both field and garden was given to the proprietor of the land. The ten percent (farilla) was paid for all crops from the fields, but only for corn from the gardens. It was not obligatory for taro, manioc, other root crops, and the fruits of trees, although these were often given as gifts to the land owner. This payment was not the main economic exploitation of the serfs, for all Fulɓe, by their interpretation of Islam, were obligated to give away ten percent of their harvest. A land owner, however, could give his farilla to whomever he wanted, whereas serfs had to give it to the proprietor of the land. Further, a serf who refused to pay the farilla would be denied land, whereas a Fulɓe who did not pay only rendered the harvest impure.
Lands for the fields had to be obtained each year from the owner of the land, usually from the serf’s master. The owner of the fields and the serf’s Fulɓe were most often, but not always, the same individual, because the most desirable arrangement was to have the fields of a serf next to those of his master. This provided for more efficient exploitation of labor, because less time would be lost in travelling. The land for the compound was not renewed annually but was granted in perpetuity. Due to the Fulɓe mode of inheritance, the owner of the land and the owner of the serfs were less likely to be the same individual than in the case of fields. Despite examples of serfs who were removed from their natal compounds, the compound was generally considered as belonging to the serf. It was expected that a serf’s compound would be « inherited » by his children; that is, under normal circumstances, they would continue to live there with their families. The serfs developed rights to their compounds through usage. These rights were limited by the payment of the farilla, and if a serf wanted to expand his compound (which was continually being done to provide land for his sons), he had to obtain the permission of the proprietor of the land.
The serfs’ most important obligations to their masters were in the form of labor. This labor was of decisive importance for the economic wealth of the Fulɓe. Men, women, and children worked five days a week for their masters from early morning until early afternoon at the various key economic tasks. The men cleared and cultivated fields, brought wood for drying corn, built and maintained the houses and the compound fences of their masters. The women cultivated the women’s gardens of their master’s wives, brought water, cleaned clothes, helped prepare food, and cared for the children. Children did domestic work. This pattern of labor appears to be relatively old. René Caillié, in visiting the Mande village of Kampaya (which borders on the Fouta Djallon), observed a serf village where the serfs were cultivating rice. « I was informed that, in the Fouta-Djallon, the negroes [serfs] are allowed two days in the week to work in their own fields, that is to say the ground which furnished their subsistence. » (1830: 212).
The great amount of labor that serfs had to do for their masters hindered their own production. Prior to more recent developments, they are said to have been mainly dressed in rags – discards from their masters – and to have eaten little fonio and rice, but primarily the root crops from their own gardens. Their houses were smaller and poorly constructed, and they did not own cattle, except in exceptional circumstances. In sum, as a group they were significantly poorer than the Fulɓe.
The masters had certain obligations toward their serfs. They provided food during the time the serfs worked for them in the fields or in the household, provided clothes if their serfs had none, provided animals for slaughter at life-cycle ceremonies if their serfs and kinsmen had none, attended the life-cycle ceremonies of their serfs, and provided ritual services when required.
There were many Fulɓe who did not own serfs or lived in areas where the number of serfs in the population was lower, thereby reducing the overall economic significance of serfdom. As we have seen, the number of serfs in proportion to Fulɓe was directly proportional to the density of the population of the region as a whole, and to the proximity to a large political, military, or religious center, for the greatest number of prisoners became the serfs of the chiefs. Moreover the province chiefs had groups of male serfs who served as their armed body guards and also fought for them. This group was known as the suufa. 11 The area of Popodara, relatively close to the capital of Labe, and in one of the most densely settled areas of the Fouta-Djallon has a very high proportion of former serfs to Fulɓe, and this study is meant to apply only to the central plateau area. All three ranks of Fulɓe could and did own serfs.
The serfs served the Fulɓe in capacities other than as agricultural laborers. There were (and are) a great number of specialized crafts in the Fouta-Djallon. The most important craft among the serfs was that of blacksmith (bayillo, sing., waylubhe, plur.). Blacksmiths performed a variety of tasks, including smelting and forging iron, making iron tools (hoes, axes, knives, adzes, and a tool resembling a machete, and the tools necessary for making these tools), jewelrymaking (goldwork primarily), and wood work (doors, fence, gates, and wood posts for the houses). Whereas blacksmiths constituted a separate caste in other parts of West Africa, they did not in the Fouta-Djallon. A blacksmith had an owner just as any other serf, and was obligated to work for him without compensation. Other Fulɓe paid in kind for the items they needed. It was common practice for a misiide chief or a Fulɓe elder to apprentice one of his serfs to a blacksmith, who could refuse such a request only with difficulty. Blacksmiths cultivated their own fields and gardens, but were released from much agricultural labor in order to make tools.
The next important group of artisans among the serfs were the leather workers (garankeedyo, sing.; garankeebhe, plur.). They were few in number compared to blacksmiths and their tasks were more limited. They made sandals, sheaths for swords and knives, the leather coverings for written sayings inside amulets, saddles for horses, sacks, and leather covering for the Koran and other Islamic works. They worked primarily during the dry season, but were freed (although not completely) from working in their masters’ fields. Their masters could ask them to make what they needed without reimbursement. The apprentices of the leather-workers were usually their sons, although, as in the case of blacksmiths, apprenticeship was also open to other serfs’ children and to serfs selected by their masters. l2
The third and fourth groups of artisans were the cloth weavers (sannyoowo, sing.; sannyoobhe, plur.) and the bamboo-basket makers. Their tasks were less specialized, required less training, and did not free them from work in the fields of their masters. Bamboo-basket makers were regarded as the least skilled and the least important artisans.
Many tasks, now regarded as specialties, were formerly performed as part of the labor obligation of serfs. These included the building of fences, the construction and maintenance of houses, and the roofing and re-roofing of houses. In any serf village, particularly a larger one, were found serfs with skills in the various crafts. They lived in and participated in the life of the village as would any serf. In the environs of Popodara, none of the artisan groups were endogamous. The products of the artisans were not important components of the long-distance trade carried on by the Fulɓe. Each misiide had its own set of artisans who worked on command and whose products were primarily bartered for grain. However, not all artisans were serfs. Certain crafts were reserved for the Fulɓe; these included, for the men, the embroidery of robes and hats and copying the Koran, and, for the women, the snaking of raphia bowl covers (bedho, sing. bedhi, plur.) Other ethnic groups within the Fouta-Djallon also had specialties. Thus, the remaining Diallonke continued to make pots (fayande, sing. payane, plur.), which until very recently were found in every house to keep water, and vessels for cooking.
The internal organization of a serf village was an imperfect replica of a Fulɓe village. Major patrilineages and minimal lineages existed, but not the maximal lineages. Although kin groups played an important part in the lives of the serfs, many strategic decisions about the key areas of life handled by the elders of the major lineages in Fulɓe villages could only be made with the counsel of the appropriate Fulɓe. The most important Fulɓe for any serf was his owner. It was the serfs owner (or husband if the owner was a woman) who received part of the bridewealth, whose consent was required for marriage, who provided animals for the life-cycle ceremonies when necessary, and who would receive at least one-half of his property when he died.
The Fulɓe followed the general Islamic pattern for the inheritance of serfs. The owner of a woman serf became the owner of her offspring. Women serfs were of greater importance than males because they would produce more serfs. The prices for serfs at the end of the nineteenth century reflected this, for the cost of girls was higher than that of boys. The fact that the owner of a woman became master of her children also had consequences for the marriage of serfs. The owner of a woman quite clearly would not want his serf to marry far away, and from the owner’s point of view the most desirable marriage was between his own serfs. The reasons for such a preference do not lie only in a wish to maintain geographical proximity, but in a drive to reinforce the social ties binding master to serfs.
Relations between master and serf varied. The expressed ideal for the master was that he treat his serf well and fairly and share with him during times of scarcity. We have already mentioned the numerous reciprocal obligations between master and serf. However, a serf had little recourse against a bad master except appeal to either the chief or to the judges of the mosque.
The precolonial serf village was not in any sense an independent or autonomous community. Many of the institutions of the serf village were no different from those of the Fulɓe, but the serfs lacked political control over them. Political leadership within the serf village lay with the manga. The manga was either a serf of a chief, when the chief owned serfs in that particular serf village or the serf of another notable. The role of manga was to represent the chief in the serf village. He was therefore responsible for seeing that the serfs met their obligations and served as a communication link between the serf village and the chief.
Disputes within the serf village were generally handled by the elders of the village, with the manga having a strong voice in such matters. However, any dispute between a Fulɓe and a serf, or even disputes between serfs of different masters when compensation was involved, were settled by the Fulɓe. All men were not considered equal in Fulɓe precolonial legal practices. The testimony of a serf was not equal to that of a Fulɓe, and the penalty for a Fulɓe who killed a serf was compensation paid to the owner of the serf, whereas the penalty for a serf who killed Fulɓe was execution.
The political ties of the serfs were vertical. A serf was tied more to his master than he was to the other members of his village. In a conflict situation, for example a feud between two Fulɓe lineages, the serfs of the two lineages would fight at the sides of their masters, regardless of their own kin relationship. In certain contexts the Fulɓe considered their own kinship ties in conflict situations more important than territorial ones. If there were a conflict between two misiides and a man had kinsmen of the same maximal or major patrilineage on the other side, he would either fight with his patrilineage or not fight. The way serfs were inherited reinforced their vertical ties. Because residence was patrilocal but the inheritance of serfs passed through the mother, the serfs of many different masters came to live in one serf village. Moreover ties between serfs of the same master were strong enough to produce a fictive kin category known as « serfs of one master » (dyom gooto), which entailed much face-to-face contact and mutual assistance.
Marriage between Fulɓe women and serf men was prohibited. Two forms of union between serf women and Fulɓe men existed:

  • concubinage , the children from which would be returned to the serf village and remain serf; and
  • marriage , the children from which became Fulɓe.

Such marriages were frequent, particularly between the members of a chiefly lineage and their serfs, and it provided a way for members of a chiefly lineage to avoid marriage with other maximal lineages, thereby avoiding affinal relationships and obligations. Fulɓe-serf marriage were also advantageous because bridewealth payments were lower. However, this only applied when the Fulɓe spouse was the master of the girl he married. When a Fulɓe man wanted to marry a serf girl of another master, he had to secure the consent of the master and give him a substantial part of the bridewealth in addition to the normal bridewealth due to the parents of the girl.
Ties of marriage between Fulɓe and serf did not increase the status of the serf. Affinal obligations between Fulɓe and serf although nominally carried out, tended to lapse over time. The marriage of a serf daughter to a Fulɓe was viewed by the serfs as the loss of a daughter and her children, not the gain of Fulɓe affines and potential advantages.
In Islam, and therefore in Fouta-Djallon, provision was made for the freeing of serfs. Fulɓe freed serfs, although rarely, to atone for major contraventions of Islamic practice. We have only one account of a serf revolt (Gordon Laing 1825) said to have taken place in 1756. However, during this time the Fulɓe had not yet consolidated their control over much of the Fouta-Djallon; thus it is not clear whether those who fled were serfs of the Fulɓe or were indigenous Diallonke, who paid tribute to the Fulɓe but had not yet become serfs.
Fulɓe dominance over the serfs was not simply political and economic. The serfs were dependent on the Fulɓe for religious direction of all their major ceremonies. A significant part of most ceremonies (including birth, death, circumcision) required the sacrificial slaughtering of an animal. The serfs had to call upon their master to slit the throat of the animal. The status of serfs was reinforced by other Islamic practices, although these do not necessarily derive from the Koran, but rather reflect the fusion of Islam and Fulɓe practices.
Serfs could not attain positions as religious teachers or leaders. Achievement of these religious statuses in Fulɓe society took many years of study. The ability to read and write Arabic was crucial. Serfs were Islamic, but they were given only the most minimal education and thus denied the means to attain such statuses. The serfs performed their prayers and other religious obligations, but there were certain aspects of their life which the Fulɓe regarded as non-Islamic

  • the playing of drums
  • the dancing of men at male circumcision ceremonies, and
  • the extensive practice of sorcery.

Although the Fulɓe were dependent upon serfs for the circumcision of Fulɓe boys and the clitoridectomy of Fulɓe iris, the serfs were dependenton their masters for the religious direction necessary to live an Islamic life and attain Paradise.

The impact of French colonial rule

Traditional Fulɓe society in the Fouta-Djallon was altered radically by French colonial rule. In this section I will

  1. present a summary of political changes, including the failure of indirect rule and the changing role of chieftainship;
  2. consider the economic impact of colonialism by examining the French position on the serfs, taxation, the introduction of money and markets, and new labor demands.

The reasons for the decline of serfdom and the creation of a peasantry will then be discussed.

The political impact

The Fouta-Djallon excited the interest of both the French and British during the early and middle nineteenth century (Newbury 1965, Crowder 1968, Suret-Canale 1959, 1970). Both countries considered the Fouta a wealthy and desirable area and competed for the trade of the Fulɓe. The British attempted penetration primarily through Sierra Leone and secondarily through Rio Nunez, the French primarily by way of Cayor and Boundou in Senegal. British and French expeditions to the Fouta alternated throughout the nineteenth century, while the Fouta remained independent, viable, and united toward the end of the century both the French and British sought to make the Fouta a protectorate. The Englishman Gouldsberry obtained the signature of one almamy, while the Frenchmen Noirot and Bayol obtained the signatures of representatives of both the Soriyas and Alfayas. By obtaining the signatures of both Almamy Ahmadu, the ruling Alfaya, and the Soriya nominee, Almamy Ibrahima Sory, and thereby paying attention to the political realities of the Fouta, the French were able to exert greater influence than the British. Moreover, the French agreed to pay each one an annual rent of three thousand francs.
From 1888 until 1896 the leaders of the Fouta experienced increasing French presence and influence. They attempted to counteract it by increasing contact with the English. However, the almamys apparently were unaware of the Anglo-French accords of 1889, by which the French had the right to place a resident at Timbo, and the English could no longer intervene (Crowder 1968: 94). As late as 1891 the major French purpose was to extend commerce. Thus the instructions for Mr. de Beeckman, a French colonial official sent from Senegal to the Fouta-Djallon, were to attempt to obtain a greater amount of trade through French controlled areas (removed from Sierra Leone) and to sign another protectorate agreement maintaining the integrity of the FoutaDjallon, but establishing greater commercial rights for the French. 13
In 1896 the French decided to take political control and sent a military expedition against Almamy Bokar Biro. The result was the defeat of the Fulɓe army at Poredaka and the death of Bokar Biro and his son. The French success in dividing the leaders of the Fulɓe was critical in the conquest of the Fouta-DjalIon. To this end a separate treaty was signed the same year with Alfa Yaya, chief of the province of Labe, the largest and most powerful province. This treaty insured that Alfa Yaya would not come to the aid of Almamy Bokar Biro.
During the years 1896 to 1905 the French retained the Fulɓe political organization but removed chiefs opposing their rule. 14 However, by 1904 the large indigenous political units were found to be interfering with effective control over the population (Suret-Canale 1966). Therefore the French initiated a political reorganization that took control out of the hands of the tradiional province leaders. Alfa Yaya was arrested and exiled in 1905, and shortly thereafter the diiwal of Labe was divided into three cercles (which were quite different from the diiwal) each with a chef de cercle appointed by the French. The function of these new chiefs was only administrative: « The new province chiefs are only to be the agents of transmission, to be, as it were, the liaison between administrative authority and the population » (Demougeot 1944: 81).
The misiide were judged the key political units in this new organization. The misiide chiefs were appointed by and responsible to the French. However, because there were so many missides and only a small number of French administrators, any real political control was precluded. 15 In 1913, the missides were grouped into districts, each with a French-appointed chief. In 1919 these districts were grouped into cantons, each headed by a chief chosen by the French: « Between the misiide too small and the cercle too large, the canton has been destined to become the basic administrative area » (Demougeot 1944: 81).
From then until the end of the colonial period the canton remained the most important political unit, and the chef de canton the most important Fulɓe political figure. Thus the French pattern of rule proceeded from indirect rule, through the destruction of the larger traditional political units and direct French administration, to a compromise, the canton, which met their needs for greater control while making fewer demands upon them for direct administration.
Chieftainship had been hereditary within the agnatic line, but the French attempted to find a compromise between legitimacy, subserviency, and ability. Thus the chiefs tended to come from the collateral lines of former chiefs, at least in the early years of French rule. These were men who under ordinary conditions would not have acceded to chieftainship, but who nevertheless had some legitimate claim to the office. In the face of the well-defined political organization of the Fulɓe, the French attempted to maintain the legitimacy of the chiefs, whiIe at the same time dismembering the larger territorial units of the Fouta-Djallon. Their view of the position of the chef de canton is summarized by the French administrator Demougeot: « Chosen from among the elite of the elders, the chef de canton joins representation of French command to that of his personal prestige and to his knowledge of the whites he adds his knowledge of the native » (1944: 81). The chefs de canton of Hoore Komba were always selected from among the Khalduyanke of Popodara, and almost all were descendants of chiefs of the misiide.16 The last chef de canton of Popodara was the youngest son of a cercle chief of Labe.
The province of Labe had become the canton of Labe by 1920. Its traditional borders were redefined, two parts being ceded to the Portuguese, and four other relatively large areas becoming separate cercles. The capital town of Labe, which had been the seat of the chief of the diiwal, became a canton. The chef de canton for Labe was neither politically nor administratively higher than the other chefs de canton. The misiide of Popodara was first made part of the French-conceived Misside Hinde, and then became the seat of the canton of Hoore Komba. Within the canton of Hoore Komba there were approximately 30 missides.
Political reorganization was coupled with an end to the traditional economic source of power of the chiefs, the kummabite, and with efforts to make revenue from French taxation the major source of wealth for the chiefs. The French conquest also led to an end of warfare and the slave trade, which further diminished the sources of wealth of the chiefs. In sum, the confederation of diiwe that made up the Fouta-Djallon was ended. The position of almamy Fouta was eliminated as was that of province chief. Moreover, for those who now sought power it was obtained by virtue of their relation to the French, and much less through genealogical relationship to other chiefs or through building up an independent political base of support.

The chief in French West Africa progressively lost his traditional authority while his new functions of taxation, recruiting of forced labour and troops and checking on anti-French movements within his area of supervision, together with the authoritarian way in which he was treated by the Commandant, transformed him from the embodiment of the collective will of the community into an agent of some of the most hated aspects of French colonial rule. (Crowder 1968: 193)

However, we must distinguish between levels of chieftainship. The chefs de canton who replaced the province chief fit the description of Crowder (1968) and Suret-Canale (1966). Even though the French attempted to give them some aspect of legitimacy by selecting them from the collateral lines or even occasionally a direct line from former chiefs, they were viewed by the popuIation as agents of the French. The situation was much less clear with respect to the chief of the misiide. The establishment of the chef de canton did not bring an end to the misiide chief. Rather, the chief was appointed by the chef de canton with the approval of the French commandant. During the colonial era, it was the misiide chief who was both colonizer and colonized.

Village chiefs were placed under the dependence of the chefs de canton, their administrative role was much less marked than the latter, except as a relay in the fiscal system. Village chiefs conserved their customary characteristics and their representative nature, since, as in the traditional system, the nature of their powers was democratic and their authority depended much more upon the agreement of the group than upon the nominaion by a superior official. Lombard 1967: 110)

The chef de canton was surrounded by kinsmen of his major patrilineage (referred to as dyagarafaa) and by his courtiers (known as mbatula), who came from different lineages, including serfs. These two groups became as hated as the chef de canton because they were executors of his orders. They were tied to the chief, and the more resources they drew from the population, the better their relationship to him. The misiide chief did not have a « court » of his own. His accession to office depended on nomination by the chef de canton. His retention of the position depended on his ability to balance the exactions of the chef de canton with the needs of the residents of his misiide. There were, of course, misiide chiefs who allied themselves with the chef de canton but there were many who attempted to carry out their mandate as representatives of their misiide to the higher political authorities. Whereas the former chefs de canton are now discredited, former misiide chiefs have attained political office in the committee system.
The position of manga continued in the serf village during the colonial period. At Hollaande and surrounding villages, the manga was appointed by the chef de canton. His main role was to organize and supply labor for the chefs de canton and the French, but he also played an important role within the village by virtue of his position and relation to the powers that be.
The system of social stratification based on maximal lineages diminished in importance during the colonial period. Whether one was a member of a « chiefly, » « free, » or « bush » maximal lineage mattered less, since the basis of accession to chieftainship as well as its economic base had changed. Since the Fulɓe of the « bush » no longer had to pay the kummabite, the earlier status distinctions between them and the « free » Fulɓe lost their significance. However, it took much longer for the serf-Fulɓe distinction to decrease in importance, and the process has not yet come to an end.

The Economic Impact

French colonial policy ended warfare and the slave trade on the one hand, but maintained the social status quo on the other. The French administrators of the Fouta were clearly cognizant of the situation of the serfs, but let administrative convenience provide an excuse for maintaining the institution of serfdom. Only in specific political circumstances did the French act to free serfs. For example, one of the tactics used to reduce the power of the almamy Fouta was to free all his serfs and resettle them in a new canton near Timbo, with a former serf appointed as chef de canton. Another example was the retaliation against a religious leader, Tierno Ouali from Goumba, who was accused of leading a revolt against the French. As part of his punishment all of his serfs and those of his close followers were freed. In 1918 Paul Marty, who was engaged to survey Islamic movements in Guinea to obtain information about their anti-French and anticolonialist potentialities, recommended that serfs be left under their tnasters. He argued that to free more serfs would increase even further the opposition and resentment of the « notables » of the Fouta. To buttress this position he stated that because the serfs were « . . brutalized as a result of centuries of ignorance and servitude, the greatest part of serfs today are of a heart-breaking intellectual inferiority and it is necessary that they have several generations to reach the level of the other blacks » (1921; 448).
Although the French did not deliberately attempt to destroy serfdom, the series of changes wrought by them led nevertheless to its gradual undermining. 17 These processes were both political and economic, the latter being more important. One of the major factors in changing the nature of Fulɓe-serf relations was taxation. It is instructive to read the French administrators’ monthly reports, whose dominant queries seem to have been how do we count everybody and make sure that the Fulɓe pay their taxes ? 18 The amount of money collected in taxes seemed the index of the success or failure of both the French administrators and their FuIbe subordinates. Taxes were imposed as soon as the French gained control of the Fouta. Thus the first collection of taxes in Labe occurred in 1897. Although it was theoretically a head tax, the censuses had not been completed at the time. Thus it was in fact a house tax, based on the assumption that there were five inhabitants per house; 252,700 francs were collected. By 1902 this had risen to 771,660 francs (Gauthier MS.).
A large share of the tax money allocated to the Fulɓe was given to the chiefs. In 1897, before political reorganization, the allocation of taxes was

  • 10 percent to the almamy Fouta
  • 10 percent to the diiwal chief
  • 20 percent to the misiide chief, and
  • 60 percent to the French (Gauthier MS ).

The province chief of Labe, Alfa Yaya, received 20 percent; taxation was one of the mechanisms used to detach Labe from the confederation by providing greater tax revenues to the chief of Labe than to the other province chiefs of the Fouta-Djallon. By 1908, following the first political reorganization, the percentage of the tax money allocated to the Fulɓe fell from 40 to 8 percent, with

  • 5 percent going to a misiide chief, and
  • 3 percent to a district chief.

With the division of the Fouta into cantons, the chefs de canton and the chefs de villages (the misiide chiefs) received the same percentage as their earlier counterparts. In sum, the French at first gave the chiefs a large share of the taxes collected to obtain their loyalty. Having gained their loyalty, they reduced the percentages. Their dependence on tax revenues rendered them economically dependent on the colonial power.
At the turn of the century, very little money circulated in the FoutaDjallon. Taxes were at first paid in kind, principally in rubber. During the early years of colonization rubber was the most important export of Guinea, and many wild rubber trees in the Fouta-Djallon were soon tapped by serfs so their masters could pay their taxes. Rubber was used to pay taxes from 1899 to 1914. 19 When its price fell dramatically after the opening of rubber plantations in the Far East, the French refused to accept taxes in kind any longer. The Fulɓe were then forced to find various other ways of making money.
When taxation was first introduced, it was more or less assumed that the master would pay the taxes for his serfs, but the change from the payment of taxes in kind to payment in money broke down the traditional reciprocity of Fulɓe-serf relations. A rising tax rate, combined with a scarcity of money, created a situation in which the Fulɓe could no longer pay or even contribute to the taxes of their serfs. All serf and Fulɓe informants indicated that from this point the serfs began to spend less time working for their masters. With real politica1 power in the hands of the French, the Fulɓe could no longer employ force legitimately to enforce their demands for serf labor. In addition, the serfs were subjected to contradictory demands for labor by their masters, the French, and the chefs de canton. The combination of the breakdown in reciprocal Fulɓe-serf obligations and the competition between the masters and the colonial authorities for the labor of the serfs led to the gradual decline of serfdom.
The impact of taxation was felt in other ways as well. The French administrator Gilbert VieiIlard describes some of these effects.

The young people who left to earn [the tax] often did not return; taxpayers who have emigrated are in hiding, in flight or dead, but they are inscribed on the tax roles, and this makes the charges for those remaining even heavier. Too bad, the money had to be found; the people were reduced to selling goods of those who had paid, but who did not dare to complain too much. First animals were sold: cows, sheep and hens; then grain, cooking-pots, Korans, all that could be sold. Prices were very low. The chief’s men and the Syrians fished in troubled waters; the taxpayers rarely received any change between the sale prices and the figure of the tax due. When there was nothing left [to sell] the coming harvest and the children would be pawned. (1940:171)

The Fulɓe’s search for tax money had two desirable consequences for the French: it created a supply of cheap labor and made it necessary for the FuIbe to sell their goods for money and to buy French manufactured goods. The need for money began the gradual end of the system of exchange in kind for goods and services, and it changed several traditionaI patterns of exchange. The cloth weavers (sannyoobhe) traditionally worked on command for payment in grain or small animals, either when they needed goods themselves or when asked to do so by their masters. With the introduction of money taxes, they often became itinerant traders, moving with their looms from one area to another, attempting to earn the amount necessary for themselves and their families. The blacksmith’s (bayillo) established rates of exchange

  • a hoe was exchanged for 4 measures of fonio or corn
  • an axe for 8 to 10 measures of fonio or corn, and
  • a door for 40 measures

were changed into money.
Interestingly, there is no Fulfulde word in the Fouta-Djallon for butcher. There are only words for the slaughtering (hirsugol), skinning (huttugol), and cutting-up (tayhugol) of an animal. The French word boucher refers to someone who sells meat for profit, something that was not done in precolonial times. The need for money led to an increase in the slaughtering of cattle. Fulɓe cattIe owners who had no other way to earn money could either trade an animal by bringing it to Nunez, Conakry, or Freetown, or sell its meat. During the period from 1915 until the establishment of markets, money was usuaIly so scarce that a man would sell about one half of a cow for money and exchange the rest for grain. The sale of meat was irregular in both time and place until the founding of the local markets. The new job of butcher opened up opportunities for serfs never before possible. The first butcher at Popodara was a former serf, who had been pIaced in charge of the cutting-up of the slaughtered animals by the chef de canton. As his own funds increased, he began buying cattle from those who needed money and selling the meat for a profit. He is presently the richest butcher at the market.
Precolonial Fulɓe trade patterns were complex. They involved long-distance trade under the supervision of the province chiefs. Only those merchants who had the explicit approval of a province chief could traverse the Fouta. Most trade took place at the residence of a province chief. 20
The French created a marketplace in what is now the city of Labe in 1900.
Merchants from other parts of Guinea came to trade and initially there were fights between the FuIbe and the alien merchants (Susu and Malinke). An anonymous French administrator described these hostilities.

There is between them [the African merchants, the Dioulas] and the Fulɓe both a caste and racial hatred, a preexisting hostility toward any business dealings. The Fulɓe, whose chiefs only recently had been pillaging and looting the caravans descending from the Soudan, sensed well that the freedom of commerce and encouragement given the Dioulas were the result of the French administrahon. The Dioulas wanting this protection, and on the look-out for any offenses they could commit, continued in their vexatious behavior. It should be understood that the wandering merchants practiced theft in the guise of commerce, selling and buying only stolen animals. (1903: MS.)

The same administrator proposed a solution to the conflict between Fulɓe and merchants.

The most efficacious solution to adopt hasn’t been suggested yet. The necessary change is simply a transformation of the Fulɓe mind, a struggle against their Islamic spirit; pushing the Fulɓe to engage in trade themselves, having them bring their own animals from the market at Labe to Conakry. (1903: MS.)

Whether or not the Fulɓe became merchants as a result of deliberate French efforts is not clear; but it was not long before the Fulɓe themselves realized that in order to survive and prosper under colonial rule they would have to become merchants.
Despite the increasing use of money for exchange, marketplaces developed only in the regional capitals during the first three decades of French ruIe. Some trade was carried out by itinerant merchants, but otherwise the Fulɓe had to go to a regional center to sell merchandise or to obtain needed manufactured goods or money. It was not until the road from Labe to Senegal was completed in the 1930s that markets were established in rural areas.
The market of Popodara was established in 1937 and was the first in the cercle of Labe. 21 The story of how it was created illustrates the role of the chef de canton as an administrator of French policy. All household heads were told they had to bring some item to sell. The day of the first market hardly anyone showed up. The chef de canton sent his courtiers to order the people to the market under threat of punishment and confiscation of their property. The scene was repeated, and further markets were held until the population became aware that their goods were not being stolen from them and that they were allowed to keep the money they received for the food they sold. Then attendance and participation at the market grew. It is interesting to note that the first official of the market, who collected the market tax and supervised the trading, was a serf.
With the success of the market at Popodara, other markets were started in the region of Labe. From the beginning almost all transactions at the market involved money; an earlier barter system had been transformed into an exchange system based on money.
Markets were also important in creating the new situation of competition between serf and Fulɓe. New occupations, such as merchant and transporter, became availabIe to both Fulɓe and serf. Positions of relatively high status thus became open to serfs.
Money created a new kind of equality, and older, unchangeable statuses became transformable. Among the new saleable items was the status of Fulɓe itself. We have briefly discussed the ceremony of rimdhingol, the freeing of a serf by his master, usuaIly to atone for breaking an Islamic law. During the colonial penod, this ceremony became available for a price It was possibIe for serfs who accumulated a great deal of wealth to approach their master and a religious leader and ask what they would have to pay in order to become « free », that is, to become a Pullo and to change their name. Although it became possible to change status in this way not many serfs took advantage of the ceremony, for it involved moving from a serf to a Fulɓe village, thus severing one’s kin ties. Most serfs who had the ceremony performed lived in towns or cities and did not intend to return to their natal misiide. Taxation and the introduction of money and markets acted to break down the labor obligations of serfdom, but new labor demands were imposed on the serfs by the chef de canton. As an administrative agent for the French, he had to obtain men to work on the roads and other « public works », obtain conscripts for the French army, and make milk, vegetables, and fruits available to the French. The chef de canton attempted to fill his quotas for laborers and army conscripts from the population of serfs. Moreover, the chef de canton needed labor to maintain his own fields and household; again he called on the serfs. The procedure for furnishing military conscripts to the French followed similar lines. The number of men needed was announced to the governor of the cercle, who in turn divided the quotas among the different cantons. It then became the responsibility of the chef de canton to bring the men to Labe. The two Fulɓe I knew who had served in the French army had both been volunteers. The recruitment of serfs on the other hand was forced, although some individuals did enlist.
Although the serfs did not like serving in the French army – many informants said young men fled to Senegal and Portuguese Guinea to avoid military service – it did provide a source of income. Many men sent home money from France to buy cattle (which serfs did not formerly own), and upon their return from service they used money and credit obtained from the French to buy cattle and plows or, perhaps, to establish themselves as merchants. Those who served fifteen years or more in the French army received an annual pension which could be applied to the same purposes. Thus, on the one hand, the suffering and exploitation of the serfs increased under colonial rule because the burden of forced labor fell mainly on them; on the other hand, the colonial period presented new opportunities for escape from their status and poverty.

. There has been no study of Diallonke history. Leland Donald has recently completed an excellent account of their social organization in Sierra Leone. However, he believes it too speculative to extrapolate from Yalunka social organization in Sierra Leone to what it night have been in the different ecology of the Fouta-Djallon in 1750.
. Jean Suret-Canale views Laing and the tarikas as the only reliable source for chronology during the eighteenth century.
. The dating of sedentarization is speculative. Further research needs to be done.
4. According to one traditional written history (tarika), there were 22 leaders – 12 Fulɓe and 10 Malinke. If it is true Malinke were involved in the jihad, it is very interesting and important. However, to verify this account, one would need to do research in the Malinke areas borderingthe Fouta
5. Based on an unpublished manuscript, courtesy of J. Suret-Canale.
6. We have excluded from this grouping the griots, known as farba, who derived from the Fouta-Tooro. Another interesting group were the wood craftsmen, the laobhe. They made wood stools and milk bowls. However unlike other crafts-men, they were considered Fulɓe, not serfs. They are said to have been endogamous.
7. The type of cow in the Fouta-Djallon is the ndama. They are small, sturdy, humpless, thickset cattle with long lyre-shaped horns. Tey are apparently resistant to trypanosomiasis, but their milk yield is low. See G. Doutressoulle (1947) and FAO Agricultural series (1957). The study draws its material for the Fouta-Djallon from Doutressoulle. The work of Doutressoulle is dated, and his statements must be carefully evaluated. No justification or evidence is presented for his view that the ndama bovines origined in the Kade region of the Fouta.Djallon (1947: 81).
8. Use of the terms serf and slave is subject to difficulty. Trimingham (1959, 1962) refers to the lowest stratum of the Fouta-Djallon as slaves in some places and serfs in others. Thus he notes there are 300,000 descendants of slaves in the Fouta.Djallon (1962: 29). But later in the same work, in discussing the hiearchical social organization of the Fouta, he states: Finally came the serf and slave groups. These became very numerous, increasing not merely in consequence of wars of aggression, but also because conquerors like al-Hajj ‘Umar bartered their prisoners in exchange for cattle. They were divided into categories

  • domestic serfs who enjoyed some measure of independence and
  • trade-slaves living a hard life in special villages (runde) under the control of an intendant appointed by the fief-holder (1962: 170).

Here he is making a distinction between « domestic slaves, » which for Trimingham are equivalent to « serfs, » and « slaves proper, » whom he calls « captives » (1959: 133). The distinction is their legal status, which arises by virtue of whether they were offspring of slaves or were captured or purchased from non-Muslims. Thus Trimingham distinguishes « household slaves » (rimaybhe, plur. and ndimaajo, sing.) from captives or « trade-slaves » (soodaabhe, plur. and soodaadho, sing.) For the Fulɓe, however, such a distinction, although made, did not reflect Fulɓe practice in terms of the work serfs did or where they lived. This distinction is not at all clear, for Trimingham notes that under Islamic law slaves born in the house were still chattels (1959: 133). The problem is further complicatod when, rather than assessing the economic and political position and importance of the « serfs » and « slave», he views the system as one in which the lot of slaves was ameliorated with each generation as slavery advanced through the various grades of serfdom and ultimately to clientship (1959: 134).
9. Serfdom and slavery, or both, were found among many different Fulɓe groups. Frodich (1949), in his article on the organization of a Fulɓe chieftainship in Adamawa, suggests a complicated system of slaves, serfs, captives, and vassals. And according to Froelich, these are all subsumed under the Fulɓe category of mattyubhe (Froelich spells it matchoube). Frodich further distinguishes between the mattyubhe of the chiefs and the mattyubhe of free Fulɓe as follows: Serfs of free Fulɓe were the property of their masters. They worked exclusively for him in exchange for food and the payment of their taxes.
The serfs of the laamidho were divided into three subcategories.

  • The first, vassals, paid a zakkat, presented several gifts, and upon the nominanon of a chief paid 1,000 francs. Froelich’s category of vassals refers to non-Fulɓe, nonserfs, who paid tribute to the chief. This situation (although I would not refer to it as vassalage) did exist on the borders of the Fouta-Djallon where villages paid tribute to the Fulɓe chief of the area in return for peaceful relations.
  • The second subcategory, serf dignitaries or notables, had the same obligations at free Fulɓe serfs, but had a superior position vis-à-vis other serfs.
  • The third, house servants, was in the same position as the serfs of the free Fulɓe. He also includes the Mboroor’en, who were equivalent to the Fulɓe buruure of the Fouta-Djallon. In Adamawa, however, they paid soffal, one cow per herd for the right of entry to the pastures of the chief. If they stayed for a period of time in these fields they paid a zakkat.

The percentage of serfs (or, as Froelich refers to them, « serviteurs » ) in Adamawa equaled that of certain areas in the Fouta-Djallon, 50 percent. In the village of Ngaoundere there were 6,400 Fulɓe and 6,700 serfs; in the lamidat, or chieftainship as a whole, there were 16,450 Fulɓe and 20,000 serfs. There were also 14,300 Dourou, who were independent.
While comparison with the Fouta-Djallon is tempting, Froelich’s work is difficult to use because he draws no dividing line between the precolonial and colonial period.
10. Rodney, in an important reanalysis of the history of the Fouta-Djallon, observes that as a consequence of the Fulɓe jihad « the most important social institution which emerged was the rounde – a village of conquered Djalonkes . . . » (1968: 277). He also suggests that the runde inhabitants were a majority of the population held down by a Fulɓe minority (19688: 278). Unless new evidence can be found such conclusions concerning the serf population will have to be rejected. I suspect that the runde were not as important as Rodney suggests since they are present, albeit in a slightly different form, among both the Wassoulunke and Malinke. Other ideas presented by Rodney are stimulating, for example, his suggestion that the serf population was quite important for providing the food necessary for slaves awaiting shipment in Sierra Leone.
11. In struggles for the position of landho diiwal or almamy Fouta the suufa were of great importance because they were the only ones of the chief’s followers who owed him complete and unambiguous loyalty. The suufa did not live in the serf village, but in tbe compound of the landho diiwal. This group fits the notion of « personal slaves » so common throughout West Africa.
12. There were leather workers among the Diakanke who were known sylla, just as were the serf leather workers. The former, however, were free.
13. Conakry, 16 October 1891.
Instructions for Mr. de Beeckman, charged with a mission to the Fouta concerning commerce:

We would like to insist strongly that if possible, to obtain a written argument with the almamys that the almamys spend money along the Southern rivers, that they send the Foulbe caravans directly to the coast, and to definitely renounce their relations with the English. You will be able to easily demonstrate to them that they will be able to find the same articles at the same price in Conakry as in Sierra Leone.

The instructions go on to say that Beeckman should make the almamy understand that the French respect the Fulɓe mores and customs, that the French intention was only to develop commerce, not to occupy militarily the Fouta nor in any way oppose the laws and ways of the Fulɓe (from the National Archives of Guinea, 1891).
14. The provisions of the treaty of February 6, 1897 stipulated that the French would respect the actual constitution of the Fouta, and that the almamys would continue to rule the entire Fouta subject to the supervision of a French adminisrator who would take the title of Resident du Fouta-Djallon.
15. In 1912 the cercle of Labe, which was much smaller than the original diiwal, included 84 principal misiddaaji and 156 secondary ones.
16. However, in several instances in Labe, the French appointed as chiefs members of maximal patrilineages orher than the Khalduyanke.
17. A decree was issued by the French in 1905 prohibiting « an agreement having as its object the alienation of the liberty of a third party. » The decree also suppressed domestic slavery, although, according to both Crowder (1968) and Suret-Canale (1964a), no measures were taken to enforce this. Crowder gives four reasons to account for the French reluctance to end slavery or serfdom:

  1. First of all, the French used a system of forced labour in their occupation of West Africa which was tantamount to Africa domestic slavery.
  2. Secondly, they had used « captifs » as a reward for their African troops, and could hardly withdraw them overnight.
  3. Thirdly, so many of the slaves in French West Africa were « captifs » as distinct from domestic slaves that it was feared social dislocation of enormous proportions would ensue.
  4. Finally, the question of the domestic slave, born to the role as distinct from subjected to it, was a problem the administrators found difficult to tackle in the early years of colonial rule. (1968: 183)

18. There were a variety of reports used by French administrators. I found one particularly useful. This was the Rapport Politique to the Gouverneur Général de Afrique Occidentale Française which included the following:

  • Analyze. Questions en Cours : leur suite
  • Faits Nouveaux; appreciation, conclusions
  • Impôt: faits d’ordre politique et administratif relatif à la rentrée de l’impôt
  • Esprit des populations: attitude des chefs et des personnages infiuents
  • Questions musulmanes: mouvement islamique, marabouts, leur influence
  • Ecoles: laiques, catholique, protestantes, musulmanes
  • Missions: catholiques et protestantes
  • Justice indigène: causes importantes, attitudes des magistrats indigènes
  • Demandes.

These reports are found in the National Archives of Guinea.
19. The height of the rubber boom in Guinea was 1909 to 1910, when

  • the price of a kilo of rubber was 15 to 20 francs at Conakry.
  • In the interior it was 12 francs.
  • By 1915 the price had fallen to 2.50 francs for a kilo at Conakry (Suret-Canale 1964a: 66).

20. Caillié stated he met several merchants going to the market of Labe to sell some calabashes (kore) and earth pots (payane) but gives no further details. He could have been referring to the residence of the province chief (1830: 300). My informants maintained the French introduced the marketplace to Labe.
21. Although I searched for the archives relating to the opening of the markets at Popodara and in the surrounding areas I did not find them. Thus I did not learn the reasons the French had for creating markets.