London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.
Barth, who was probably the most intelligent of all the African explorers, described the Fulani as the most intelligent of all the African tribes. They are certainly one of Africa's great enigmas. They have been living in the Sudan for well over a thousand years, but their physical characteristics are so different from those of other Sudanic peoples that there can be little doubt that they originated elsewhere.
Physically, except where miscegenation over several generations has blurred the image, they run remarkably true to type. It is possible, for example, to pick Fulani out of a group of other Africans with much greater certainty than, say, Scandinavians out of a group of Europeans. Typical Fulani approximate closely to their own physical ideals of light copper-coloured skin, straight hair, narrow nose, thin lips, and a slight but wiry frame.
These physical characteristics and their undoubted talents have given rise to all kinds of notions about their origins. The most romantic but least probable theories are that they are either one of the lost tribes of Israel or that they are descendants of i Roman Legion which missed its way and was engulfed in Black Africa. More seriously it has been suggested that they may be descended from the Phoenicians or from the ancient Egyptians, whose custom of wearing chin-tufts they still follow. Other theories have sought to link them with the Berbers of North Africa, the Ethiopians, and even with Hindus and Malayo-Polynesians 2.
In the task of tracing ethnic origins, the best clues are usually provided by language. To follow this line of deduction with the Fulani, however, is merely to come up against a new enigma. If Fulfulde, as their language is called, belonged to what are variously defined as the Hamitic or Afro-Asiatic Groups, it would be easy to believe that ethnically, like the Hausas, they were the products of intermarriage between North African and Negro stocks. As it is, however, modern authorities agree that there is virtually no connection between Fulfulde and any of the languages in these groups, but that on the contrary it unquestionably belongs to the Sudanic or Niger-Congo Groups 3. It follows, therefore, that the Fulani either originated in the most westerly corner of the Sudan or else that, in the course of a long sojourn there, they abandoned an earlier language in favour of the one that they now speak. As they are prone to change their language 4, and as their physical characteristics are so markedly different from those of their linguistic neighbours, the second alternative is much the more likely.
The most widely accepted theory is that the Fulani came originally from the Middle East or North Africa and gradually worked their way round the bulge of the continent to the region of Senegambia. There they are believed to have made a lengthy sojourn and adopted the language which they now speak. Some of them are still there, but in historical times the majority have been drifting slowly eastward along the great corridor of the Sudan.
Like most African peoples, the Fulani cherish a myth or legend about their origins which has survived in a number of similar, though not identical, forms. One version describes the marriage of a Moslem Arab, who is usually identified as Ukuba, to a woman of the Sudan called Bajjo Mangu. One day the mother goes to the well and leaves her youngest child in the care of one of its brothers. On her return she overhears the brother comforting the child in a strange language. She tells her husband who predicts that this is a sign that the child will be the founder of a new people who will not speak Arabic but will nevertheless be the saviours of Islam 5.
In his history of the Fulani, Alhaji Junaidu, the Waziri of Sokoto, gives a different version of this story. He says that the Toronkawa, the branch of the Fulani people to which the Sultans of Sokoto belong, are of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. They spoke a language called Wakuru 6, and after leaving Palestine they traversed North Africa until they came to Fuuta-Tooro in Senegambia, the place from which they have taken their name. There they rested and multiplied. Later they were peacefully converted to Islam by Ukubatu, who married Bajjo Mangu, a daughter of their ruler. By her Ukubatu, became the father of four sons. Deita, Woya, Roroba, and Nasi. These boys were the first to speak Fulfulde, which the Toronkawa also adopted, and they became the ancestors of all the Fulani tribes. Their descendants grew so numerous, however, that they had to move to Falgo and there they slipped back into paganism. This brought enmity between them and their Toronkawa cousins who had continued in the ways of Islam. In the fighting which followed many of the Fulani were dispersed, but those who remained in Senegambia, after being chastised and brought back to their faith, were finally reconciled with the Toronkawa with whom they thenceforward lived in amity 7.
One of the interesting features of this legend is the identification of the Toronkawa with the descendants of Esau. They too, it will be will be remembered, were wandering pastoralists:
And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob. For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle 8.
The Falgo of this tradition may well be Fuuta-Jalon, where the Fulani are known to have established a State in about the tenth century. The assertion, however, that in the disputes between the backsliding Fulani and faithful Toronkawa it was the Toronkawa who prevailed is not borne out by other evidence, for both Fuuta-Jalon and Fuuta-Tooro remained pagan States until the eighteenth century 9. What seems more probable is that it was the Moslems among both the Toronkawa and the Fulani who were defeated and forced to emigrate.
The Ukuba who appears in most versions of these Fulani and Toronkawa legends is Uqba b. Nafi, who led the Arab invasion of North Africa in the middle of the seventh century and founded the famous city of Kairwan 10. The retention of his name in the folk memory suggests that the Fulani were somehow caught up in the turmoil which this invasion caused. On the other hand, the ancestress who married Ukuba is usually described as coming from Palestine and this supports the view that the Fulani, though the Arab invasion may have caught them in North Africa and displaced them from there, actually had their origins somewhere in the Middle East.
So much for tradition and myth. Though we cannot be sure about where the Fulani originally came from, there is no doubt that a thousand years ago they were concentrated in the western Sudan not far from the Atlantic seaboard. In the tenth century, as already noted, they founded the pagan State of Fuuta-Jalon 11. Delafosse considers that the dispersal from Senegambia began in the eleventh century. We do not know what the cause was but it may well have been the religious wars between Moslems and pagans which seem to have broken out at this time. On the other hand, as the period coincides with the second Arab invasion of North Africa, it is possible that this upheaval brought a new influx of displaced tribes to Senegambia, as it did to Hausaland, and that the ensuing confusion and competition for land and grazing caused the Toronkawa and many of the Fulani to set off again on their travels.
Today the Fulani number well over six million and are to be found in all parts of the Sudan between the Atlantic and the Nile. By far the greatest concentration is in northern Nigeria, where over half of them are to be found. Other places where they abound are Senegambia and Fuuta-Jalon, the Middle Niger, the Chad region, and the Cameroon uplands 12. A few of the more adventurous have even passed beyond Chad to Baghirmi, Wadai, and the Republic of the Sudan.
They have been kept within these latitudes by the desert to the north and the presence of tse-tse fly, which is fatal to their cattle, to the so uth. They have therefore had no choice but to settle somewhere or continue to make their way down the corridor of savannah and this is what they have been doing for the last nine hundred years. Stenning has termed their slow advance a migratory drift. To understand its true nature we must first distinguish between different types of Fulani.
In the past it has been usual to divide them into two groups, the settled Fulani and the nomadic pastoralists. It has been shown, however, that this is an over-simplification and that there are at least four different groups 13. First there are the true nomads whom the Fulani call Bororo'en. They shun settled communities as much as possible and like to lose themselves and their herds in large tracts of bush. Physically, as they have never intermarried with other peoples, they are all cast in the true Fulani mould. They are brave, tough, hardy, and independent. At the same time they are unsophisticated, shy, and suspicious of the world and its ways. Their whole life revolves round their herds and they have few thoughts for anything else, even religion. They are a survival from the past and today they have become a dwindling minority.
Next there are the semi-sedentary pastoralists who are known as FulBe na'i. Their way of life has many variants, but its essential feature is that the family is no longer completely footloose but has acquired a base of some kind and engages in farming as well as raising stock. But, as most of the cattle of the Sudan have to be taken in search of water and grazing during the long dry seasons, it becomes necessary to split 14.
The third group are the TorooBe or the Fulani who belong to the ruling and professional classes. They may of course own a few cattle, but only as a side-line, and their real interests lie in administration, law, religion, and education 15.
The fourth group are the FulBe siire. These are erstwhile pastoralists who, having lost all their cattle through disease or poor husbandry, The Fulani Empire of Sokoto have been compelled to settle among the local peasantry and adopt their way of life 16.
While the Fulani were drifting across North Africa towards the Atlantic seaboard it seems probable that they all led a nomadic existence similar to that of the bororo'en of today. Once they had reached Senegambia, however, they must have turned more and more to the other modes of life, some through choice and others through force of circumstance. Later, when they were uprooted from Senegambia, they had, of necessity, to take once more to a nomadic existence but, having once lived a sedentary or semi-sedentary life, they were probably more ready than before to try it again. Those who found places where their cattle thrived and they themselves felt at home, in the Middle Niger for example, no doubt settled there. If their cattle sickened, however, or if they themselves were persecuted or taxed too highly, then they would have no compunction in pulling up the roots which they had begun to put down and moving on. The characteristics of this migratory drift were that it was completely uncoordinated and almost imperceptibly gradual.
Not the least important of the four groups were the men of learning. The Fulani and their Toronkawa cousins are a highly intelligent people and they seem always to have had a reverence for knowledge and wisdom, especially the Moslems among them. It is noteworthy, for example, that in the religious wars between the Toronkawa and the Fulani, the Moslem Toronkawa were led not by Chiefs but by Mallams or men of learning 17. It was not until the eighteenth century that the Fulani created any Islamic States of their own, but long before then individual Fulani who were learned in religion and law were making their influence felt in many different parts of the Sudan.
Religion, law, and Arabic letters were the subjects in which the Fulani tended to specialize. Some, no doubt, possessed little learning outside these fields, but there were others who were surprisingly well informed on other topics. In 1852, for example, when the explorer Barth was in Baghirmi, he met a Fulani called Sambo, elderly and completely blind, whose family had been settled in Wadai for many generations. He himself had once held a prominent position at Court, but with a change of Sultan he had fallen from favour and been banished. Here is Barth's description of him.
I could scarcely have expected to find in this out-of-the-way place a man not only versed in all branches of Arabic literature, but who had even read (nay, possessed a manuscript of) those portions of Aristotle and Plato which had been translated into, or rather Mohammedanised in Arabic, and who possessed the most intimate knowledge of the countries which he had visited.... When he was a young man, his father, who himself possessed a good deal of learning, and who had written a work on Hausa, had sent him to Egypt, where he had studied many years in the mosque of El Azhar. It had been his intention to go to the town of Zebid in Yemen, which is famous amongst the Arabs on account of the science of logarithms, or el hesab; but when he had reached Gunfuda, the war which was raging between the Turks and the Wahabiye had thwarted his projects, and he had returned to Dar Fur.... Having then returned to Waday, he had played a considerable part as courtier in that country, especially during the reign of Abd el 'Aziz, till the present king, Mohammad e' Sherif, on account of his intimate relations with the prince just mentioned, had driven him from his court and banished him from the country.
After having made the acquaintance of this man, I used to visit him daily; and he was always delighted to see, or rather to hear me for he had nobody with whom he could talk about the splendour and achievements of the Khalifat, from Baghdad to Andalos [Spain] particularly of the latter country, with the history of whose towns, kings, and literary men he was intimately acquainted. He listened with delight when I once mentioned the astrolabe or sextant; and he informed me with pride that his father had been in possession of such an instrument, but that for the last twenty years he had not met a single person who knew what sort of thing an astrolabe was.
He was a very enlightened man and in his inmost soul a Wahabi.... I shall never forget the hours I passed in cheerful and instructive conversation with this man.... 18
This evidence, even though it came two generations later, serves to show that the best of the men of learning among the Fulani were very far from being narrow-minded schoolmen.
It must be remembered that in Islam there is no established hierarchy like that of the Christian Church. Consequently the manifold duties, ecclesiastical and lay, which in medieval Europe were performed by the clergy, tended in Moslem countries to fall to men who established a reputation for piety and learning. They officiated at weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies. They settled disputes by expounding the principles of Islamic law. They taught the young in Koranic schools and gave instruction to the old in Moslem dogma, ritual, history, and tradition. For these services they were rewarded by fees which, to the Moslem donor, had the quality of alms.
These learned men usually belonged to one of the great sects or brotherhoods of Islam of which the two most important in the Sudan were the Kadiriyya, founded in the twelfth century by Abd el-Kadir el-Jilani of Baghdad, and the Tijaniyya, founded in the early nineteenth century by Ahmad Tijjani of Fez. The genuinely pious among them led lives of devotion and austerity, sometimes as anchorites, and strove to acquire the quality of sanctity and the supernatural powers which were thought to go with it. The more worldly, on the other hand, exploited the superstitions of the people and made their livings by fashioning charms and amulets, foretelling the future through patterns traced in the sand, or curing illnesses by means of concoctions made from the ink in which holy texts had been written. A few of the more unscrupulous even studied and practised the black arts. Pious or cynical, they were a force to be reckoned with.
In the eighteenth century the Fulani, who until then had remained divided between Islam and paganism, seem to have received a powerful new impulse towards Islam. Many of those who had not previously been converted now abandoned their pagan beliefs and those who were already Moslems became more strict and aggressive. Whatever the cause of this spiritual change, it was to have very important political results. Its first manifestation came in 1725 when Moslem Fulani began a long struggle against the pagan dynasty (?) of Fuuta-Jalon, the uplands where the Senegal and Gambia Rivers rise. It was not until 1776 that this movement succeeded and a Moslem régime was established, but in the same year, after a much shorter tussle, the Moslem Fulani of Fuuta-Tooro overthrew their pagan kinsmen and set up a second Islamic State in the same region 19. These developments in the western Sudan probably had an indirect bearing on the events that followed in the central Sudan a generation later, the establishment by the Moslem Fulani of Hausaland of the Empire which is the subject of this book. This in turn influenced the creation by the Fulani of the Upper Niger of two more Moslem States, Seku Ahmadu's kingdom of Hamdallahi and the short-lived empire of Haj Umar that superseded it 20.
It is not known for certain when the first Fulani reached Hausaland: it may have been as early as A.D. 1300 21 and was certainly not later than the middle of the following century 22. The conditions obviously suited them and, as more and more of them arrived from the west, they halted and decided to go no farther. In this way, slowly and almost imperceptibly, their numbers must have grown until by the middle of the eighteenth century they had become an important minority. We have no knowledge of how large a proportion of the population they then formed, but as in modern times the ratio between them and the Hausas is about 1: 3 or 1: 4 it is reasonable to suppose that they were not less than a fifth or sixth of the whole.
The day-to-day relationship between the pastoral Fulani and the Hausa farmers at the end of the eighteenth century was no doubt much the same as it is now. There was, first of all, the continuous exchange of dairy products for grain and other goods. With individuals there were arrangements for kraaling cattle on farms so that the land got the benefit of the manure. With villages there were agreements about cattle tracks, grazing grounds, rainy-season laagering, and dry season access to water. With the authorities there was bargaining over jangali, the official cattle-tax, which was levied from at least as early as the first half of the seventeenth century 23, and over the unofficial tribute that all Village Heads expected to receive as one of their perquisites 24.
In many different ways, therefore, the semi-sedentary pastoralists were drawn into the life of the settled communities among whom they lived. For the Fulani who belonged to the professional classes or the stockless peasantry the contacts were of course even closer. There was not, it is true, much intermarriage between the two races, but Fulani of the upper classes did not spurn concubines taken from the Hausa community and those who had lost their cattle may well have had to seek their wives in the same quarter. In towns and villages the two societies probably occupied separate wards or quarters, as they sometimes do even today. In almost every other respect, however, their lives seem to have been fairly closely integrated. In language, for example, all the pastoral Fulani, save some of the bororo'en, could doubtless speak and understand Hausa, indeed many of them were probably bilingual, while among the two settled groups there must already have been large numbers, particularly of stockless peasants, who had begun to lose their facility in Fulfulde as the majority of their descendants long since have.
Nevertheless, even though many of the Fulani families in Hausaland had been living there for ten or fifteen generations, they did not always enjoy the same privileges as the Hausas. Traditions have survived, for example, that in Gobir their right to own slaves was curtailed and that later, when there was tension between them and the Chief, they were even forbidden to carry arms 25. Such discrimination must have been a common experience for them in their centuries of wandering and was perhaps an indirect tribute to the awe in which their hosts held them.
In character the Fulani are very different people from the Hausas. Where the Hausas are usually tolerant and easy-going, the Fulani tend to be passionate and intense. This basic dissimilarity of temperament is reflected in many differences of outlook. The Fulani take life more seriously than the Hausas and are less ready to laugh at themselves. They have a greater reverence for learning. They have more highly developed powers of leadership. They throw themselves with more singleness of purpose into the causes which they adopt. They have a superior faith in their own destiny. In short, though not necessarily abler or more intelligent, they have more fire in their bellies than the genial worldly Hausas.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the time had arrived when these qualities would be put to the test.
1. The Fulani go under many names. For further information on nomenclature see Note 7 in Appendix I.
2. D. J. Stenning, Savannah Nomads, London, 1959, pp. 18-19.
3. Westermann and Bryan, op, cit. pp. 1.8-19 and 24-30, and J. H. Greenberg, op. cit. pp. 7 and 43.
4. See Note 8 in Appendix I.
5. Stenning, op. cit. p. 19.
6. The explorer Barth identified this with the language of the Wangarawa or Mandingoes of the western Sudan. See Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa, London, 1857, vol. IV, pp. 144-5.
7. Alhaji Junaidu, Tarihin Fulani, Zaria. 1957, p. 1.
8. Genesis xxxvi, 6-7.
9. Stenning, op. cit. p. 14.
10. Ahdallah ibn Muhammad, Tazyin al-Waraqat (TW), translated and edited by M. Hiskett, Ibadan, 1963, p. 97.
11. Stenning, op. cit. p. 13.
12 Ibid. p. 1 and map opposite p. 24.
13. C. E. Hopen, The Pastoral FulBe Family in Gwandu, London, 1958, pp. 1-3.
14. Hopen, op. cit. pp. 1-3.
16. Hopen, op. cit. pp. 1-3.
17. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. pp. 1-2.
18. Barth, op. cit. vol. III, pp. 373-5
19. Trimingham, op. cit. pp. 161-2.
20. See Note 16 in Appendix I.
21. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 429.
22. K Ch (Palmer, p. III).
23. K Ch (Palmer, p. 119).
24. Stenning, op. cit. pp. 4-9.
25. Hopen, op. cit. pp. 11-13.