Dealing with the Fulɓe, this paper first appeared under the title “Fulɓe” in Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East. An Encylopedia. (pp. 96-100). John A. Shoup, ed. ABC-CLIO. Santa Barbara/Denver/Oxford. 2011. 377 pages.
This version has been edited, updated and expanded. It includes content from my “Fulbe Identity and Cultural Heritage” Project (exhibition, festival, conference, education, publishing), which I discussed with the management and staff of the National Museum of African Art and the Warren M. Robbins Library at the Smithsonian Institution, back in 2011.
Fulɓe (plural) and Pullo (singular) are the proper names of this pastoral people of West and Central Africa. They specialize in cattle herding. Roaming the Sahel and the Savanna expanses, these nomadic cattle herders are named differently by their hosts or neighbors: Peul, Fula, Ful Fula, Fule, Fulani, Fellatah, and Silmiga, among others. Today, the majority of Fulɓe are sedentary and live in more than 18 African countries, from Senegal to Darfur, and from Mauritania to Cameroon. However, some groups, e.g., the Woɗaaɓe of Niger, northern Nigeria and Cameroon remain nomads.
The main Fulɓe regions are:
- Fuuta Tooro (Senegal/Mauritania)
- Fuuta Ɓundu (Senegal)
- Fuuta-Jalon (Guinea)
- Maasina (Mali)
- Sokoto (Nigeria)
- Adamawa (Cameroon)
The major Fulɓe urban centers are:
- Podor (Senegal)
- Labe (Guinea)
- Dori (Niger)
- Sokoto (Nigeria)
- Maroua (Cameroon)
The overall population (Fulɓe and related communities) is estimated at 35 million people.
Fulɓe speak a noun-class language split into two dialectal regions; Pular (also Pulaar) is spoken west of the Niger River Bend, whereas Fulfulde extends east of that line; hence the Pular-Fulfulde compound name. Some dialects have up to 25 noun-classes, or substantive categories that are declined with suffixes:
|debb- / gork-||-o||on||debbo / gorko||woman / man|
The noun-class system’s function is not limited to ordinary talk and informal communication. It extends beyond the boundary of the substantive to provide ample expressiveness resources. Thus, the suffix is relayed along the sentence and it influences the pronunciation of all dependent elements, whether grammatical (articles, pronouns) or lexical (adjectives). By chaining and repeating itself, the noun-class produces a redundant yet alliterative and rhythmic flow. This effective mechanism is recurrent in esthetic speech and verbal art performance. It is a mainstay in the folklore and lay genres (songs, tales, proverbs, legends, epics, riddles, tongue-twisters, lullabies), as well as in the sacred categories: written ajamiyya and its oral renditions (incantations, tajwid, chants, psalms, hymns).
UNESCO ranks it among Africa’s top 10 languages for numbers of speakers.
A wealth of linguistic resources enable the continued renewal of genres in both the oral (myths, legends, tales, epics, proverbs) and written ajami (meaning written in their language using Arabic script) literature. They shape and proceed from the quest for beauty, knowledge, and understanding: a hallmark of Fulɓe culture.
Folklore masters, court poets (griots) and scholars tap them to carry on a vibrant cultural heritage.
Theories on Fulɓe origins abound. And they range from outlandish and superficial to plausible and heuristic. They have been varyingly called “distinguished Semites,” “negricized” Caucasians, mysterious Hamites, a lost tribe of Israel, 12th-century dynasty Egypt, or Dravidian descendants.
Fulɓe civilization rests on four major groupings identified by the four family names: Baa, Bari, Jallo, and Soo, which correspond to the four natural elements (earth, water, fire, wind) and to the cardinal points (north, south, east, west). In contrast, ‘Haal-Pular are non-ethnic Fulɓe communities who natively speak Pulaar/Fulfulde. In Fuuta-Tooro, sociologist Yaya Wane (1969) lists hundreds of family names. Conversely, while retaining the four-tiered naming system, some Fulɓe communities (Wasulu, Khasonke) speak Mande, not Pular/Fulfulde.
|Original naming matrix||Fula Wasulu correspondents|
The Fulɓe population displays physical traits (skin tone, hair, facial features) characteristic of a phenotype. Typically the Fulɓe skin shade is copper-like, with a lower melanin complexion. The Pular/Fulfulde language reflects awareness of the phenomenon, hence Fulɓe consider themselves non-blacks and call their neighbors ɓaleeɓe (blacks). Yet, despite some phenotype peculiarities, it is quite certain that Fulɓe are indigenous to Africa. Accordingly, the timeline of their civilization breaks down into four periods :
- Prehistory (12,000 BCE)
- Antiquity (0-1450 CE)
- The Middle Ages (5th-15th century CE)
- Modern Times (16th – 21st century)
Fulɓe prehistory is embedded in the domestication of cattle.
In 2009, led by Dr Christine Elsik*, professor of computational biology and bioinformatics at Georgetown University (Washington, DC), a team of scientists published their report on the genome sequencing or description of the cow. The genetic sequencing proved that the bovine made a genetic switch some 15,000 years ago. The mutation meant the processing of low-quality food intake into high-grade output (milk, meat).
The taming of the bovine constituted “one of humanity’s first leap forward” (Anselin 1981). It was a watershed achievement that spurred humans’ march into civilization.
Boubacar Diallo, cattle farming engineer (ingénieur d’élevage) from Guinea, participated in the landmark effort. Not that he enjoys a modern research infrastructure in his country. However, as a Fuuta-Jalon Pullo, his cooperation had a technical aspect and a symbolic value.
Between 12,000 and 5,000 year ago it is likely that M. Dialllo’s distant ancestors, the “Proto-Fulɓe”, adopted this ruminant as a lasting companion. In effect, the Pullo and the cow bonded together and became interdependent. A dictum warns that “the strength of the Pullo is in the bovine; if he loses it, he will face distress.”
Fulɓe devotion to their cattle started in the Sahara, when that region was a well-watered land with abundant green pastures. Fulɓe were among the area’s likely inhabitants. Ever since, the Pullo has stuck to the cow like a stick. As the desert advanced, they both migrated westward, leaving behind engravings of their pastoral lifestyle and hints of their cosmogony.
Archeologist Lhote (1959) was the first to associate contemporary Fulɓe with his findings in the caves of Tassili n’Ajjer (Algeria). Amadou Hampate Bâ and Germaine Dieterlen (2009, 1961) agreed. They pointed to similarities between today’s Fulɓe pastoral rites and some rock drawings. However, since rock art predates writing considerably, its analysis entails guesswork and, hence, warrants caution. Thus, scholars have expressed reservation about any Fulɓe Saharan legacy. However, they have not yet come up with a published refutation of the Bâ-Dieterlen-Lhote hypothesis.
The Bovidian period (4,500-2,500 BCE) sealed the connection between Fulɓe pastoral society and cattle herding.
Like Ancient Egyptians, Prehistory and Antiquity Fulɓe gave the cow and the sun a central role in their liturgy. Profoundly esoteric and filled with poetic metaphors, the Kumen text goes beyond the one physical sun. It has two main characters: Kumen, the bearded and dwarf “angel” is the protector of the herds; his wife, Foroforondu, is the “goddess” of milk and butter. They both make frequent references to “the adorable seven suns.”
However, unlike the Egyptians, the Fulɓe belief in Geno was monotheist through and through. Their credo was that Geno, the Supreme Being, created the universe from a drop of milk. A pantheon of adjunct deities (laareeji) oversaw animal husbandry and partook with herders in the animals’ well-being. Geno then created:
- Kiikala, the first man
- Naagara, the first woman
- Ndurbeele, the first bovine, a hermaphrodite who procreated the first cattle of 22 animals. They multiplied to populate the world with herds
This other version of Fulɓe creation myth is found in La Femme, La Vache, La Foi (The Woman, The Cow, The Faith), Alfâ Ibrâhim Sow, ed. (1966), who writes:
In a pastoral society such as the Fulbe, the woman and the cow are inseparable; they are to be loved together because according to the legend “God created the Cow. He created the Woman, He created the Pullo. He put the Woman behind the Cow and the Pullo behind the Woman” thus creating the intimate trilogy.
Other sources call this ternary bonding a symbiosis.
Bull worship was widespread some 6,000 years ago. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an relate, differently, the incident of “The Sin of the Calf“. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai to seek God’s guidance, the Israelites, led by Aaron, sculpted a golden calf to worship. When Moses returned with the Ten Commandments and found his people around the altar, he became angry and threw down the two Tablets of Stone…
Strikingly, millennia later, leading Muslim Fulɓe thinkers (Tierno S. Mombeya, Usman ɓii Fooduye, circa 1780), A. H. Bâ (1940) and mystic Sufis would interchange the name Geno and Allah, thereby acknowledging God’ Oneness, above human diversity and beyond language barriers.
In his thoughtful Introduction of Oogirde Malal, stanza 13th, Tierno Samba writes:
|Geno On wi’a: « Kallaa ! ɗum waɗataa||The Eternal will say: « No! That shall not be.|
|Nafataa han nimse e wullitagol! »||It is needless to regret and to complain. »|
Moving in on the bank of the Senegal River, Fulɓe eventually achieved a dual specialization: nomadic pastoralism and sedentary agriculturalist. Between the 5th and the 13th centuries, Fulɓe rulers led the centralized state of Takrur (mispronounced Tukulor). Running a standing army, they led the first state to convert to Islam in the sub-Saharan region. They engaged in domestic slavery and they alternated between vassalhoold and rivalry with the Ghana Empire. Takrur probably was the result of an alliance between nomadic leaders (silatigi), trail-heads (arɓe, sing. arɗo) and blacksmiths. In Kaydara Hammadi wonders aloud:
ko waɗi afo baylo wonti aga
faa aga waylitii baylo;
“how the eldest son of the blacksmith becomes a shepherd
and how the shepherd becomes a blacksmith.” (verses 2,177-2,178)
But in the footnotes we learn that « the Blacksmith/Herder pair is embedded in the myth of the origin of the Fulani and the legend of Buytorin, their ancestor. » (note 156). It is also stated the denɗiraaku or joking relation that exists between blacksmiths and the Fulɓe (note 157).
A.H. Bâ elaborates further on this topic in Aspects de la civilisation africaine.
And in 1936, with the assistance of Tierno Shayku Baldé, Béatrice Appia carried out a detailed ethnographic fieldwork on the blacksmiths of the Fuuta-Jalon and the influence of Islam on their iron-smith tradition.
Anyhow, the above trio transformed its power into a pastoral monarchy dominated by the herder-in-chief, the Aga, symbol of wealth, might, and wisdom. King Yero Jaaje was one such ruler in the ninth century, approximately.
Islam became religion of the court but was not practiced by the rest of the people.
Historical record indicates that a Takrur Fulɓe regiment participated in the Almoravid conquest of Southern Spain (Niane, 1984). At the peak of its hegemony, Takrur designated generically all sub-Saharan Africans in the Arabic literature.
In the 13th century, Sundiata Keita, emperor of Mali, vanquished both Ghana and Takrur. Fulɓe scattered throughout the region —all the way to Gobir, Nigeria— during an interregnum that took place with the rise of the Koli Teŋella Baa dynasty in the West. They also marched eastward, and by 1200 CE, they had arrived in Hausa country. Until circa 1600, these non-Muslim rulers controlled non-contiguous territories, from northern Senegal to western Guinea. Approximately three meters-long, the grave of one Teŋella successor is located in Telimele (Guinea).
Hymn to the Deniyaaɓe dynasty founded by Koli Teŋella Baa (Baaba Maal & Daande Leñol)
Samba Gelaajo by Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, 2001.
Samba Gelaajo Jeegi is the archetype of chivalrous hero in the Fulbe culture of the Middle Ages, namely the Deeniyaaɓe dynasty of Koli Teŋella (12th-16th century). Read the special issue of Etudes Guinéennes about the Fulakunda who live on the Guinea-Senegal border. And the legend around his exemplary deeds lives on. It inspires traditional and modern contemporary artists: Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck, etc. Here, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté perform the ode to Samba. Notwithstanding his Mande family name, Ali Farka Touré was a leading cultural icon among Fulbe. Actually, entire Mande communities have retained their ethnic family name (Camara, Keita, Sylla, Touré, etc.) while adoping Fulbe language and/or culture throughout the Western Sudan. Exactly the inverse experience of the Wasulu Fula.
From the 17th century to the 19th century, Muslim Fulɓe scholars launched an Islamic hegemony that placed them to the forefront of history in the Western Sudan. The Jihad-driven movement began around 1625 in Fuuta-Ɓundu (Senegal). Then it spread out south, north, and east to Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1896), Fuuta-Tooro (1775-1885), Maasina (1804-1865), Sokoto (1814-1908), Adamawa (1815-1909), and to lesser dominions and chiefdoms. The main leaders of these Sunni theocracies were: the Sisiiɓe (Sy), Karamoko Alfa, Sulayman Baal, Sheyku Amadu, Shehu Usman ɓii Fooduye (aka Uthman dan Fodio), Moodi Adama, and last but not the least, Al-Hajj ‘Umar Taal, arguably the most erudite of these leaders, he spent twenty years learning and lecturing in the Middle-East.
Imitating the model of the Prophet Muhammad, these warriors-priests mastered the intellectual (esoteric and exoteric) and the aesthetic dimension of Islam. They proselytized and built empires. Their states ruled over stratified societies of aristocrats, free communities, castes, and captives. Critics have emphasized the practice of slavery under Fulɓe hegemony. But, on one hand, although time-immemorial, dehumanizing and reprehensible, slavery remains a universal activity. On the other hand, slavery under Fulɓe rule should not deny or negate the achievements of those leaders, who learned, taught, wrote, and upheld the spiritual and temporal duality of their system of government.
“Juuloowo” by Baaba Maal & Daande Leñol. (Hymn to Al-Hajj Umar Taal)
For a description of Fuuta-Jalon’s educational system and knowledge infrastructure, read my translation of Chapter 7. “La Doctrine et le Culte” in L’Islam en Guinée : Fouta-Djallon (Paul Marty, 1921) done for the filming of Prince Among Slaves, in 2006
At the peak of the Fulɓe state , two great minds, Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya and Usman ɓii Fooduye (aka Usman dan Fodio), separately took Pular-Fulfulde ajami literature to new heights. Yet, at the same time, Muslim Fulɓe supremacy significantly altered pre-Islamic traditions, for example, by replacing indigenous names (people, places) with Arabic words. Furthermore, the Muslim rulers’ narrative sought to give Fulɓe an Arab ancestry. However, this move was a secular construct purposely invented by the elites to strengthen their grisp on power.
|Suleiman Jacob Diallo, Fuuta-Ɓundu||Abdul-Rahman, Timbo, Fuuta-Jalon|
Nonetheless, in the 18th century some leading scholars questioned the prevalent rote learning in Arabic. They advocated the meaningful teaching of the masses in Pular. A fierce debate erupted between partisans and opponents of this (ajamiyya) localization. The tension was not unlike the divide between the Latin and the vulgar languages camps in medieval Europe. To make his case, Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, the standard-bearer, composed his masterwork: Oogirde Malal (The Lode of Eternal Bliss). Theologian, philosopher, artful teacher, his superb poetry flows through Classical Arabic metrics. But it yields rhymed and alliterative verses that heighten the redundancies of Pular’s rich noun class system and nuanced verbal framework. They lend themselves to regular reading, declaim, chant and recital. Their content synthesizes the dogmas and canons, codes and laws, rules and regulations of life and living in the theocratic Confederacy.
In the Introduction, verses 11-14 he asserts :
|Sabu neɗɗo ko haala mu’um newotoo||The use of one’s own tongue is the best way|
|nde o fahminiraa ko wi’aa to ƴi’al.||To understand what is said in the Essence|
|Yoga Fulɓe no tunnda ko jannginiraa||Many Fulɓe struggle with their education|
|Arabiyya o lutta e sikkitagol.||In Arabic and remain uncertain.|
Tierno Samba and his opus became instantly popular. They gained respectively the status of an emblem and an anthem, which keeps growing with time.
Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow (1971) captured the essence of this chef d’oeuvre when he wrote:
« If one hundred years following his composition, the Lode of Eternal Bliss continues to move readers of our country, it’s chiefly because of the literary vocation it bestows on Pular/Fulfulde, because of its balance, sure and elegant versification, its healthy, erudite and subtle language, and because of the national will of cultural assertion it embodies as well as the desire for linguistic autonomy and dignity that it expresses. »
Hajja Mariama Keso Bah, my elder and learned sister, reading Oogirde Malal
As “West Africa’ master cattle herders,” the Fulɓe created an original material art and a universal intangible culture. Today that dual heritage truly stands out as a shining component of Africa’s contribution to the dialog of civilizations.
Pulaaku, the bosom Fulɓe/Haal-Pular identity, is acknowledged throughout the world. It evolves with each stage: nomadic, Islamic, modern.
Pulaaku encompasses more than what cursive definitions say. For instance, Monteil (1963) breaks down Pulaaku (aka fulanité) to: courage, excellence and reserve. In reality, Pulaaku runs deeper. It echoes Fulɓe eras and worldviews that are long lost.
The Fulɓe creation myths and millennia-old way of life point to a perpetual quest for enlightenment and wisdom, as expressed in verbal art, speech mastery, and abundant poetry. Hence, in the epic poem Kaydara, the journey of the hero, Hammadi, evokes the pre-Christian and Arthurian quest for the “Holy Grail,” or the search for the unattainable.
In-between the two world wars colonial ethnographers collected and published extensive records on Fulɓe history and culture. Following up on brilliant precursors, colonial administrator Gilbert Vieillard championed Fulɓe studies. After extensive fieldwork he published pioneering ethnographic works. Upon his death on the World War II front, Fulɓe Ponty graduates from Fuuta-Jalon formed the Amicale Vieillard to carry on Gilbert’s legacy. Eventually, the group switched to partisan politics in Guinea, at the dawn of the French Fourth Republic in 1946.
Its leaders (Yacine Diallo, Mamadou Dia, Diawadou Barry, Saifoulaye Diallo, Amadou Babatoura Ahidjo, Hammadoun Dicko (Soudan/Mali)) were among the forerunners of the emancipation struggle that led to political sovereignty in the aftermath of 1958 constitutional referendum proposed by General Charles de Gaulle.
Slavery and colonialism were altogether aberrant and violent. And the independence series of the 1960s were supposed to reverse Europe’s Scramble for Africa in the 1880. Unfortunately, given its dismal record, African writers now that independence and the post-colonial experience have been as much a blessing as a bane. Nonetheless, Hampâté Bâ championed the promotion of Fulɓe and African oral tradition. Drawing on serendipity, tireless fieldwork and privileged access to secretive pastoral initiation rites, he wrote Kumen (1961) with G. Dieterlen.
Although short, the masterpiece fuses the Verb with the Spirit, the Act with the Idea. Thus, it nurtures the Mind and the Soul. Its form is so pristine and its substance so genuine that a critic compared “the striking poetry of the text” to “the most beautiful pages of the Bible.” (Hubert Deschamps, 1961)
Then, A.H. Bâ composed the beautiful Kaydara (1969) and Layteere Koodal (1974) epics.
Bâ’s memorable phrase « In Africa , when an elder dies, it’s a library that burns down, » was greeted around the world. UNESCO has etched it in marble at its Paris headquarters. His indefatigable efforts earned him the moniker of “pope of African oral tradition.”
An expanding pantheon and scores of modern authors, novelists and researchers follow on the footsteps of the late Master of the Pulaaku: Tierno Chaikou Baldé, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Oumar Bâ, Mariama Bâ, Eldridge Mohammadou, Tierno Abdourahmae Bah, Boubou Hama, Ousmane Poreko Diallo, Telli Diallo, Djibril Tamsir Niane, Alfâ I. Sow, Yaya Wane, Ismael Balogun, Thierno Diallo, Boubacar Barry, Thierno Mouctar Bah, Tierno Mamadou Bah, Dioulde Layya, Bintou Sanankoua, Alioune Traoré, Cheick Bâ, Ismael Barry, Tierno Monenembo, Amadou Oumar Dia, Njeuma, etc.
Arab travelers, European explorers and conquerors, colonial administrators and researchers (Faidherbe, Clapperton, Mage, Gaden, Bayol, Labouret, Vieillard, Arcin, Marty, Demougeot, Tauxier, Appia, Brandt, Lacroix, Alexandre, Oswald Durand, etc.), post-colonial researchers (Monteil, Dieterlen, Dupire, Kesteloot, Seydou, Arnott, Delange, Stenning, Lhote, Last, Johnston, Saint-Martin, Hiskett, Hogben, Kirk-Greene, Boyd, Suret-Canale, Ducoudray, Dumont, Kane, Watt, Meyer, Harrison, Robinson, Mouser, Devey, Harris, Nilsson & Dauber, Boutrais, Schmitz, Botte, Salvaing, Pondopoulo, Brenner, Chavane, Beauvilain, Bovin, Baumgardt, etc.) have contributed an impressive body of literature dealing with the Fulbe/Halpular (See the webPulaaku Library catalog)
In the arts, the creativity is as vibrant, as names such as Sori Bobo, Hamidou Balde, Ali Farka Touré, Bintal Laali Sow, Baaba Maal, Aly Wagué, Oumou Sy, Mamar Kassé, Cole Arɗo Sow, Oumane Sow, Oumou Sangaré, etc. contribute significantly to the vitality of the culture.
The overall roster is long. And the above listings are just indicative and by no means exhaustive. They mix living and departed authors. To the latter, Ad perpetuam rei memoriam. To the former, cheers and keep at it! To all, thank you for making Fulbe one of the most studied, published and celebrated people in Africa and perhaps in the whole world.
George Colinet. Afro-Pop Worldwide. Fula Music
Finally, Fulɓe politicians participated in the birth and the expansion of post-World War II African nationalism. In 1963, Guinea’s Telli Diallo became the first Secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union).
Beginning with his May 29, 2015 inauguration, Muhammadu Buhari becomes — after Olusegun Obasanjo — the second Nigerian General to lead the Federal Republic twice. Both officers come to power the first time in a military coup, and the second time, as elected politicians. In 1983, General Buhari toppled President Shehu Shagari, although both of them are Fulɓe. The late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (1951-2010) joined them as the fourth Pullo president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was in office from 2007 to 2010.
Macky Sall, the current president of Senegal, is a Halpular.
In Les Toucouleur du Fuuta-Tooro : Stratification sociale et structure familiale the late Senegalese sociologist Yaya Wane provides ample details and rich nuances about Fuuta-Tooro’s (Senegal) traditional castes system. It appears that former President Wade has Takruuri aka Toucouleur roots. His patronym appears among the Seɓɓe (warriors), the Subalɓe (fishermen), and the Buurnaaɓe (potters-ceramicists).
Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania have had Fulɓe/Halpular heads of state.
General Murtala Mohammed was born in Kano on November 8, 1938 into the Gynawa clan of the Fulani. He was assassinated in Lagos on February 13, 1976.
His Mande patronym notwithstanding, former President Amadou Toumani Touré is a Pullo form Maasina, renamed Region of Mopti.
Former heads of state Captain Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Alpha Oumar Konaré (Mali), and the now President of the Republic of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, are all sons of Fulɓe mothers. And their fathers are respectively Mõnrè, Bamana, and Soninke.
See past Fulɓe Heads of state
“Denko” by Oumou Sangare.
Yet, like elsewhere on the continent, the economic prospects are bleak. Missed priorities, wrong policies and environmental disasters combine to threaten the Fulɓe way of life (Pulaaku). But various grassroots associations are active in each country and region. They fight to stem the negative trends and they strive to rise to colossal challenges.
On the Internet, dozens of Web sites publish Fulɓe content in Pular/Fulfulde and/or in European languages.
Last but not least, the Woɗaaɓe face painting and male beauty contests (jeerewol ) inspire educational literature and are a main stay in world tourism. It is a fitting tribute to the originality vitality and universality of Fulɓe/Haal-Pulaar civilization.
Caveats, failures, prospects
This blog only scratches the surface of a complex and permanent field of investigation. Fulɓe’s African roots range among the deepest. Their prehistoric and contemporary presence spans at least three out of the five regions of the continent. This somewhat near ubiquity in Africa inspired the coinage of such expressions as Fulɓe Planet, Peul Archipelago… Despite the dispersion dictated by nomadism, they retained their cultural identity through time. They built alliances and complementarity with agriculturalists and other toolmakers: blacksmiths, leather workers, woodcarvers, etc. They valued fusion in Takrur, and they experienced fission with Wasulu. They faced adversity, overcame rivalry, and fought hostility…
But “life is an unfinished business” that unfolds as an imperfect —even non-perfectible process. Those truisms apply equally to individuals and communities. And Fulɓe/Halpular fit right in.
Therefore an objective, positive or upbeat account must to be balanced by an awareness of the shortcomings and failures in the Fulɓe/Halpular —past and ongoing—experience.
The failings and gaps are found in history and in present times.
Historically, Fulɓe and Africa have been stuck in the subsistence economy mode for millennia.
We learn increasingly why and how Western Europe made the – lengthy and painful — capitalist switch from subsistence economy to a wealthy society through the Industrial Revolution (18th century). The transformation was evolutionary. It dates back from the Middle Ages and it leveraged the wheel, literacy, the clock (an early automaton that has made its way into the heart of today’s digital computing and networking systems), etc.
Why the process did not spread elsewhere in the world? Why did it elude the other continents, especially Africa. Moral and psychological arguments (work ethic) and ideological claims (racial supremacy) are inconclusive and controversial. As a result, an objective and satisfactory answer is yet to be formulated. Meanwhile, the discrepancy in development between continents takes on tragic and vexing dimensions with slavery and colonialism. Those two phenomena do not simply linger on. They never ended and are still alive. And today Fulɓe and Africa find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, rich countries (Western Europe, North America, Japan and now China) are unwilling to share their knowledge, technology and financial resources. On the other, leadership —Fulɓe and African— is unwilling or unable to conquer and indigenize those prerequisites for development. Anthropologists and social scientists diagnose this behavior as “technological somnambulism”, in this case, a lack of policies aimed at embedding technology, effective and innovative tool-building processes into these societies.
Concretely, for Fulɓe this attitude translates into:
- The inability to process, store and distribute dairy products (cheese, butter, meat)
- The non-adoption of crops-growing techniques useful, for instance, in hay cultivation
- The failure to cross-breed bovine species for enhanced milk and meat productivity
In a paper titled “The Fulani and cattle breeds: crossbreeding and heritage strategies” Jean Boutrais (2007) writes that Fulɓe “cross and change cattle breeds in order to adapt to new ecological or sociopolitical conditions.” But he focuses on grassroots practices in two ares of Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Here, I am suggesting a continental strategy and broader policies aiming to improve cattle species.
Bad habits die hard. But let’s hope for a revolution in the mindset and the attitude of African and Fulɓe economic, political, social and religious leaders. May they realistically embrace the world, reduce consumerism, increase production, lessen dependency so that, in unison, they can show the way in carving out Africa’s rightful place in the globalization era.
Tierno Siradiou Bah
- Anthropologist, Fulɓe Studies
- Smithsonian Institution Research Associate, National Museum of African Art. Washington, DC. (2006-2012)
- Researcher/Producer/Developer/Publisher since 1997: webFuuta, webPulaaku, webMande, webCôte, webForêt, webGuinée, Camp Boiro Memorial, Semantic Africa, webAfriqa , webAmeriqa
- Drupal & WordPress Content Managment Systems & Websites builder (theming and information architecture) and Open Source software evangelist
- Cultural consultant, Prince Among Slaves, the 2006 documentary movie about Abdulrahman, a Muslim prince from the Islamic theocratic Confederacy of Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1897), who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Mississippi in 1790, and freed 1829.
- LAMP (Linux(CentOS & Ubuntu)/Apache/MySQL/PHP) and DNS (Domain Name System) network administrator
- First public advocate for the .africa Top Level Domain (TLD) Name Space
- Holder of the GuiBase Assigned Network Number, Serial #
9321/TCP — 9321/UDP for XML-RPC or JSON-RPC machine-to-machine communications interfaces, network information products, web services and distributed African content: taxonomies, vocabularies and ontologies.
- Lessee/owner of the TCP/IP Class B Address Space #126.96.36.199 assigned by IANA in 1993, thus granting me the management of the last two octects [0.0] which, in the binary numbering system (216), yield a total of 65,534 fixed IP addresses
- Pioneer member, Internet Society, Kobe, Japan, 1992 conference
- Rockefeller Foundation Dissertation Fellow. Anthropology Department. UT Austin (1988)
- Ph.D. (ABD), Linguistic Antropology, Anthropology Department. UT Austin (1988)
- Fulbright-Hayes Senior Scholar. The University of Texas at Austin (1982-83)
- Director, University Library, IPGAN, Conakry (1980-1982)
- Co-publisher, Miriya, Economic and Social Sciences Journal. IPGAN, Conakry (1975-1982)
- Linguistics & African languages faculty, Social Sciences Department, Polytechnic Institute G.A. Nasser (IPGAN), Conakry (1972-1982)
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