Serfs-Peasants-Socialists Fulɓe Society


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

University of California Press. 1968. 280 p.


An analysis of contemporary society in the Fouta-Djallon leads to the real and important problems of how to characterize the former serf population, which should be examined before discussing their social organization. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were clear social, economic, and political differences between serfs and Fulɓe. However, since the end of serfdom, these differences are no longer so pronounced. Moreover, the study of the present involves a study of change.
One solution is to characterize former serfs by saying that they are, or are becoming, « Fulɓe. » However, to do so implies that the other strata among the Fulɓe have remained unchanged. In attempting to understand the new sociopolitical and economic conditions in which the population lives, and the likely direction for the future, the concept of peasantry seems most applicable. This is not to say, of course, that the earlier society did not condition and determine responses to the processes of transformation in the Fouta. However, to simply consider the present population of the Fouta as Fulɓe is to accede to the notion that in some sense the Fulɓe remain a « tribe. »
The Fulɓe of the Fouta-Djallon are a group who have strong continuities with the past, but should, as Skinner urges, be viewed as a new entity
Some of the names which are now used as symbols for group identity do refer to distinct socio-cultural entities in the past. However, many of the so-called tribal groups were creations of the colonial period. But even those groups for which continuity with the past could be claimed have lost many of their traditional characteristics that in fact they must be viewed as new entities (1966: 182-3).
One reason the term peasant has been rejected in the discussion of African societies has been the traditional concern with « tribal » peoples. It is interesting that British social anthropologists do not use the term peasant for African populations despite the very broad definition of peasantry given by Raymond Firth. Firth states that « peasant refers to a socioeconomic category. It describes a socio-economic system of small-scale producers with a relatively simple, non-industrial technology » (1964: 17). He goes on to say that « definition of a system as ‘peasant’ implies that it has its own particular local character, partly because of intricate community interrelationships and partly because, in economic and social affairs, it both contributes to and draws upon a town in trade, cultural exchange and general ideology » (1964: 17). This definition by Firth is more complex than his earlier definition: « By a peasant economy one means a system of small scale producers, with a simple technology and equipment relying primarily for their subsistence on what they themselves produce. The primary means of livelihood of the peasants is cultivation of the soil » (1951: 87). This makes it even more surprising that the terms peasants and peasantry have not been used in the analysis of African material.
The social anthropologists, more than others (except journalists), have used the term tribe to describe African societies – past or present. Gluckman (1965) has attempted to give tribal society a very general meaning: « the kind of community which was once described by the term ‘primitive society’ » (1965: xv). Gluckman emphasizes that « tribes » were something Europe once had but no longer has, which inadvertently gives justification to those who see tribe used in the African context as something atavistic and primitive. Furthermore, because Gluckman defines the interest of the social anthropologist as « the role of persistent custom in maintaining a social system in equilibrium » (1965; 299), we can see the link between the notion of tribe and the theoretical studies of societies in equilibrium which emphasize the study of the institutions that maintain the tribe. The focus is not on the transformation of the tribe, but rather on how the tribe maintains itself against impinging forces. An example of this approach is the dissertation of Butcher on the Fulɓe of Sierra Leone.
The purpose of raising this problem is limited in this study to the question of how to analyze most meaningfully the field material gathered on the Fulfulde-speaking people of the Fouta-Djallon. I have attempted to look at the social forces operating on one group, forces which are leading the group into new lines of development. These processes would be obscured if viewed through the notion of « tribe. » The creation of a peasantry in the Fouta-Djallon was the result of French colonial rule, urban areas having been unknown in the Fouta-Djallon prior to colonization. Although the residence of the province chiefs tended to be larger than most villages, it was not until the colonial era that urban centers developed.
The case of Latin America where the creation of most of the peasantry resulted from colonization offers a useful perspective for viewing African rural populations. If we draw on the Latin American example, we can perhaps recognize our own past biases in emphasizing the « tribal »‘ nature of African societies. We have, by dwelling on tribes, not given enough attention to the basic social processes that have produced, and are producing, a peasantry in Africa.
As late as 1961 an anthropologist (Fallers 1961) argued that African cultivators are not to be called peasants. His reasoning was that although Africans are « peasant-like » economically and politically, African societies lack the distinction between a « high- culture » and the « folk » culture that characterizes true peasants. However, in the conclusion of his article, Fallers does suggest that Christian and Islamic societies, with their accompanying « high cultures, » were and are structurally ready to receive peasant cultures. There has long been a literate tradition in certain Islamic areas of West Africa. The people of the Fouta-Toro in Senegal, the Fouta-Djallon in Guinea, and the Macina region in Mali are well known for the emphasis they put on a written Islamic education. Timbuktu was a great center of Islamic learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Yet despite the existence in these areas of a written tradition, which would fit Faller’s description of a « high culture, » we are still faced with the question as to whether we would want to describe these areas as peasant before colonial contact. My answer for the Fouta-Djallon is no. The Fulɓe were transformed into peasants during the colonial period, whereas many became Muslim by 1727. In my view the notion of peasantry is not applicable to precolonial Fulɓe society due to the lack of development of a state in the Fouta. « It is only when a cultivator is integrated into a society with a state – that is when the cultivator becomes subject to the demands and sanctions of power-holders outside his social stratum – that we can appropriately speak of peasantry » (Wolf 1966: 11). There are three other reasons that lead to the conclusion that the concept of peasantry is inappropriate for the Fulɓe prior to 1900.

  • First, the majority of the population, through their major patrilineages, were landowners.
  • Second, chiefly maximal lineages were not exempt from key economic tasks (with the exception of the chiefs of the different provinces, and the almamys of the largest misiides).
  • And third, the power of the chiefly maximal lineage of a diiwal to extract a surplus from the other Fulɓe was severely limited, the system of exaction being that of tribute and not taxation.

While one stratum of precolonial Fulɓe society, the serfs, approximated a peasantry, the precolonial organization differed greatly from a « feudal model » in that serfs did not constitute a majority of the population, and there were areas of the Fouta where there were few, if any, serfs.
Two recent discussions of peasantry are useful in placing the Fouta-Djallon in a peasant framework. The first discussion is that of Wolf (1966), who considers peasantry in general, and the other is by Dalton (1962, 1964, 1969), who is specifically concerned with Africa. Their approaches are complementary for they emphasize a slightly different aspect of the category of peasant.
In Wolf’s view, peasants are « rural cultivators whose surpluses are transferred to a dominant group of rulers that use the surpluses both to underwrite its own standard of living and to distribute the remainder to groups in society that do not farm but must be fed for their specific goods and services in turns » (1966: 3-4). Wolf contrasts the peasant economy with that of primitives: « In primitive society, producers control the means of production, including their own labor, and exchange their own labor and its products for the culturally defined equivalent goods and services of others » (1966: 3). He then goes on to consider the critical difference between primitive and peasant cultivators. This critical difference is the production of a « fund of rent. » « Where someone exercises an effective superior power’ or domain, over a cultivator, the cultivator must produce a fund of rent » (1966: 910). Before we turn to the question of the « fund of rent » in the Fouta let us first set out Dalton’s criteria for peasantry and see whether the population of the Fouta-Djallon meet such criteria.
Dalton distinguishes between the economies of primitive and peasant cultures in two ways.

  • First, in a peasant economy most people depend for the bulk of their livelihood on production for market sale. Often resource markets are present. By resource markets Dalton means that labor, land, tools, and equipment are available for purchase, rent, or hire at a money price. He concludes that « it is the relative importance of markets for resources and products and cash transactions that is the principal difference between peasant and primitive economies » (1969: 13).
  • Second, in a peasant economy, capitalist features (he does not say socialist) are present, but they are incomplete and underdeveloped compared to market organization in a modern national economy: « By incomplete is meant that within a given peasant community, some markets may be absent or petty – land may be frequently purchased or rented but labor is not, . . . or vice-versa; and that subsistence production may still be quantitatively important in some households » (1969: 13).

It is clear that Dalton’s distinction between subsistence (or primitive) and peasant economies will have to be further refined and analyzed.
In contrast to Wolf and Dalton, and in a very recent continuation of the discussion of the existence of African peasantries, Brokensha and Erasmus (1969) agree that no matter what conception of peasantry is applied to Africa, the fit is very poor. Thus for Ghana and Uganda they note that the rural populations have not been the « subordinate masses of a bifurcated, dual or ‘feudal’ society suffering from the inhibitions of a limited power image » (1969: 95). Rather they are subsistence-oriented cultivators in the process of becoming farmers. Structurally, culturally, and economically they are not peasants. Brokensha’s and Erasmu’s analysis, it would seem, rests on at least three incorrect assumptions:

  • that there is complete absence of a ruling class in « traditional African societies » (a phrase used as though its meaning is apparent, which it is not);
  • that whether or not land is owned by Africans (presumably as opposed to Europeans or non-African) is critical for a definition of peasantry; and
  • that African cultivators do not belong to a subordinate social stratum.

One of the critical areas of my disagreement with Brokensha and Erasmus is the interpretation of the impact of colonial rule and the nature of contemporary African states. In my view the state—both colonial and postcolonial—remains highly exploitative of the rural peasants, or cultivators. African peasants are coming to form an increasingly subordinate segment of the population, a trend that began during the colonial era. At the same time I would hold to the classical view (Ribeiro 1968), which interprets the rise of peasantry as connected with the rise of urban centers. There have been, and will be, some areas in Africa where peasantries will not form (as among the cocoa farmers of Ghana), but for the most part the concept of peasant is now applicable or will be. In contrast to Brokensha and Erasmus, Reining concludes that the Tanzanian Haya are peasants on the basis of a typology that combines the works of Barnes, Redfield, and Wolf. Reining’s argument is particularly important because East Africa has been discussed in tribal terms even more than has West Africa.
Within the Fouta-Djallon there are key economic features that lead me to regard the population as peasants. Purchase and sale transactions with cash are frequent and quantitatively important. Labor, tools, and equipment are available for purchase and hire at a money price. However, one commodity stands out above all others in its relative absence from the market, namely land. The inalienability of land remains one of the key features of peasantry not only in the Fouta-Djallon but in West Africa as a whole. During the colonial period it was possible to buy and sell in the Fouta despite the wishes of the land-owning units (patrilineages), but this process has been reversed by the present government of Guinea.
A major problem exists in analyzing the Fouta in terms of Dalton’s criterion that peasants depend mainly on production for market sale for their livelihood. Many Fulɓe of the Fouta-Djallon are dependent for their livelihoods on leaving the area to work for wages. The simple fact that the Fouta produces large numbers of migrant wage workers, of course, does not make it a peasant region. However, where money has become the dominant form of exchange, and where there are inadequate internal means of earning money, we might reason that what the people of the region have to sell on the market is their labor.
Another major problem for considering the Fulɓe as peasants within Wolf’s criterion is the question of what constitutes rent: Wolf argues that rent takes many different forms and has been very broadly defined. In the Fouta-Djallon rent took the form of taxation and labor corvee imposed by the French. Not paying taxes or refusing to work could lead either to prison or confiscation of one’s property, including land. The result was the extraction of a surplus in money and labor from the inhabitants of the Fouta-Djallon. Taxation, of course, was imposed in all French colonies, but its results were not the same because of the different kinds of organization that existed prior to colonization.

The social organization of a former-serf village

The social organization of Hollaande, a village of former serfs, is being restructured in the context of a new economy fundamentally unlike that of the precolonial period. The individualization of both the subsistence and commercial sectors of the economy has emphasized the small kin groups at the expense of the larger ones, while the end of serfdom has reinforced the social, and particularly the ceremonial, functions of the larger kin groups within the village. The social organization of the former serfs, as a result of their participation in the new economy and nation-state, has become fundamentally the same as that of their former masters.
The kin groups and their roles are essentially the same in both populations. In the past, the serfs lacked maximal patrilineages and their major patrilineages were without genealogical depth. Present tendencies point to an ever increasing convergence between the social organization of the Fulɓe and the former serfs.
In describing the social organization of Hollaande it is necessary to first discuss kinship terminology and the social relations that obtain between individuals in the various kin relationships. Although this is not directly relevant to the major points at hand, a discussion of the important kin relationships is necessary to an understanding of the composition of the larger kin groups. We will then turn to a consideration of the composition and operation of the various kin groups:

  • the household (bheynguure
  • the compound (galle) and minimal lineage (suudu
  • the major patrilineage (gorol); and matrilateral kindred (dewol).

We have already dealt with these groups in the abstract in describing the precolonial organization of the Fouta-Djallon, but here we shall delineate them concretely in terms of one village.

Kinship Terminology

The kinship terminology of the Fulɓe of the Fouta-Djallon is like that of other Fulfulde-speakers in Senegal, Nigeria, and Niger. Eight generations are included in this system. The male line is distinguished from the female line. Cross and parallel cousins are distinguished. Parallel cousins and siblings are referred to by the same terms. These terms are mawniraawo for an older brother (kotoo is used as well), minnyiraawo for a younger brother, dyaadya for an older sister, and minnyiraawo for a younger sister. Bandiraabhe refers to all siblings of the opposite sex. Men can refer to female maternal parallel cousins as remmiraabhe also. Dendhan, or cross cousins, are not distinguished by seniority.
Father and father’s brothers are not usually terminologically merged (ben or baaba for father, bappa for father’s brother), whereas mother and mother’s sisters and father’s other wives are terminologically merged as neene. However, when asking about one’s biological mother, it is polite to use yumma as opposed to neene. Further, one uses neene for his own mother and neenan (contraction of neene an) (« my mother ») with first name for other individuals.
Seniority can be distinguished in one’s father’s generation. I found this practice in Fulɓe villages but not in Hollaande. If father has an older brother, he is referred to as baaben mawdho, « eldest father. » Kinsmen (musibbhe), which includes both the male and female lines, are terminologically distinct from affines (esiraabhe).
For any individual there are two sets of kinsmen – his major patrilineage and his matrilateral kindred. Dupire (1962) notes (and this is the same for the Fulɓe of the Fouta) that paternal kinsmen are said to be of the same blood. All members of a major patrilineage are one blood (yhiiyhan gootan), whereas the maternal kinsmen are said to be from the same breast or to have been raised on the same milk. Milk and sucking are used as synonyms for affection.
An individual’s rights to a kin group derive from the linage of his father. A bastard (fattu) is literally a man without a lineage. His counsels will not be followed; he will receive no inheritance. The maternal line of an individual provides warmth, support and love. There is a saying to the effect that « love comes from the matrilateral kindred » (Giggol ko ka dewol iwrata) There is another saying which incorporates a borrowing from the French: « The world changes, fathers change, but two things don’t change, mother and the dewol » (Aduna sansi, baaba sansi, kono piidyi dhidhi sansaali; Neene e dewol sansaali.)
The last kin group of importance to an individual (after his marriage) are his affines. One’s affines are the major patrilineage of his wife, with the exception that those whom his wife calls « younger sibling » he calls keynan. His affines and the keynan become the matrilateral kindred of his children.
The most important « non-kin » of an individual are his age-mates (goree). Because members of a village are considered kinsmen, non-kin may not be appropriate, but insofar as relations between age-mates are not determined by a precise genealogical relationship, the term non-kin accurately portrays the quality of relationship. Age-mates are an individual’s friends for life and the group with whom he will spend most of his time before adulthood.
The last point to be noted before a detailed presentation of the relations between kin categories is the pattern of residence. Residence is highly virilocal. Only four of the living adult males at Hollaande were not born of a member of one of the two major patrilineages. Two had been brought as children by the chef de canton to Hollaande, and had become adopted members of the major patrilineage of Hoore Tane. The other two individuals returned to Hollaande after the deaths of their fathers to live with their maternal grandparents. They both have received land at Hollaande, the land of their maternal grandmothers. Within the past thirty years no individual has voluntarily left Hollaande to live in another village in the Fouta.

Social Relations among Kinsmen

Traditional Fulɓe society was not egalitarian. There were marked status differences depending on sex, age, descent, and rank. Rank was the position an individual occupied in the precolonial hierarchy – member of a

  • chiefly lineage
  • free Fulɓe
  • Fulɓe of the bush or
  • serf.

Polite address was used between Fulɓe of different statuses, as between a master and his serfs, a chief and his subjects,. the almamy of a mosque and the members of the mosque, a man and his wives, or a man and his children. The polite form of address between unequals was not used reciprocally; it was used by those of lower position when addressing those of higher position. In addition, there was a special vocabulary of respect used to address those in a higher position, only part of which is now known. The vocabulary of respect which can be conceptually distinguished from the older system of titles (chief, almamy, etc.), concerned the body of the honored person, the clothing he/she wore, and the objects he/she used. For example, the respectful form of to speak is maakugol instead of wowlugol. The respectful word for head is sala instead of hoore. The decline in the use of the vocabulary of respect mirrors the decline in the social institutions that supported such usage
Behavior toward one’s kinsmen paralleled behavior toward those of higher or lower social, political, and religious status. The seniority and authority etiquette therefore was not simply a domestic etiquette. It was, rather, an etiquette that originated in the descent system and in social differences, and which in turn supported them. Older forms of respect have not disappeared in certain non-kin contexts. The leader of the religious center at Koula, who is referred to as Shaiku, is today treated much in the same way chiefs and religious leaders must have been treated fifty years ago. The Shaiku is not spoken to unless he speaks first; he is greeted with extreme deference and respect; and if he is seated, a visitor will seat himself before speaking to him. The Shaiku’s sons use the polite vocabulary in speaking about him. His former serfs are even more deferential to him than are his fellow Fulɓe villagers. Respect shown the Shaiku represents the continuation of traditional forms. A committee meeting is a situation in which earlier forms are not followed. In committee meetings old and young speak directly to each other without great attention to polite usage. Fulɓe and former serfs, former chiefs and youths, will argue without regard to earlier status differences.
There are behavioral and terminological manifestations of respect that remain today in the behavior of kinsmen. For instance, when a visitor approaches a compound and asks if the head of the household is present, the response of his children or his wife is « They are here » or « They aren’t here. » A man’s children and wives do not refer to their husband or father by name, nor by the familiar or impolite usage « He is not here. » 10 There are other indications of household status. Children will do errands for their father. The eldest of the children can employ his younger siblings. If the father’s younger brother comes for a meal, he will be deferential toward his older brother. Younger brothers and sons will typically be subdued in front of their elders and will be reticent unless they have come for a specific reason.
Before discussing the appropriate behavior expected between relatives of the same household, let us note Hopen’s description of the household of pastoral Fulɓe of Gwandu.

The structure of the household is . . . visualized as a series of households each of which is, at a given moment, at a specific level in its development. The interests, ambitions, roles and status of the members vary according to the level of development of that household; so also, therefore, must the nature of the relationships among the members change in time (1958: 135).

Father-Child. The two most important characteristics of the behavior of a son toward his father are obedience and respect. As a child (ages six to fourteen), the son will carry out his father’s commands, will do his chores, and will be disciplined and punished by his father.
A man’s position in the village, as well as his own sense of self-esteem, rests on the number of sons he has. Thus a man is very proud of his sons and of their exploits, even though he is culturally inhibited from showing such emotion. In public -particularly at ceremonial gatherings – he shows extreme constraint, and usually one would not know from their behavior who is father and who is son. As in many societies, an old or infirm father is supposed to be supported by his sons. A father often justifies the expense and difficulty of rearing children by pointing out the support he expects from them in his old age. The behavior expected by a father is likewise expected by a father’s full and half-brothers.
As Hopen (1958) points out, at the age of ten a boy looks to his father as a man whose authority cannot be questioned. As the son gets older, however, there are many source of conflict. The potential for conflict is greater today than it was in the past for several reasons – the problem of obtaining land for compounds, labor migration out of the Fouta-Djallon, the failure of sons to furnish their families with assistance, and general resentment between the generations over the lack of proper respect shown by the young for their elders. Although the young people’s lack of respect is the most frequently heard complaint of the old, the existence of outside labor markets has been the most important factor in undermining the authority of the parental generation.
During the early years of a girl’s childhood her father will play with her, but this period does not last long. The relationship between father and daughter is minimal after the girl’s clitoridectomy at about the age of ten. Following the operation, the girl is her mother’s charge. The father retains responsibility for her, but the relationship is not close.
Mother-Child. Within the kinship ideology of Fulɓe society, it is the mother and her kinsmen who give warmth and love to the children. After a girl’s clitoridectomy she assumes more and more of the household work – preparing food, obtaining water, cleaning clothes, and gardening. Girls typically have much less free time and work much harder than do boys of the same age. Mothers discipline and oversee the girls.
A mother gives her sons love, support, and discipline until they are seven or eight. From about age ten a boy no longer sleeps in the house with his mother and sisters, but with his age-mates or those slightly older in a house for already circumcised boys.
The Fulɓe express, at least consciously, greater ambivalence toward their fathers than toward their mothers. Even the most educated Fulɓe retain a love and feeling for their mothers. Because of the self-sacrifice and support mothers give their sons, a son can only with the greatest difficulty reject a request by his mother.
The relationship between mother and daughter is characterized by greater ambivalence than the relationship between mother and son because of the direct and constant control a mother exercises over her daughter. Nevertheless, ties between a daughter and mother remain close all during their lives, and a daughter continually assists and helps her mother during peak work times.
Brother-Brother. The relative age of brothers is of decisive importance in determining their relationship. An elder brother is to be shown respect and obedience, the same as is shown to the father. If the father dies, it is the eldest son who will assume his role if he has reached adulthood. (If a father leaves no mature sons, his brother will assume responsibility for the children.)
The closest of all childhood relationships is between brothers of the same age but of different mothers. They are typically inseparable. But as the brothers grow older the most important determinant of their relationship comes to be the relationship of their father to their respective mothers. In contrast, brothers of the same mother retain a closeness and love not found in any other relationship.
The relationship between brothers of different ages is characterized by reserve and restraint. The fact that an elder brother is the « affine » of his brother’s wife heightens their reserve, for on the death of a man, his brother will almost always inherit his wife, or wives.
Brothers will conflict with each other over inheritance and the division of their father’s land. But they will also cooperate, for it is upon brothers that responsibility for the economic support of ceremonies falls.
Grandparents-Grandchildren. The relationship between grandchildren and grandparents is characterized by unconditional love and warmth. Following a dispute between a child and his parents, it is typical for the child to seek refuge with his grandparents. The grandparents’ role is to give support to a child without criticizing or disciplining him.
When there are gatherings of young and old, the only interaction between members of different generations is between grandparents and grandchildren. In particular, a grandparent will tease his grandson by pulling out his knife in a mock attempt to circumcise him. Only in the interplay between grandparent and child is a child permitted to strike an adult.
The only adults to whom children are free to express them selves are their grandparents. They often spend evenings with their grandparents listening to the numerous folkstories and legends or accounts of earlier times.
Father’s Sister-Ego. The relationship between an individual and his father’s sister is one of respect and restraint. His father’s sister is a disciplinary and authority figure for the child. Her role is quite important in all the ceremonies of the life cycle. However, her interaction with the child is limited.
Mother’s Brother-Ego. In general, the relationship between an individual and the kisnmen on his mother’s side is characterized by warmth and familiarity. Of all the maternal kinsmen of his matrilateral kindred, his mother’s brothers are the most important. In times of crises or difficulty, he can always go to his mother’s brothers for assistance.
Sister-Sister. This relationship parallels that between brothers, although it is less influenced by age difference. The respect shown by brothers for one another was not observed among sisters.
Brother-Sister. The relationship between brother and sister is marked by restraint, unless they are of the same age. An older sister, particularly if she is much older, serves almost as a second mother to her younger siblings. An older brother has a restrained relationship with his younger sisters. If his father dies, he will become father to his sisters. Between siblings of the same age there is great familiarity, joking, and they share the same friends. As we will have occasion to discuss later, religious ceremonies require the accumulation and consumption of much wealth – wealth that exceeds the resources of any one individual. Economic support for these ceremonies is shared among siblings.
As we noted for brother-brother relations, a brother and sister of the same mother will be much closer than will those of the same father but different mothers.
Husband-Wife. An individual’s first marriage, at least until recent times, was always an economic and social arrangement between two families. The preferences of the woman, in particular, were little followed. Quite often the marriage arrangements were already formally completed prior to the girl’s first menstruation. Later marriages may reflect the personal desires of the man, as well as continuing social, economic, or political needs. After her first marriage a woman has a strong say in accepting a new husband.
Relationships between husbands and wives are quite variable, as in our own society. The stereotype of the husband-wife relationship, however, is one of discipline and respect. A wife is supposed to obey her husband, cook, wash, garden, and raise children. The husband provides the house, land for the garden and fields, and clothing for his wife. The relationship between a husband and wife will vary depending on the stage of the household: prior to children, while the wife can bear children, and when the wife is past child-bearing. At first, the husband will be very solicitous as the new wife learns the skills of managing her section of the economy. However, this is also a time of probation, as most divorces take place before the wife has children. The birth of a child marks the entrance of both husband and wife into adult status. A wife’s relative importance frequently, although not necessarily, depends on the number of sons she bears her husband. A wife has great economic responsibility, because her success in managing the garden is significant to her husband. As a wife approaches the end of her child-bearing stage, her relationship with her husband changes. If they have maintained a companionship prior to this time, it will continue, but if the relation has been distant, this will become accentuated, and if the woman is not in her natal village she may well have to face a period of loneliness unless she has her children. Women often prefer to marry within their natal village so they will have kinsmen and age-mates close at hand.
The relationship between husband and wife during the childbearing years tends to be very restrained in public – husband and wife do not speak to each other, nor is there ever any expression of affection. If a husband needs to call a wife, or vice-versa, when others are present, an intermediary is almost always used. If a couple remain childless, but want to remain married, they can adopt children. However, as they become older and the wife can no longer bear children their relationship either becomes minimal or they interact more freely with each other.
Women today enjoy greater mobility and independence due to their participation in markets, just as the husband has greater independence from his father due to the growing importance of the household at the expense of larger kin groups.
Co-wives. In polygynous households every wife has the right to occupy a separate house provided by her husband. She also has personal food supplies and domestic equipment. She rears her own children and in both productive and recreational activities is free from the interference of any of the other wives. Each wife has to prepare food daily for the husband. Relationships between co-wives are informal in character and depend on individual temperaments and the particular husband. There are no clear-cut rules of behavior between co-wives, nor of domestic cooperation. The first married, or senior, wife does not have formal prerogatives over the other wives. The only formal rule for involving co-wives is for the husband. The inhabitants of Hollaande state that, according to Islam, all wives should be treated equally. Each wife should receive the same amount of grain, money, clothing, and attention. However, there are differences of attitude on the part of both husbands and wives, as well as different abilities. The difference in the treatment of wives is a source of tension, manifesting itself not only in ill-feelings between the co-wives, but between the brothers of the different mothers.
Relationships between Affines. The relationships between affines are characterized by restraint, respect, and sometimes by avoidance. Complete avoidance is not prescribed, aside from being impractical because marriages take place in the village. Rather, various situations are defined in terms of whether avoidance is to be followed or not. Thus affines should not eat together out of the same bowl but can and should work together.
When affines meet formally, both individuals squat on the ground, look away from the other, and use the polite forms of greeting. However many no longer practice this form of salutation. If affines are from the same village, they will not use the polite forms of greeting except perhaps at ceremonies. Younger people are much less likely to use such a greeting than are older people. A simplified form of greeting is often substituted, in which the one who has to show respect

  • kneels partially
  • holds his left hand to his right arm, and
  • shakes the hand of the other while using the polite forms of salutation.

Affines are called on for work assistance, and they provide specific items for ceremonies. A husband sends many gifts to the major patrilineage of his wife, primarily to her father. The obligations of an affine are to his « daughter » and to her children. An individual’s affines will be the matrilateral kindred of his children.
Age-mates. Age-mates are those born in a village within the same one-year period, although before the recent large population increase the period was three years. This relationship is life-long, includes both sexes, and can be viewed as a kin relationship based on age.
Behavior between age-mates approximates our « true friendship. » 11 Whereas the relationship between siblings is determined by their relative ages, with consequent restraints and responsibilities, age-mates are equal. From the earliest age, mothers teach children that age-mates share equally, no matter how little they may have. Children spend most of their free time with their age-mates, and this is the one relationship in which they are permitted to dispute, fight, and experiment sexually. Age-mates undergo circumcision or clitoridectomy at the same time.
As they become older, age-mates see less of each other, particularly the women who marry out of the village. However, lovers are still taken from within the age-mate group. In general, age-mates remain very close, and it is one of the rare joys of old age to have a true age-mate living. There was one such relationship in Hollaande, and the two men were inseparable. As one gets older there is also more flexibility with the age span, so that men of fifty, fifty-five, and sixty are often considered age-mates.
There are no real social and economic obligations between age-mates. The free sharing of childhood declines gradually after circumcision and ends with marriage, but age-mates remain confidants who share the details of all their experiences, including the problems of married life and extra-marital affairs.

Figure 3.A kin relationship among age-mates.

Age-mate relationships occasionally supersede requirements of other kin relationships. In one case, one age-mate was the brother of the father of the other two. Although the boys did call him « uncle » (bappa) and showed slight restraint with him, the boys played inseparably, something which patrilineal uncles and nephews do not do. They were also circumcised together. In another case two adult men became age-mates when all of their true age-mates had died as a result of the common experience of fifteen years in the French army. Their age-mate relationship superseded their relationship as affines. (One man was the older brother of a wife of the other, acting as father since the real father had died.) The two men do not carry out the formalities of in-law behavior, although they do carry out the economic obligations of affines.

The kin groups

The importance of the village as an economic and political unit has increased during the periods of French colonial rule and independence. The village was traditionally of minor importance, the major political and economic units being the patrilineages. Living in the same village was of less significance than membership in the same major patrilineage. This is no longer the case. The village has supplanted other institutions as the focus of activity.
A village is composed of a series of compounds. 12 Within compounds the houses are not attached, and the entire compound, including the gardens, is enclosed within a wood fence. The adults of a compound typically have their own houses. However, poorer individuals will have only one house where they sleep with their wives and children, and a young married man sometimes prefers to live in the same house with his wife. Richer families who can afford to build cement houses have a living area, an adjacent bedroom for the husband, and then a series of bedrooms with separate entrances for the wives and children. Houses within a compound are generally grouped together toward the center, where there is a small courtyard that serves as a meeting and prayer area for the compound. The courtyard is marked by an orange tree around which are placed many stones.
The physical area of the compound, enclosed by a fence, is called the galle.Galle also refers to the social unit living within one compound. Earlier, extended families were the typical living unit within one compound and still are in more remote areas. The extended family consisted of the father (or eldest male), his married sons, unmarried sons and daughters, and possibly his younger brothers and their wives. The compound was therefore roughly equivalent socially to the minimal lineage when younger brothers and wives also lived in it.
Today, the most important kin group for an individual is the household, consisting of a man, his wife or wives, and his children. More and more the compound has become socially synonymous with the household, although taxes are currently determined by compound. The head of the compound is referred to as dyom galle (dyom derives from dyeyugol, « to own » ). A man is always considered the head of a compound, even one in which a woman lives by herself with her children. The compound as a physical unit belongs to the compound head, even in a former serf village. In earlier times, however, the serf compound was owned by a Fulɓe, who had the right to drive them from their land. Nowadays little can prevent former serfs from becoming land proprietors, and thus the proper owners of their compounds. There is no way a former land holder – a Pullo – can expel them. (We have already mentioned two examples of land expropriations, one of which led to the founding of Hollaande.) Most former serfs consider that they are the owners of their compound; even if they are not the owners de jure, no one can expropriate their compound. However, despite changes in the de facto ownership of compound land by former serfs, tradition can be difficult to break.
The Democratic Party of Guinea has waged a campaign in the countryside to convince the peasants that the land on which they live belongs to them, but there are still many former serfs who continue to pay farilla on their corn harvest to the nominal Fulɓe « proprietors » of their compounds, and who go to them for permission to expand their compound. Further, despite the current illegality of selling land, many young former serfs still think they have to buy land from the Fulɓe in order to start their own compounds. This is of critical importance for young men, because the compound head has to give each wife a house and a garden within the compound.
The eldest son, regardless of the order of marriage of the mothers, inherits the house of his father. If the eldest son inherits any land at all, it is the courtyard (tande) by his father’s house. The youngest son of each wife inherits her house and her garden. All sons except the youngest have to make their own compound. Except for the eldest son (afo) and the youngest (toola), sons have to make their own way. There is a saying which expresses their difficulty: « Between them [the first and youngest sons they are like bastards in the division [of their father’s land] » (Hakkundeebhe bhen no wai wa fattu ka sendugol). This refers to the fact that intermediary sons are treated like bastards in the inheritance of the land of their father; a bastard, of course, receives nothing. A father may expand his compound for the potential use of his sons, but he has no obligation to do so. Land is divided among the sons of serfs and the sons of Fulɓe in the same way.
Inheritance directly from the father is not the only way to receive land. If a father’s brother were to die leaving no sons, his land would be inherited by his brothers, who could give it to their sons.
In Hollaande the result of the system of inheritance is that brothers of the same mother live in the same compound or in contiguous ones, whereas brothers of the same father by different mothers typically live in noncontiguous compounds. There are two reasons for this. First, when Hollaande was originally settled, the compounds were dispersed and noncontiguous. A husband, therefore, usually created new compounds away from his own for his second, third, and fourth wives. The expansion of the original compound by the father for his sons or by the sons themselves separated the compounds of the sons of different mothers. Second, as the compounds became contiguous and there was no room for further expansion along the immediate boundaries, sons would be forced to build their compounds away from those of their father. Brothers of the same mother tended to do this together.
The Household. The household is the most important economic and social unit in Hollaande. It consists of a man, his wife or wives, his children, and sometimes his mother if his father has died. In the former serf villages, the acquisition of land is the responsibility of the male head of the household. He has to provide land for all the fields and his wives’ gardens. The fields are cultivated jointly by the whole household, although each adult member of the household has his own section of the fields Ideally, the husband is supposed to give each of his wives an equal part of his fields. In practice, this is not necessarily done due to variations in the numbers of children, or in the husband’s attachment to his wives. This is a frequent cause of tension within the household. The farilla is drawn by the man from the household as a whole, because it is his responsibility as head of the household to pay the farilla. Moreover, taxes are paid by the man for his household as a whole. All individuals over fourteen are taxed, and most men pay for their wives. 13 The man also pays the taxes for his mother, but his wives are expected to aid her in cultivation and preparation of food.
The household has a strong and continuing interest in its children. Although co-wives zealously attempt to have extra consideration given to their own children, each wife knows that should she die, the others will become mother to her children. The children, while they of course know who is their biological mother, view all their father’s wives as « mothers. » Depending on personal factors, and emotional closeness, their relationship may or may not approximate that existing between the real mother and child. There were several examples in Hollaande of individuals raised by a co-wife of their mother after their real mother’s death or divorce.
All the co-wives have the right to discipline the children and to intervene whenever necessary. In all the ceremonies involving children the wives share both the work and the joys of the occasion. When one wife gives birth to a child, the others take care of her other children, cook food for her, and prepare the food for the ceremony. The same is true when there is a clitoridectomy or circumcision.
We have emphasized the extent of cooperation possible among co-wives. Equally striking are the limits of cooperation within a polygynous household. Each wife prepares every meal for herself, children, and her husband. The preparation of food is often a social occasion, but it is spent with close friends or kinsmen, not with co-wives. Eating is not a special time for the household. A wife eats with her daughters and younger sons. A father eats with all his older sons, unless a rebellious teenager does not choose to eat with him. A man also eats oftentimes with his full brother, the younger brother going to the house of his elder brother with the food his wives have prepared.
Each individual stores his own portion of the household food supply. Although work in the fields is done cooperatively, the fields are initially divided among the husband’s wives – and sometimes among his older unmarried children – and the harvest of each individual is threshed separately so that it can be stored separately. The husband rakes the largest field and gives his grain to his wife or wives over the year. In addition, each wife has complete responsibility for her own garden and stores crops in her own house.
The care of animals, is again individual.14 Animals, whether they be goats, sheep, cattle, chickens, dogs, or cats, are individually owned by both men and women. The women receive animals either through inheritance or as the part of the bridewealth that becomes their personal property (tenhe). If it is the woman who owns the animals, the responsibility for their care is clear. If it is the husband who owns the animals, he delegates responsibility for certain animals to his wife or wives. If there is a lactating cow, the husband has to decide who will receive the milk. In general, preference will be given to a mother of a very young child.
The economic independence of the members of a household is great. As individual ownership now predominates over other possible kinds of collective ownership, each individual has the right to dispose of his property as he wants. Thus a woman can sell the surplus crops from her garden at the market and keep the profit. However, she has to plan first for the food needs of her children and husband and for ceremonial obligations.
The household is interdependent insofar as it hinges on the father. It is he who has to find land, maintain the compound, provide money for clothes for his children and wives, and furnish the necessary grain and gifts for the various ceremonies in which the household participates. It is tile husband who organizes crop production, selects the grains to be planted, and decides whether to expand the gardens for his sons anti daughters. However, we should note the growing economic importance of the woman’s garden for the sustenance of the household. Because of the decline in both the availability of fields and their yield, and the labor migration of men, the burden of providing food has fallen on the woman This emphasizes the limits of economic cooperation within the household, rather than expanding them.
The Minimal Lineage. The word for minimal lineage, like that for compound, has two meanings:

  • a house, or
  • the patrilineal descendants, male or female, of a paternal grandfather.

We are concerned only with its second meaning The affairs of the minimal lineage are directed by the compound heads. The line of cleavage within a minimal lineage runs through the paternal grandmother, as there is continual formation of new minimal lineages made up of the sons of the same grandmother. Figure 4 shows a minimal lineage and the point of fission in it.
The head of the minimal lineage is either the eldest living male descendant or someone who by virtue of his descent has seniority over the other members of the minimal lineage. For example, if a grandfather has a younger brother who is younger than the son of the grandfather’s deceased elder brother, it is quite clearly the younger brother who will be the head of the minimal lineage.
In the past the kin group that lived in one compound, or at least in contiguous ones, was the minimal lineage. In Fulɓe villages, fields were worked collectively by the members of a minimal lineage and its head served as the organizer of the household economy. In outlying Fulɓe areas the minimal lineage retains more of its functions than in those areas closer to cities and administrative centers. In more distant areas the head of the minimal lineage still assigns fields to the male members, and the clearing of fields is still done together. All the rest of the labor in the fields and the distribution of the harvest, however, is done by the household.

Figure 4.Model of a minimal lineage.

The economic role of the serf minimal lineage was minimized by the fact that both field and compound land was owned by individual Fulɓe. Thus, a minimal lineage had no authority in terms of land distribution. Further, because the location of a serf’s fields was dependent on where his master lived, labor cooperation among serf members of a minimal lineage was normally not possible.
At Hollaande today fields are acquired, distributed and worked by the household. The minimal lineage plays no role in the process. Brothers might have fields next to each other, but they work them individually, although they may assist each other, particularly if one brother has no children old enough to help him. Sometimes an individual can call on his minimal lineage age-mates, and his affines to work with him in his fields.
The kin group most often called on for labor assistance in the fields, gardens, and compounds are the children of siblings of the same mother. The fission of a minimal lineage between descendants of the same grandmother is clearly seen here. Thus, elder full brothers with older children frequently permit or ask their children to help younger brothers or sisters whose children are too young to help in the key economic activities.
During the month of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting when adult Muslims cannot eat between sunrise and sunset, the men of each minimum lineage unite for the evening meals. 15 The women of their households eat together with their children, although some women will eat with their mothers or eat alone with their children. This is the only time of year when there is communal eating (huntagol). In Hollaande there are eight places for communal eating. Seven of them are located where the elder of the minimal lineage lives, and one is the house of a recently deceased woman who gave rise to a minimal lineage.
The key importance of the minimal lineage is its ceremonial role. It is the minimal lineage that is responsible for the major economic support for ceremonies. To understand this role we must examine the major patrilineage.
The Major Patrilineage. The major patrilineage has a clear, fixed, and defined membership and is, in short, a corporate group. The oldest male member usually serves as the head of the major patrilineage, which is a position of high prestige, demanding great respect, but which is not a position of power. For both the Fulɓe and former serf the major patrilineage is the key to entrance into society. It is within the major lineage that every individual proceeds through the various stages of his society. Membership in it is what gives an individual specific rights to the economic, social, and physical support of his kinsmen, their assistance in all life-cycle ceremonies, and, for the Fulɓe, rights to land.
Depending on the size of a village, all inhabitants may or may not belong to the same major patrilineage. There are two in Hollaande, each composed of four minimal lineages. They are based as much on proximity as on descent, whereas Fulɓe patrilineages are based primarily on descent. The reason for this difference lies in the diverse origin of the inhabitants of a serf village. If we examine the genealogy of Hollaande, we find that each of the major lineages has a geographical name, in contrast to those of the Fulɓe, which are named after demonstrable ancestors. 16
At Hollaande the two major lineages correspond approximately but not exactly to the geographical division of the village. This division results from the original settlement of the village

  • one compound being established at the head of a stream (Hoore Tyanhe) and
  • the other by the side of a small hill (Binde Pellun).

There is one minimal lineage within the area inhabited by the Binde Pellun which is genealogically a part of Hoore Tyanhe; there are also two compounds belonging genealogically to Binde Pellun located in Hoore Tyanhe because a road constructed by the French divided the village. Aside from these three — the geographical division of the village reflects the kin division of the village into two major lineages. Figure 5 is a chart of the genealogy of the two major lineages and their component minimal lineages.
If we examine the genealogy of Hollaande we find that there are now eight minimal lineages. In 1900 there were only two, the families of the founders of the village of Hollaande. The heads of the two major lineages were

  • Tyoro, the founder of Hoore Tane, and
  • Ben Mata, the son of the founder of Binde Pellun.

In precolonial times there was a way an individual became a member of a major lineage aside from agnatic descent. Captives and their descendants became members of the family assigned the task of raising them. We have noted that captives were usually young children and were given to the owners’ serfs to be raised. Today an individual, either Fulɓe or former serf, can become a member of a major lineage through his mother’s father’s family. For a variety of reasons an individual may have to leave his father’s village and rejoin the family of his mother. He is then raised by his mother’s family and becomes a member of their major lineage. His mother’s brother is the individual most likely to give him land. 17

Figure 5.Outline of the genealogy of Hollaande.

To be a bastard is to be without lineage. « A bastard, » the saying goes, « will inherit like a dead man. » The sole exception is if the father of the bastard has no other sons, in which case the bastard might inherit. To be a female bastard does not present the same difficulties. Because descent is agnatic, the fact that a woman is a bastard is not of great importance for her children, and therefore she will be able to find a husband.
If a husband is present and hasn’t slept with his wife for several months, but she becomes pregnant, he may say the child is not his. The accused man and the husband’s wife will be questioned by the elders of the husband’s lineage as to who is the real father. In earlier days the woman would be beaten until she announced his name, but this practice has been discontinued. When the identity of the father has been established, he is called before the elders and asked to admit his guilt. If he does so, or if the elders judge that he is the proper father, then his lineage becomes responsible for performing the child’s naming ceremony. The same procedure is followed when the husband of the pregnant woman is not present. An older brother of his (an affine of the woman) will act on his behalf. In fact, this situation is currently more common due to labor migration. The naming ceremony will be performed by the real father’s lineage, but the child most often remains with its mother and will not be a member of either lineage. If the identity of the hushand is not discovered, the naming ceremony is performed by the major lineage of the woman, but the child does not become a member of that lineage.
The provision of goods for life-cycle and religious ceremonies is the responsibility of the elders of the major lineage. When it is time for a life-cycle ceremony for a member of a major lineage, the elders with the father concerned, make a series of decisions about what goods will be needed and how much. The elders then divide the amount needed among the minimal lineages of the major lineage. In general, approximately an equal amount is contributed by each minimal lineage except the minimal lineage of the individual involved in the ceremony which is much larger.
The head of each minimal lineage decides how much each household will contribute. A rotation system is often set up so that every household does not have to contribute to each ceremony. There were differences in contributions depending on the wealth of the households. Within Hollaande, however, there was less economic differentiation than in other villages. The contributions of the various households in Hollaande, therefore, tended to be of equal value.
It seems that the share of the cost of ceremonies met by kinsmen outside the household and minimal lineage has diminished, and that a larger burden now falls on the smaller units. Certain gifts are now standardized. Each adult male is expected to give 50 francs ($.20) to the father of a newborn child, and each young man 25 francs ($.10). If the person was a member of the same minimal lineage as the father, his contribution would be around 500 francs ($2.00).
The importance of the major lineage is not simply ceremonial. Key decisions affecting the lives of the members cannot be made without the consultation and approval of its elders. Such decisions include marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Moreover, the former serfs presently exercise a greater degree of autonomy over these questions than they did in the past. This point can be exemplified by considering the question of inheritance. In the case of the Fulɓe, decisions about inheritance were and are made by the elders of the major lineage of the deceased. When difficulties or conflicts arise, they can be brought to the mosque, where there still exists a group of elders known as « judges » (nyaawoobhe). When a serf died, the decision about the disposition of his possessions was made not only by the elders of the serf’s major lineages but by his Fulɓe master.
In a legal sense, serfs were « owned » by their masters, and therefore did not inherit as free men. Masters had the right and power to take the possessions of their dead serfs, and according to former serf informants, this is precisely what they did. If a serf had accumulated any wealth at all (goats, sheep, clothing, or money), the master would take the lion’s share. Fulɓe informants maintained that the serfs were so poor that they really took quite little.
Today the Fulɓe no longer have any say in the distribution of a former serf’s possessions and usually receive none. In one case at Hollaande an elderly man died and left three wives and ten sons. At the time of his death he had six cattle. Of those, one was slaughtered for the sacrifice required at his funeral, and the rest were given to one son. This case is interesting for two reasons: The Fulɓe did not receive any of the former serf’s most important possessions, and in no way was Islamic law followed when he gave the cattle to the son he loved best.
The circumcision of boys is a matter for the major lineage. The decision of when to circumcise is made by the father and the elders of the major lineage. It is expected that age-mates will be circumcised during the same year. One year six boys in the same age-mate group, were to be circumcised (tyuule) on the same day; only four actually underwent the ceremony. The case of one boy, who was not circumcised, although his brothers and his father’s brothers were, serves to illustrate the limitations of the authority of the major lineage. The boy was the only son of his mother, who had been the youngest wife of her deceased husband. She had not remarried but lived by herself in a compound separated slightly from the rest of the village. The boy, although an uncircumcised child, had to work as a man. He maintained the compound fence, repaired the house, and cultivated the small fields his mother was able to obtain. He had many older half brothers, the eldest of whom was considered to be the primary father. The decision was made by the « fathers » to have the boy circumcised along with the other boys. But, the mother of the boy said she didn’t want her son circumcised. She never made the real reasons explicit, but claimed she did not have the resources and had not received notice early enough to prepare properly for her son’s circumcision. The men stated that she was preventing the circumcision of her son to keep him close to her and to prevent him from leaving the village. In either case, he was not circumcised with his age-mates – a matter of great shame to him. And, signficantly, the boy was not circumcised despite the wishes of the major patrilineage. In retrospect, it appears that the halfbrothers – especially the eldest, who was particularly miserly – were not willing to aid the mother in assuming the economic burden of the circumcision ceremony. The limitation of the authority of the major patrilineage is obvious from this example.
The village of Hollaande can be treated, in certain political or ceremonial contexts, as a single major patrilineage, and its inhabitants often expressed this view themselves. In a ceremonial context the village is referred to as a bolondaa. There is no clear demarcation between bolondaa and the major patrilineage, but the former term carries a strong connotation of proximity as well as kinship. The tendency for Hollaande to act as one major lineage is particularly evident at ceremonies in which the matrilateral kindred of the individual concerned are from another village. At the naming ceremony of an infant whose mother originates from another village the entire village of Hollaande acts as the major patrilineage of the child. Similarly, when a delegation is formed to carry the name of the child to the village of the mother, a member will be selected from every minimal lineage in Hollaande. Another example is a sacrifice made twice a year for the health and well-being of the community. This sacrifice is performed by the village as a whole, led by the elders of the village. The feast held at this time is eaten in groups arranged by age, not by membership in one or another major patrilineage.
Hollaande is treated as one major patrilineage in a political context when census-taking and taxation are imposed on the village as a whole. Taxes were collected at the compound of the second eldest man in the village. He was chosen over the eldest because he knew French and could write. However, both the elders of the village as a whole and the members of the committee worked together to see that taxes were collected from all those listed in the census. It is true that such phenomena are a result of colonial rule and independence, but on such occasions the village does act together in a single unit, expressed in a kinship idiom. And this would seem to be the trend for the future.
Matrilateral Kindred. We have described the household, the minimal lineage, and the major lineage. The last « group » to be discussed is the matrilateral kindred, which is not actually a corporate group. If one asks anyone in a village how many major lineages and minimal lineages there are and who the members are, the answer is clear and unambiguous, and it will be the same from anyone in the village. If one asks someone about the matrilateral kindreds of the village, the answer will vary with each person. The matrilateral kindred can be distinguished from one’s affines. The affines of a male are both the major lineage and matrilateral kindred of his wife. (See Appendix I for exactly whom ego calls affines.) One’s matrilateral kindred are the patrilaterally related kinsmen of one’s mother.
The distinction between affines and matrilateral kindred is clear in practice, but it is also true that a married man’s affines receive their shares from the various ceremonies (money, food, parts of slaughtered animals) as members of the matrilateral kindred of the married man’s children.

A man’s wife’s kinsmen are his affines. These same kinsmen are the matrilateral kindred of his children.

The distinction can be seen in the following example. A man had taken a woman from another village as his second wife. Under the agreement he had made with his wife’s parents he would finish paying the bridewealth only upon the birth of the first child. The wife became pregnant shortly after the marriage, and the husband began preparing to finish paying the bridewealth and to obtain the food and gifts necessary for the child’s naming ceremony. The bridewealth was given the parents of the wife as affines, at the same time that gifts and food announcing the child’s name were given to the same individuals in their capacity as matrilateral kindred of the child.
The most important member of one’s matrilateral kindred are his mother’s brothers. It is they who in traditional times sometimes gave one of their daughters in marriage to a man at the time of his circumcision. Although this happened infrequently in fact, it nevertheless indicates the importance of the relationship. Moreover, the boy to be circumcized spends a few days before his circumcision with his mother’s brother, who will give him important gifts of money and food.
The matrilateral kindred, unlike the major patrilineage, does not hold common property or rights, but the matrilateral kindred of an individual contributes economically and socially (by attendance) at his life-cycle ceremonies. Moreover, at such ceremonies, a separate share is set out for the members of one’s matrilateral kindred.
Almost all the major ceremonies

  • birth
  • circumcision
  • completion of the reading of the Koran
  • attainment of religious title (tierno
  • tabaski (slaughtering of sheep), and
  • death

are marked by the slaughter of a sacrificial animal and the distribution of its meat The distribution of meat reflects and reinforces kin ties and kin groups. Giving, distribution, and consumption of the meat of slaughtered animals is an important means of validating kin ties. The acquisition of the animal is usually the responsibility of the individual for whom the ceremony is held. In the case of birth, circumcision, and translation of the Koran, responsibility falls on the father. Formerly, when serfs had many fewer animals than they do now, a master would often provide the animal for at least the naming ceremony of a serf’s child. The meat of the animal slaughtered at a naming ceremony is divided among the child’s

  • major patrilineage
  • his matrilateral kindred
  • his mother, and
  • his father’s minimal lineage.

Among the maximal patrilineage Ranhaabhe of the village of Kaliyaabhe the matrilateral kindred receive approximately half of the animal, including

  • a front leg,
  • the chest, and
  • half of the back,

as its share from the naming ceremony. The share for the major patrilineage

  • a front leg
  • a back leg, and
  • half of the back

is divided among the three minimal lineages of the major lineage, the half of a back going to the minimal lineage of the father.
The mother receives lungs, heart, pelvis and the stomach with its contents.
The head and the feet were in traditional times given to the serfs of the father. The giving of these parts, which contained almost no meat, validated the subordinate status of the serfs.
The distribution of the meat of a sacrificial animal at death is quite different and involves the validation of the ties of one maximal lineage to the other maximal lineages of the surrounding area. To again take our example from one minimal lineage in the village of Khaliyaabhe, we find the following distribution of the meat of a cow at a death ceremony:

  • a back leg and half of the chest for the Seeleyaabhe (maximal lineage)
  • a front leg and half of the back for the Ranhaabhe (maximal lineage), and
  • part of the chest and a front leg for the Khalduyaabhe (chiefly maximal lineage).

These are the three maximal patrilineages of the area. Within these lineages the meat will be redivided

  • first among the major patrilineages and then
  • among the minimal lineages: a back leg (formerly for the misiide chief of Popodara) for the minimal lineage of the deceased
    • half of the chest for the matrilateral kindred (dewol) of the deceased, and
    • head and feet for the serfs.

To the serfs share has been added the first thigh attachment and part of a side for the former serfs. As one can see, affines receive no share as affines. The matrilateral kindred are always recognized, but are obviously not a fixed group and will vary for each individual


As in most African societies, a Fulɓe s attainment of full economic and social participation in the life of his village does not come until he establishes a household. Marriage, in addition to meaning the creation of a household, is an economic and social arrangement between two families.
The first determinant of marriage in precolonial times was the desire of a Fulɓe to have his own serfs intermarry rather than marry serfs of another master, thereby gaining economic advantage and maintaining greater control over his serfs. Moreover, as the Fulɓe acquired captives and made them serfs, they married them to the serfs they already owned. A second determinant of marriage in Labe was that the chiefly lineage Khalduyanke preferred marriage (as did the other chiefly lineages) with their serfs to marriage with members of other maximal patrilineages. By marrying their serfs a chiefly lineage avoided affinal ties with other lineages. A third example of precolonial marriage considerations involves the Fulɓe of the bush, who were engaged in cattle herding more than were the other strata of the Fulɓe. When a Pullo of the bush died, part of his wealth was given to the misiide chief. This practice was known as the kummabite and was an important economic resource for the chiefs. The chiefs opposed marriage between a Fulɓe woman of the bush and a member of a free lineage, for the members of the free lineages did not pay the kummabite and when the woman died, her sons, who would be free would inherit her wealth and the chief would not receive his kummabite. Although there were no apparent economic reasons, it appears that marriage between free women and Fulɓe of the bush was also discouraged. It is clear that marriage in precolonial days had a political and economic significance different from what it has today.
In an article celebrating the transformation of the Fouta, while regretting many of the changes, the Guinean anthropologist Ousmane Diallo wrote:

Parents no longer dare to marry their children. Future couples choose freely, and simply inform their close kinsmen and friends. Isn’t this because the children themselves meet their own subsistence needs? They are the wealth of their families – they take on part of the daily responsibility for obtaining food, clothing and taxes. They assure the continuation of life of their elders and the elders’ ability to continue the occupations suited for elders. And, the parents prefer to have this happen for they are content to affirm that « I raised you, and it is now left to you to fill my old years. » (1961: 85)

Although Diallo points to some important changes that are occurring, he has overstated the case. During my stay I learned of a marriage of an adult from the same village as Diallo; this individual had left his natal village to work in a city. While residing in the city, he began an affair with a woman. Ultimately they decided to live together, and after a year of such an alliance he wrote to the elders of his major patrilineage, without fully describing the situation, asking them to begin preparation for his marriage to this woman. Unfortunately for the young man, someone had already communicated the common-law nature of the marriage to the elders. They refused the request of the man and insisted that he take a bride of their choice from a nearby village. After much haggling, the young man renounced his earlier intention and accepted the will of the elders of his major patrilineage. In sum, there has been less change than Diallo described.
In another frame of reference Diallo deplores the loss of other social customs.

Politeness, deference, respect – they have lost their hold as values. Respect for the human person is empty of content. Consideration is not given to others. The right of the elders is scoffed at, if not contested. At public meetings no one is concerned enough about the presence of others to give up one’s place or to avoid pushing. This isn’t the use of freedom but the abuse of license; it is the deprivation of custom (1961: 84)

Diallo appears to be arguing for a transformation of the Fouta without the destruction of the fine qualities of indigenous social organization. His statements are significant because he is a scholar looking at his own society. He is both Guinean and a Fulɓe, and the contradictions and the problems he points out are the problems of the Fouta.

Choosing a Spouse.

The Fulɓe observe the Koranic prescription:

You are forbidden to take in marriage your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your paternal and maternal aunts, the daughters of your brothers and sisters, your foster-mothers, your foster sisters, the mothers of your wives, your step-daughters who are in your charge, born of the wives with whom you have lain (it is no offence for you to marry your step-daughters if you have not consummated your marriage with their mothers), and the wives of your own begotten sons. Henceforth you are also forbidden to take in marriage two sisters at one and the same time. (The Quran, Sura 4.)

They likewise follow an Islamic pattern of marriage that Murdock (1967) has called quadrilateral marriage; that is, marriage is allowed with any first cousin. We have already noted that a terminological distribution is made between cross-cousins and parallel cousins, the latter being referred to as siblings.
Whereas there are no differences in the kin terminology used by Fulɓe and former serfs, there are differences in the choice of spouse (see Table 1). Cantrelle and Dupire (1964:80) have noted that the Fulɓe express a strong preference for marriage with FaBrDa, and after her for either MoBrDa or FaSiDa.18 They go on to state that the actual choice of spouse is based on social and economic considerations. When a man marries the daughter of his paternal uncle the major patrilineage will thereby more easily control her conduct and her wealth. Social considerations enter if one segment of the patrilineage wishes to consolidate its interests in the face of other segments (Cantrelle and Dupire 1964: 81). There is not enough new data from Fulɓe villages either to support or reject these conclusions. Differences in both practice and preference due to differences in social status and political position would not be surprising. Thus, considerations of political alliance, or marriage for control of inheritance of land and cattle, would have been important for the Fulɓe – though not for the serfs – even in 1954, when there were still chefs de canton and their entourages. One would guess that with the end of chieftainships, the marriage patterns of members of the lineage of the chief might also have undergone some change. Thus, during my stay the first marriage took place between a member of the former chiefly lineage Khalduyanke and a Fulɓe of the bush of the lineage Khaliyaabhe.
Cantrelle and Dupire (1964) have emphasized the reasons for marrying FaBrDa and other « cousins, » but they have not mentioned certain Fulɓe notions that such marriages should not be made. The Fulɓe have a term (loundu) for marriage between close kinsmen and a particular saying that expresses their reluctance to enter into such an arrangement: « Marriage with one’s close kinsmen makes us ugly » (Loundu no kanini men). Loundu refers to marriage within the major patrilineage. There is an opposite saying that expresses the desirability of ties with one’s affines: « To have desirable ties with affines, they should come as strangers » (Futu ko ka dyananiri). What the Fulɓe express in these sayings are the potential conflicts and difficulties that will arise between close kinsmen if their children marry. This difficulty has been summarized in another pithy saying: « If you search for marriage with a close kinsmen you have hate » (A dabbhay weldigal hebhaa ngayngu).
The ideal for which both Fulɓe and former serfs strive in relations with their affines is respect (teddungal). And as we have noted affines should practice a mild sort of avoidance. This avoidance includes not eating with affines. This avoidance becomes impractical in the case of marriage within the patrilineage. In short, in terms of actual day-to-day behavior, it is not possible for the proper respect to be shown if the affines are of the same patrilineage and thereby located in the same village.
These considerations do not mean that the Fulɓe do not practice marriage with their cousins; they show that the Fulɓe are explicit in pointing to potential stress and difficulty in such marriages. These views were elicited in asking several Fulɓe informants about their marriage preferences for either themselves or their children. One of the most interesting results was simply that there was no uniformity of opinion. An elderly neighbor of the man who gave me the saying about the danger of close marriage (they were from the same major patrilineage, but not minimal lineage), expressed a different point of view, and just as strongly. He maintained that the most highly preferred marriage was with MoBrDa, much more so than with FaBrDa. He justified his view by saying that this kind of marriage was more in accord with the wishes of Allah. And he went on to point out that from one’s matrilateral kindred love was unconditionally forthcoming. He tempered this general remark with practical considerations. Someone who is poor and cannot find enough wealth to arrange a marriage with a « good » family can ask his MoBr to help him, implying that the MoBr will give him his daughter. Moreover, if your MoBr has no sons, your wife will inherit his wealth; it will then be passed on to your children.
Former serfs also vary in their marriage preferences. Some maintained that they would look first within their major patrilineage for a wife; others insisted they wanted a stranger (dyanano) from another village as a wife. Whereas there was disagreement about marriage preferences, all agreed that if one’s marriage with a close kinsmen were good, it would be very good; however, if it were bad it would be horrendous, and there would be difficult problems with one’s close kinsmen. In general, the villagers of Hollaande thought that marriage within the village tended to diminish respect for affines because respectful relations between affines are hard to maintain within the daily life of the village.
In sum, for the former serfs of Hollaande there are no longer any fixed rules for marriage, if indeed there ever were, given the Fulɓe voice in such affairs. Marriage choices are flexible and result more from individual circumstances than from any societally defined rules. To find within one village one half of the men saying that marriage out of the village is preferable, while the other half maintain the opposite, reflects the actual contemporary situation.
Table 1 presents data on marriages in the village of Hollaande.

Marriage patterns in Hollaande.table1

Of 109 marriages only 28 were between individuals defined by the villagers as « related, » related in the narrow biological sense, both Fulɓe and former serfs being quite conscious of the difference between classificatory kinsmen and biological kinsmen. The rest of the marriages were with individuals who were said to be unrelated. The villagers were quite clear about true genealogical relationships. There is also a classificatory aspect to the kinship terminology as well, all former serfs in nearby villages being termed « kinsmen » (musibbhe). In short, to say that marriages were exogamous (outside the village) with unrelated individuals holds true in one sense, but may not be so in a very broad sense.19 Many of these exogamous marriages were between a man or woman of the village and a captive placed in the village. Quite clearly the introduction of captives, who are viewed as unrelated to the villagers, increases the probability of marriages between individuals who are unrelated. It is interesting that the Hoore Tyanhe, who in comparison with the Binde Pellun on the other side of the village have a greater genealogical unity, also have a higher percentage of marriages with genealogically related individuals. This percentage becomes even greater if one subtracts captives. When an individual was brought to the village as a captive and integrated into the village, his origins were not forgotten. As we pointed out there is a slight difference in status between those among the former serfs whose families are said to be indigenous and those who were brought as captives.
Marriage is viewed as a necessary step in the life-cycle. There were only two unmarried individuals in the village who by virtue of their ages should have been married. (For men it is more difficult to know what is an appropriate age, because there are some instances when they don t marry until the age of thirty). One was a middle-aged man, a midget with limited intellectual capacity who had been abused by a chief and was cared for by a household in Hollaande because of a remote kin tie. He was surprisingly not cared for by his maternal niece who lives in the village. The other individual was a girl about sixteen. Exactly why she was not married I never found out; she gave the appearance however of not being quite right. Not to marry is unthinkable, and to have more than one wife is desirable although the Islamic limit of four wives is now followed. In the village of Hollaande no individual had more than three wives. Of the 41 household heads

  • 2 had no wives (having been divorced)
  • 23 had only one wife
  • 14 had two wives and
  • 2 had three wives.

Marriage is a very serious affair for it establishes relations between two groups of kinsmen which may last indefinitely. The kinsmen of the bride will become the matrilateral kindred of the couple’s children. Moreover marriage involves the exchange of much wealth. Because of the importance of the decision older individuals maintain that such matters should not be left to the young and inexperienced that is, to the prospective bride and groom. However, the economic leverage kinsmen of the groom can exert on him is decreasing as he provides a greater and greater share of the expenses required for marriage. The trend is clearly for an individual to have an increasing voice even in his first marriage.
It is usually the parents of a boy who decide he is ready for marriage. Even now, when a son may be away working in a city, the parents will begin to make preliminary arrangements without his knowledge. Ultimately, however, the son’s consent is necessary. Once a suitable girl has been found, the boy’s paternal aunts are the first to discreetly approach the girl’s mother or kinsmen. If the initial response is favorable, the formal series of steps toward marriage are begun.
The Fulɓe make a distinction between obligatory acts (farilla) and recommended acts, or acts that please Allah (sunna). This distinction is made, for example, between the two fast months of Raadyibi, which is sunna, and Ramadan, which is farilla. The former is observed only by the most devout; the latter is obligatory for everyone. These distinctions are also applied to marriage In the eyes of Allah there are three obligatory steps to marriage:

  • the mother’s permission
  • the father’s permission, and
  • a gift from the husband to the new bride which becomes her property (tenhe).

« Even if nothing else is done but the giving of tenhe and the mother’s and father’s consent the marriage will please Allah (Ko tenhe e si neene e baaba okki paykun on. Hay si hayfus addaaka haray dagike.) 20 However, first marriages rarely take place without execution of the following steps:

  • the asking (toragol or tornde nden
  • the engagement (yhamal ngal
  • the asking again (landital
  • the seeking of news (kumpital ngal
  • the marriage ceremony (peera on); and
  • the return of the bride (artirgol dyomba).

Nevertheless, these acts are considered sunna, and therefore not obligatory.
The Asking. Following the girl’s parents, acceptance of the initial inquiries, a formal delegation is sent with a gift from the boy’s major patrilineage to that of the girl. The Fulɓe present either kola nuts or a blanket for the girl’s father and a shawl for her mother. Former serfs present mats. If the gifts are kept, the first step has been completed.
The Engagement. Following the asking, there are a series of informal meetings between representatives of the two major patrilineages concerning the amount of the bridewealth. There is no fixed amount, but it is expected that those who are richer will give more. The traditional bridewealth was comprised of:

  • father’s robe (dolokke baaba
  • mother’s skirt (wudere neene
  • gifts for the bride’s father’s brothers and sisters, and
  • gifts for the bride’s older brothers and sisters.

In addition, a sack of salt (sala dyan) and kola nuts (goro bolondaa) were given to the father, who then redistributed them to the members of his patrilineage. All gifts were intended for the major patrilineage of the bride, none for her matrilateral kindred. In earlier times all the gifts were given in kind. Now all but the salt and kola nuts are given in money. Once the bridewealth has been completed it is very rare for the engagement to be terminated, because that would mean the wealth would have to be returned, no matter who asked for the termination. The tenhe obligatory under Islamic law, is separate from the rest of the bridewealth because it becomes the bride’s property. The two preferred gifts for tenhe are cattle and gold. However, the ability to give either gold or cattle depends on an individual’s wealth. Goats, sheep, or money are also acceptable as tenhe. The items and amount to be given are decided on before the marriage by the major patrilineages of the bride and groom. However, it is not given until after the completion of the marriage ceremony itself. The tenhe is always given to the wife with witnesses present, because if a woman leaves or divorces her husband, she would have to return it to him. In Hollaande the tenhe was almost always a goat or a sheep. The only time I observed a cow being given as tenhe was at a marriage between two Fulɓe. However, there were at least three instances within the last ten years when a cow was given. There is a short saying which states, « A goat or a sheep is unacceptable as tenhe to a free (Fulɓe) girl » (Dimo tenhataake mbeewa maa baalii). In short, the giving of goats and sheep is associated with former serfs.
Following the actual engagement, the prospective groom gives gifts to both his prospective bride and affines.

The Asking Again.

In recent years this has been performed on the day of the marriage. A delegation from the groom’s major patrilineage visits a similar delegation from the bride’s patrilineage. Among Fulɓe the delegation brings a gift, formerly a goat or a sheep, now money. Serfs formerly brought mats and a roll of cotton. Former serfs now usually bring the price of either of these items. The groom’s delegation is then given food. If it is found that the arrangement still holds, the next step is taken.
The Seeking of News. Those « who seek news » (humpitoobhe) are from the bride’s major patrilineage. They go to the groom’s major patrilineage, who presents them with gifts. Formerly they were given raffia covers (bedhi), little spoons (nyeddukoy), and much food. Now they are given food and some money. This step is said to serve as witness that the girl has been given as a bride: « It is the newsseeking which is the witness that (she) has been given » (Ko kumpital woni seedee okkaama). With the completion of this step the marriage decision is irreversible.
Marriage Ceremony. According to tradition, a girl’s impending marriage is to be kept a secret from her. She is supposed to be told on the night of her marriage, when a delegation arrives from the groom’s village to escort her to the ceremony. In practice it is quite rare for the girl not to know. Most often she knows she will be married and to whom, but does not know the day of the marriage until the day itself. Secrecy is attempted only for a girl’s first marriage, and its emphasizes the importance of the lineage and family, for, according to tradition, in second, third, and fourth marriages the consent of the woman is required. According to Guinean law, a girl’s consent is always required for her marriage, and the law is gaining acceptance.
The night before the day of the marriage there may be dancing and singing in the village of the groom. The day of the marriage, if all the arrangements have been completed, a small delegation sets out from the groom’s compound or village and arrives at the bride’s compound or village at night. The delegation is made up of the persons who ask the father’s formal permission for the girl, those who carry the girl on their backs from her compound to the compound of the groom’s father, and a sister of the groom who brings the bride’s clothes. 21 The delegation proceeds to the house of the bride’s mother. The bride, upon learning of her fate, begins to weep, and her mother joins in the weeping. Their crying attracts all the women of the village. She is dressed by her paternal aunt, who covers her in white cloth so that no part of her body including her face is exposed. All the women of her village then accompany her to the site of the marriage in the groom’s village.
There is a particular statement made by the father when he gives approval for taking his daughter which is a formal expression of the importance of the ties of marriage.

We give you a child, we don’t know her, we don’t know her personality or soul. If she and her husband stay together, let them stay. If she and her husband don’t stay well together, let them separate. That’s fine (it’s the same). Nothing has been done to the relation between us. It is this we beseech you.
Men okkii on paykun. Kono men andaa mo. Men anda dyikku makko. Si himo wondoo yoo wonu. So o wondataako yo bhe seedu e dyam. Hara dhun waddaali en. Ko dhun dhoo men torii on.

The man sent to ask for the girl leaves ahead of the main party and notifies the groom’s village of the impending arrival of the bride. Thereupon the kinsmen of the groom gather. The marriage ceremony is primarily an affair for women. Few men actually go to the ceremony, and those who do so look after the division of the food and gifts and see that all goes well. As the bride approaches the compound of her new husband’s father, the women are divided into two groups:

  • those accompanying the bride and
  • those of the groom’s village.

Both groups sing and dance while slowly approaching one another, and the bride is carried in and placed on a mat in front of the house of the groom’s father. Among Fulɓe the bride is placed directly on the mat; former serfs carry the bride three times around the orange tree in the courtyard while everyone says, « The tree bears fruit, let her bear fruit [children] » (hiki dyiidoo, himo dyiidoo). She is then placed on the mat, where she stays while the women dance and sing around her. If it is the man’s first marriage, he has to hide himself and not be seen by anyone until the rite that formally symbolizes the marriage union. lf it is a second or later marriage, he has to avoid being seen only by the bride.
The major gift (aside from food and kola nuts) given the night of the marriage is called the kilasakke. In the case of the Fulɓe the kilasakke is given to the former serfs of the father of the new bride, who refuse to admit the bridal party into the village unless they receive their proper gift. Formerly, the kilasakke was a goat or sheep. Now it is 1,000 or 2,000 francs – less than an animal’s value. In the case of former serfs, younger brothers of the bride block the path of entry until they receive their gifts.
The other gifts presented are:

  • money to the older sisters of the bride
  • money to the women who accompany the bride (fanda futu
  • money and a plate of food for those who have carried the bride
  • kola nuts for the matrilateral kindred and major patrilineage of the bride (the latter receive more) and finally
  • money for the dancers, drummers, and other musicians who are there.

Toward midnight the last part of the marriage takes place. The bride is taken inside the house of the groom’s father, where the elder women of the groom’s major patrilineage are gathered. Immediately afterward the groom is escorted inside. Inside there is a calabash of sour milk (kosan) from which the bride and then the groom each drink three times, after which the ceremony is over for the night. The rest of the night is given to the division of food and kola nuts among the guests, and there is dancing and singing into the early hours of the morning. The groom departs with his age-mates, while the bride stays in his father’s house for awhile and then goes to sleep in the groom’s mother’s house. The new couple will not sleep together for at least three nights, and often longer. Frequently, depending on the wishes of the bride’s mother and father and whether the bride is from a distant village, she will spend a few days following the marriage (but not the nights) with her parents. This makes the separation from her mother less abrupt. In the few marriages I observed, the bride spent the night in the compound of her new husband, but was escorted back to her natal village at dawn for a week following the night of the ceremony.
The Return of the Bride.
This ceremony follows consummation of the marriage. The groom’s paternal aunt presents the bridal sheet to the mother of the newly married girl. If there is blood on the sheet, the sheet is returned with red kola nuts. If there is no blood – if the girl wasn’t a virgin – the sheet is returned with white kola nuts and there is no ceremony due to the shame of the bride’s family, although the bride does return to her natal village on that day. 22 When the bride is proved a virgin, she is brought by the women of the groom’s village to her mother’s house, accompanied by the same singing and dancing that took place at her wedding. The bride sits on a mat in the center of a circle formed by the women dancing around her. She is then put on the shoulders of one of the women, who dances while the bride throws her head from side to side. The bride is dressed in a black skirt, no blouse, with a red scarf over her head. Following the dancing, gifts are given to the bride and food is distributed to all attending. As with the marriage ceremony, the return of the bride is primarily an affair for the women. The men do not participate in the singing and dancing.
The bride stays a week with her mother and then returns permanently to the household of her new husband. The return of the bride typically concludes the process of marriage.
The following tabulation is a list of the expenses of one marriage in Hollaande. This marriage was not viewed as particularly expensive, but was representative for Hollaande, where there are few wealthy individuals.

The Asking 500*
The engagement (bridewealth to patrilineage of bride
Father’s sisters
Father’s brothers
Bride’s older sisters
Bride’s older brothers
variable – about 2000
The Asking again 5000 (one goat
The seeking of news 1500
Bride’s older sisters
Bridal party
Token gift to bride’s former master 2500
Tenhe 6000 (one goat – goats vary in price depending on age, sex, condition
Clothing for the bride 20,000
Kola nuts 2500

*(247 francs equal $1.00)

The total cost of one marriage, then, is approximately 62,500 francs ($250.00), and it has become the responsibility of the groom to obtain this amount.
This list does not include the cost of the wedding ceremony, which is divided among the members of the groom’s patrilineage and sisters (bandiraabhe). Nor does it include the gifts the groom sends to his affines and fiancée during the long period between engagement and the wedding ceremony. In addition, among the Fulɓe the meat of a slaughtered cow is sent to the bride’s major patrilineage the day before the wedding.
There are two other important economic aspects of marriage – dhowtitungal and fooge.Dhowtitungal are the household objects given to the girl by her mother, such as pots, enamel bowls, calabashes, spoons, wooden bowls for milking cows, and taro and manioc plants to start a garden. The number of plants needed depends, of course, on whether the wife must start her own garden or will inherit her husband’s mother’s garden. Sooge refers to what a father gives his daughter to begin her household. If the father is wealthy, he will give her one or more cows. In the past a Fulɓe father might have given her a serf
There is a fixed order to the marriage steps, which is usually followed, but no fixed length of time specified for their being carried out. In the cities, where less time is spent on ceremonies, the engagement, the asking, the seeking of news, and the wedding ceremony itself can take place on the same day. There formerly existed a customary understanding that the seeking of news and wedding ceremony could not take place on the same day. This custom is no longer respected, even in the countryside.
In one marriage, noted previously, the bridewealth was not given to the bride’s family until the birth of the first child. This was indeed unusual, but was a precaution taken by the man to be sure their marriage would last before he gave so much wealth. It is also important to note that the marriage steps are followed only when it is the girl’s first marriage. If it is the woman’s second or third
marriage, the affair often involves only the man, his prospective wife, and her parents, and all that will be given is the tenhe.
There is an institutionalized way for a man to reduce the expenses of a marriage. This form of marriage is known as « to steal the child » (wuddyugol paykun.) All the marriage steps are followed, but the expenditure for each step is usually less, and the wedding is considerably smaller. Although this is an acceptable form of marriage, it is not desired. It is used by men seeking as a second or third wife a girl who has not been married previously. Another option for a man without sufficient wealth to finance marriage is to ask his mother’s brother for help in seeking a wife, which normally means requesting the hand of his daughter without following the usual expensive marriage steps. However, it is important to note that most marriages with one’s maternal uncle’s daughter do not fall into this category.


Divorce is infrequent in Hollaande and in the surrounding villages. However, distinction should be made between separation before and after there are children. The former is far more frequent than the latter, there having been four instances within the past twenty-five years at Hollaande.
The following two examples of divorce proceedings in Hollaande, one involving no children and ending in divorce, the other involving children and ending in a reconciliation will indicate the seriousness with which divorce is viewed after children have been born. The first example is the divorce of two young people from the same major patrilineage of the village. They had been engaged for two years (that is, the bridewealth had been determined and paid) and then married for two years. The girl refused to sleep with her husband and returned to her mother’s house each night after having prepared her husband’s meals during the day. Finally, she refused to wash his sheets. That was the final straw. Because the situation shamed him, he had no choice but to ask for a divorce. The girl’s family accepted the situation. Apparently they had mixed feelings about the marriage, but in any case they were unable to control their daughter. The girl’s father was obligated to return the bridewealth, but he did not have enough money to repay it. He was obligated to leave Hollaande in order to earn enough money. He was gone for several months. Not once did anyone criticize him or express any impatience about when he would return.
One day he returned, and that evening there was a meeting at the house of the husband’s father’s sister’s son to discuss the return of the bridewealth. In affairs of this kind an intermediary is always used. In this case he was a fellow villager, a tierno, and not a member of the minimal patrilineage of either party. The girl’s father and his two brothers attended the meeting. At first neither the husband nor his father were present, but it was necessary to call them when details arose. The discussion of the bridewealth took place without the husband, because it was felt that only the elders knew about that. However, for the question of taxes and clothes it was necessary to call the husband. The responsibility for the payment of taxes becomes the husband’s after an engagement, but in this case the man had paid for his wife for three years, and everyone agreed that he should be repaid, as it represented a relatively large sum of money. On the day of a wedding a husband presents clothes to his wife. In this case several outfits had been given. He was asked whether he expected the money spent for that returned. He answered no, that he knew the difficulties involved and did not expect or want that money returned.
The question of the clothing was the last legal point raised that evening. Following that, everyone spoke of how well village relations had been kept, how everyone had fulfilled his obligation to the community. Attention was shifted away from money to the real purpose of the meeting. This according to the final speaker of the evening, the intermediary, was a meeting of followers of the Islamic faith (dyulbhe) to fulfill their obligations. The question of money in his stated view was unimportant in comparison with the maintenance of good relations within the community.
Before this couple’s marriage, the man had had difficulty finding a wife. He had been married once before, but that marriage ended in divorce. His father then prevailed on kinsmen of his major patrilineages to give their daughter to his son. 23 This case provides a fine indication of the changes in marriage now taking place; the girl did not want to marry and, in fact, she spent some time in the city, which she preferred. The mother hoped her daughter would marry someone rich so the family would have more wealth.
The second case of divorce proceedings involved a marriage of long standing The husband asked for the divorce. The wife came from a neighboring village, from which the founders of Hoore Tyanhe had come. However, she did not live in the part of the village where the kinsmen of Hoore Tyanhe lived. The husband accused the wife of having stolen money from him. She complained in turn about his bringing lovers to their home and giving them more gifts and wealth than he gave her. This is a frequent complaint of wives, aggravated in this case because they lived in the same house. Because the woman had borne five children, one of whom was still at her breast, divorce was not a simple procedure. The man had asked for the divorce, but the wife refused to accept it. The seriousness of such divorces is easily understood when we know that the children remain with the father and his lineage. If there is a divorce, the mother loses her children. The major patrilineage of the husband did not want the divorce because raising children without their real mother is considered very undesirable and cruel to the children. Pragmatically, they also felt that the husband could remain with her for another five or six years, at which time her sons could support her. However, the husband insisted, and sent his wife home to her mother.
The committee was called to regulate the affair because theft and two different villages were involved. In such a discussion an attempt is made to arrive at a decision acceptable to all concerned. All interested parties are permitted to speak. In the first meeting all the details were discussed, and a decision was reached that a divorce should not take place. However, during the week following that decision the husband insisted on obtaining a divorce because he claimed his wife had stolen from him again.
The second meeting began with a saying: « If you have gone around the house, by the door you will enter » (Ko taaridha suudu woo ko dambugal naatirtaa). Figuratively, this means that if you have gone around in a circle trying to do something, it is better to start over. This was an attempt to set the tone for the discussion That is, it would be useless to restate all the disagreements and problems; rather, one should search for the door.
The events of the week were discussed. The wife spoke first. She noted that she did not have enough milk to feed her baby and that her husband did not provide money for her to buy milk. In order to obtain assistance she, who was staying with her mother, returned to her husband to get milk. During this visit she asked her husband to tell her whether he truly wanted a divorce or whether she could return. He didn’t answer. She then asked him to take her to her mother’s home, which would signify that he had divorced her. He refused. She then stayed the night, and he gave her soap to wash the sheets. The next day she decided to return to her mother’s, and asked her husband’s mother to take the baby because she had no milk. The mother refused. She then took the baby to the home of the former president of the committee to call a meeting to settle the question. He agreed, and she returned to her natal village.
The husband, who spoke next, said she lied. He always sent milk, or money for milk. He said he had not wanted her to spend the night, and that it was she who had demanded soap and some cloth to carry the baby. He refused to say whether he wanted a divorce; it was up to the elders to decide.
Thereupon an officer of the committee proposed a solution. He said that he was against a divorce. He wanted to pose questions, along a new line, to both individuals. He began by asking the wife if she would no longer steal. She replied by insulting her husband. He silenced her and asked her to answer the question. She answered affirmatively. In other words, she was asked to correct her faults, not to steal, not to insult her husband, and to obey him. Subsequently, the husband was questioned in the same way. He, however, was given more latitude in speaking his mind. He claimed it was his wife’s wont to steal. He was asked whether he would take his wife back and treat her fairly as his wife. He said yes, but that she would steal again. However, he would take her back if that was what was decided.
After he finished, many elders spoke – both Fulɓe and former serfs. They observed that it wasn’t the husband alone who was at fault. They all expressed the opinion that the elders of both the husband’s and the wife’s major patrilineages had to accept the decision and see that it was followed. The girl’s mother then asked to speak. She is a tierno, one of the very few women is. She said that she wanted her daughter to remain always at Hollaande. She was willing to do whatever was necessary to see that her daughter « stayed, » and that there not be divorce.
Following the mother, the head of the husband’s major patrilineage spoke and maintained they would work to see that the marriage continued. He uttered an interesting sentence: « It is Allah alone (by death) who can divide a man and his wife after children have been born » (ko Allah, rek waawi sendude si bibbhe hebhaama).
The girl’s father promised that she would not steal. From the discussion it was clear that the overriding consideration was the fate of the five children. It was pointed out by many that had there been no children, no one would have come to the meeting. The sense of the meeting was that both were at fault, but the marriage had to continue for the sake of the children, and that both had to change. The wife should no longer take from her husband, but he in turn should take more wives instead of lovers. He was too old and had too many children to continue in his irresponsible ways.
When there is a divorce, the bridewealth is always returned if there are no children. If there are children whether the bridewealth is returned depends on who asks for the divorce. When a husband sends his wife away or renounces the marriage, no return is made. However, if a woman asks for a divorce, the bridewealth is returned. During the period of May 1966 to July 1967, there were two divorces. Although there is no quantifiable data to calculate a rate of divorce, except for one village, it appears the rate is quite low. Certainly the attempt to avoid divorce in the case in which there were five children testifies to its rarity.

Fulɓe-serf marriage

There is a saying that clearly expresses the status of the serfs in the past in the eyes of their Fulɓe masters: « It is at the mosque that a marriage of the Fulɓe is tied [legitimated]. The serfs don’t tie their marriages. They are like sheep. It is to Fulɓe that their children belong » (Ko ka dyuulirde dewgal habbhetee fii Fulɓe ben. Fii haabhe bhen dewgal habbhataake, ko bhe tyiikuli. Ko pullo debbo on dyey bibbhe bhen). Thus, in the eyes of Allah serfs could not marry legitimately because they could not go to the mosque to « tie » their marriages. 24
This was not the only way by which serf marriages were controlled by the Fulɓe. The consent of the bride’s master was required for marriage. Moreover, he received a substantial share of the bridewealth. There is still a small payment given to the Fulɓe, vestige of their earlier and larger share. At present there are many former serfs who continue to ask their former masters to « tie » the marriage at the mosque.
The Fulɓe took women from among the serfs as concubines and as wives. The children born to a concubine were serf and were returned to the serf village as serfs of the woman’s owner. 25 In the case of marriage, the children became Fulɓe and members of the patrilineage of their father. In order to be married legitimately the serf woman had to be freed and « made » Fulɓe by the performance of rimdhingol. The distinction between concubine and wife is hard to define. A woman could be a concubine for a few years, and then have children and be taken as a wife only later, or alternatively she might be returned to the serf village. When a master owned a serf, particularly if she had few kinsmen, little influence could be exerted on him to act one way or another. If a Fulɓe married one of his own serfs, he avoided paying a large bridewealth, and he didn’t lose her labor.
Marriage was complicated when the serf of a Fulɓe who wanted to marry a serf was owned by another Fulɓe. Permission had to be obtained from the serf’s kinsmen, and from her master. Moreover, bridewealth had to be given to both parties, or, alternatively, during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the serf could be bought. In any case, such a marriage would entail a large bridewealth, for a serf woman brought a good price because her owner also owned her children. Marriage with a serf of another owner was usually the man’s second or later marriage.
lf there were rivalry between a Fulɓe and a serf over a woman (which could happen if she were exceptionally pretty), the Fulɓe would usually win. If there were rivalry between two serfs and one of them had the same master as the woman, he would marry her.
There was general consensus among my informants that the chiefly lineage of the area took more serf women than did other Fulɓe. If we look at the wives of the last chief of the misiide Popodara before the French came, we find that of the seven wives who bore him children, three were serfs. 26 The chiefly lineage took wives from among their serfs to avoid affinal obligations and alliances with non-chiefly lineages. Moreover, marriage with their own serfs guaranteed that their wives would be politically loyal to them.
All Fulɓe viewed marriage with a serf as having potentially desirable consequences: « The child of a union with a serf will be very strong » (Bhii taara keldhay tun). An objection to marriage with serfs was the belief that the children born of a serf would dominate the Fulɓe’s other children. Quite often, on the other hand, the family of a serf woman would object to her marriage with a Fulɓe on the basis that it would weaken her. The serfs viewed the Fulɓe as quite lazy, a characteristic which would put too much of a burden on a wife. The real objection had to do with the loss of their daughter. The Fulɓe did not maintain affinal responsibilities to serfs, and children of such a marriage rarely visited the village of their mother.
Currently there are two women from Hollaande married to Fulɓe, both marriages having taken place prior to 1958. There is also one woman living in Hollaande who is divorced from her Fulɓe husband. She was taken by force from her parents by the Fulɓe, who was a kinsman of the chef de canton. In short, within the past ten years no marriages have taken place between a Fulɓe and a woman from Hollaande, whereas between 1948 and 1958, there were three, and between 1925 and 1948 at least six.
There are two men in the village of Hollaande who have married Fulɓe women. They do not live in the village, nor is it likely they ever will. Before they married they paid for the ceremony of rimdhingol to be made free, in this context to become « Fulɓe ». Although there has been an increase in the number of marriages between former serfs and Fulɓe women, all the examples I came across (and admittedly they weren’t many) involved a man who had become « Fulɓe. » However, the ceremony of rimdhingol is no longer performed, mainly because of the actions of the Guinean state. It remains to be seen whether as a result there will be an increase or decrease in marriages between Fulɓe and former serfs.
The traditional social order, which led to such sayings as « A serf is like a chicken; the proprietors of chickens’ eggs are not the chickens but the chickens’ owners » (Kaadho no wa’i wa gerto, ko pullo bheyngu makko dyey bibbhe), has ended. No longer can a master oblige a serf woman or her parents to accept him as her husband, although the former master’s permission is asked and he receives a token part of the bridewealth. The decline of serfdom has diminished the potential advantages of marrying former serf women. The reasons for Fulɓe-serf marriages have ended along with serfdom and chieftainship.
Former-serf attitudes toward the Fulɓe vary greatly; however, the older former serfs often show deference to them. For one marriage of a girl from Hollaande no money was sent to the girl’s former master as token of his traditional share of the bridewealth. The major patrilineage of the girl decided to take his share of the money from that designated as the share of the father’s sisters and brothers. They insisted that no marriage agreement would be right without the part of the Fulɓe: « We will not give the girl before speaking to her Fulɓe » (Men dyonnata dyiwo on bhaawo haldigal e pullo on). Many former serfs still follow the customs surviving from their period of serfdom, even though the underpinnings of the institution of marriage have changed.
The current period can be viewed as one of transition to greater control over marriage by the potential spouses both male and female, and to a more individualized form, particularly since that is the explicit policy of the Guinean state. Many of the keystones of the older system have ended, such as:

  • betrothal at birth, and
  • the maternal uncle’s promising his nephew one of his daughters as a wife.

Although it will clearly be awhile before the age minimum of sixteen for the marriage of women will be accepted, women are now marrying later, and the practice of having a girl married prior to puberty, and living with her husband almost as his child until that time, is ending.


Within the three Fulɓe strata there has been a marked decline in the political and economic functions of the major and maximal patrilineages. This has led to the expression of the functions of the lineage primarily in a ceremonial context. However, the minimal lineage has retained much of its economic importance, because the head of a minimal lineage in a Fulɓe village continues to redistribute both fields and garden land among the members. The former-serf strata has not seen a comparable decline in the importance of the major patrilineage, because the conditions of serfdom greatly restricted the functioning of kin groups in the first place. Elder former-serfs, who were formerly denied the prestige, influence, and authority due them, can now enjoy their role as elders of the major patrilineages. This has not stopped the trend toward the increased importance of the household, although the minimal-lineage head in a former serf village does not have the same economic leverage as his counterpart in a Fulɓe village.
Despite the increased importance of the elders within the former-serf village and their increased control over such internal matters as inheritance and marriage, the major patrilineage does not assume any new economic or political roles. The economy hinges increasingly on the household, and the political process on the committee. However, former serfs now have much greater independence from their former masters. Fulɓe control over their serfs was many-faceted. We have noted the economic basis of their relationship and how that relationship has been transformed. Changes in the social sphere have also occurred, but are less dramatic. These changes affect particularly inheritance and marriage. In the case of marriage we find the end of concubinage, former serf control over the choice of marriage partners with only the formal consent of the Fulɓe required – a shell of the earlier practice, former-serfs beginning to take Fulɓe wives, and the end of marriage between Fulɓe and former-serf women.
The independence of Guinea, with the intervention of the Democratic Party of Guinea in the countryside, has brought significant social change, which is slated to increase with the further insistence of the P.D.G. on:

  • a minimum age for the marriage of girls
  • women’s consent before marriage
  • limits on bridewealth, and
  • the end of polygyny.

Already the P.D.G. has been responsible for the end of concubinage and the ceremony of rimdhigol, whereby former serfs became « Fulɓe ».

. It is also interesting to note that although use of the term tribalism has been called into question (Wallerstein, for example, uses ethnicity) the term tribehas not. Also see William Bascom (1962) and Paul Mercier (1965). Cohen and Middleton hedge on the question and appear to use tribe and ethnic unit interchangeably (1970: 4), a procedure I find further muddles the question. My own view is that if tribe is to be used, it should be used to mean the form of sociopolitical organization that arose during the Neolithic and was superseded in many areas of the world by different forms of states (see Sahlins 1969; Service 1965; Ribeiro 1968) or it should not be used at all (Fried 1968).
. In a recent article Firth seems to expand even further the notion of peasantry. He observes that the notion of a peasant economy usually links a particular kind of economic system and a particular kind of social structure. « The simplest formulation, » according to Firth « is probably the one which defines peasant farming as that which relies primarily or completely on family labor » (1969: 25). While I look forward to the application of the notion of peasantry to the study of Africa I must continue to point out the paradox of British social anthropologists formulating overly general definitions of peasantry but not applying them to their analyses of Africa.
. Butcher’s thesis on the Fulɓe in the town of Lunsar, Sierra Leone, is of particular interest because almost all of the Fulɓe in Sierra Leone originate from the Fouta-Djallon. He provides important data on the economic system and occupational stratification of the Fulɓe in an urban environment Unfortunately many of the conclusions which he reaches are based on incorrect or partial information about the Fouta-Djallon.
. Again, the definition of peasantry according to Norbeck, and cited with approval by Joel Halpern and John Brode, is:

A peasant society is a subsociety of a large stratified society which is either pre-industrial or only partly industrialized. It is further characterized by most or all of the following traits:

  • rural residence
  • familial agriculture on self-owned small land holdings or other simple rural occupations providing a modest or subsistence livelihood
  • the family as the centrally important social unit
  • low social status
  • economic interdependence in varying degree with urban centers
  • simple culture; and
  • attachment to the soil, the local community and tradition
    (in Halpern and Brode: 49).

Quite clearly this is a definition that attempts to embrace all aspects of what has been defined as constituting peasantry without specific economic, political, or cultural focus. Yet, one of the aspects is low social status. In my view this is critical, for it specifies the relation of the peasants to centralized political power. And, this is why I view the role of the colonial state as critical to the development of peasantries in the Fouta-Djallon, as well as in Africa generally.
. See Watson (1958). He argues for retaining the perspective of « tribal » structure and values in discussing an economy in which it is expected that men will leave for wage work while the organization of the « tribe » remains stable and strong.
. The discussion of African peasantries has been continued in three recent articles: Goldschmidt and Kunkel (1971), Saul and Woods (1971), and Dalton (1972). Goldschmidt and Kunkel have continued the analysis of Fallers and Brokensha and Erasmus. My arguments against that line of approach have already been given but for a further analysis see Derman (1972). Saul and Woods have reached the same conclusions that I have, namely that African peasantries are « primarily the result of the interaction between an international capitalist economic system and traditional social-economic systems within the context of territorially defined colonial political systems » (1971: 106). Dalton (1972) takes great pains to separate his position from that of Eric Wolf. Nevertheless I still think that Dalton’s earlier position is entirely compatible with Wolf’s. I find myself in much less agreement with Dalton’s position in his latest article. He argues that there are basically two types of peasantries, traditional and modernizing. He implies that contemporary peasantries are recapitulating the stages of European peasantries from serfdom through modern farming. Dalton’s notion appears to lump under traditional and modernizing so many factors and so many time periods that the scheme loses its usefulness and I prefer the approach and analysis of Wolf (1966, 1969).
Unfortunately, all of these articles appeared too late for me to incorporate them fully into the discussion of peasants.
. There is no Fulfulde word for to change. They have adopted the French changer, but as there is no ‘ch‘ sound in Fulfulde, it becomes an  » along with the verb ending: sansugol. The closest word to change is waylagol, which is much closer to transform. Just the phrase itself provides striking evidence of the Fulɓe consciousness of change.
. We have mentioned individuals who were forced to leave, when we noted how a family was divided because a Fulɓe village left the area and took their serfs with them. We have also mentioned those who are now leaving « voluntarily » to work permanently in the cities.
. Vieillard (MS.) has compiled a list of fifty-three such words of respect which can be found in the Fonds Vieillard at Dakar. I made a list of thirty-five words.
10. The singular pronoun denotes familiarity; the plural pronoun respect. This is true for both second person (you sing. – ; plur. – on 😉 and for third person (he, she – ; they – bhe).
11. Another word used for friend is ndyaatigi. However, ndyaatigi connotes inequality in the relationship. A chief who gives a stranger land becomes the ndyaatigi of the stranger. Among French-speaking Fulɓe age-mate is translated as copain.
12. Hollaande had 40 compounds; larger villages have up to 100 compounds; the smallest villages, only have 2 or 3.
13. There are some women who pay their own taxes for their market activities, usually at the insistence of their husbands. However, this is not typical. In one instance of divorce, part of the wealth to be returned was the taxes paid for four years by the husband.
14. There is a difference in the division of labor for the caring of animals between Fulɓe and former serfs. Among the former serfs, women play a much greater role in the care of all animals. Perhaps the Fulɓe heritage of cattle herding manifests itself in this continuing difference.
15. Suumayee is the Fulfulde word for Ramadam. The word Ramadam is not used by most Fulɓe.
16. For the first few months, the people of Hollaande told me « preferred fictions » about the genealogical relations of the different kin groups. Descent from a captive was at the root of deception.
17. An example from Hollaande: A woman born in Hollaande married a man in a neighboring village and bore a son. When the father died, she gave her son to her mother to be raised. She remarried elsewhere, and the son grew up with his maternal grandmother. Had the father not died, he would have remained with his father. He was given a wife in Hollaande and borrowed some land for his compound. He became the founder of one of the minimal lineages of Hollaande.
18. Cantrelle and Dupire obtained their data from the 1954 French Demographic Mission.
19. An example of a marriage listed in table as « no relation » is between a woman and her FaBrWiBrDa. Although there is clearly some relation between the two individuals, her answer to whether they were related to one another was no.
20. Of course, in precolonial times, serfs also had to have the permission of their Fulɓe masters.
21. In a Fulɓe marriage the girl is carried on the backs of her father’s former serfs. In the marriage of a former serf, age-mates of the groom carry the bride.
22. It is unusual for there not to be blood on the sheet. When brides are not virgins, various methods are used to stain the sheet.
23. This is an example of two men from genealogically unrelated minimal lineages acting as members of one major patrilineage.
24. To « tie » a marriage means to present rope and kola at the mosque.
25. According to Islamic law, if the father and owner are the same the child is free. However, this was not followed.
26. The limit of four wives appears to have been followed less during precolonial times. Of course, concubines did not count as legitimate wives.