Encyclopedia of African History
Kevin Shillington, ed. Vol. 1. New York & London. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 538-539
The search for the origin of the Fulani is not only futile, it betrays a position
toward ethnic identity that strikes many anthropologists as profoundly wrong. Ethnic
groups are political action groups that exist, among other reasons, to benefit
their members. Therefore, by definition, the social organization, as well as cultural
content, will change over time. Moreover, ethnic groups, such as the Fulani, are
always coming into, and going out of, existence. Rather than searching for the
legendary eastern origins of the Fulani, a more productive approach might be to
focus on the meaning of Fulani identity within concrete historical situations and
analyze the factors that shaped Fulani ethnic identity and the manner in which
people used it to attain particular goals.
The people whom historians identify as Fulani entered present-day Senegal from the north and east. It is certain that they were a mixture of peoples from northern and Sub-Saharan Africa. These pastoral peoples tended to move in an eastern direction and spread over much of West Africa during the tenth century. Their adoption of Islam increased the Fulani's feelings of cultural and religious superionty to surrounding peoples. That adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker.
Toroobe, a branch of the Fulani, settled in towns and mixed with the ethnic groups there. They quickly became outstanding Islamic clerics, joining the highest ranks of the exponents of Islam, along with Berbers and Arabs. Fulani Sirre, or town Fulani, never lost touch with their relatives, however, often investing in larae herds themselves. Cattle remain a significant symbolic repository of Fulani values.
The Fulani movement in West Africa tended to follow a set pattern. Their first movement into an area tended to be peaceful. Local officials gave them land grants because their products, including fertilizer, were highly prized. The number of converts to Islam increased over time. With that increase Fulani resentment at being ruled by pagans or imperfect Muslims increased.
That resentment was fueled by the larger migration that occurred during the seventeenth century, in which the Fulani migrants were predominantly Muslim. These groups were not so easily integrated into society as earlier migrants had been. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, revolts had broken out against local rulers. Although these revolts began as holy wars (jihads), after their success they followed the basic principle of Fulani ethnic dominance.
The situation in Nigeria was somewhat different from that elsewhere in West Africa in that the Fulani entered areas that are more settled and developed than those in other West African lands did. At the time of their arrival, in the early fifteenth century, many Fulani settled as clerics in Hausa city-states such as Kano, Katsina, and Zaria. Others settled among the local peoples during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the seventeenth century, the Hausa states had begun to gain their independence from various foreign rulers, with Gobir becoming the predominant Hausa state.
The urban culture of the Hausa was attractive to many Fulani. These town or settled Fulani became clerics, teachers, settlers, and judges and in many other ways filled elite positions within the Hausa states. Soon they adopted the Hausa language, many forgetting their own Fulfulde language. Although Hausa customs exerted an influence on the town Fulani, they did not lose touch with the cattle or bush Fulani.
These ties proved useful when their strict adherence to Islamic learning and practice led them to join the jihads raging across West Africa. They tied their grievances to those of their pastoral relatives. The cattle Fulani resented what they considered an unfair cattle tax, one levied by imperfect Muslims. Under the leadership of the outstanding Fulani Islamic cleric, Shehu Usman dan Fodio, the Fulani launched a jihad in 1804. By 1810 almost all the Hausa states had been defeated.
Although many Hausa joined dan Fodio after victory was achieved, the Fulani in Hausaland turned their religious conquest into an ethnic triumph. Those in Adamawa, for instance, were inspired by dan Fodio's example to revolt against the kingdom of Mandara. After their victories, the Fulani generally eased their Hausa collaborators from positions of power and forged alliances with fellow Fulani.
For the fully nomadic Fulani, the practice of transhumance (the seasonal movement in search of water) strongly influences settlement pattems. The basic settlement, consisting of a man and his dependents, is called a wurit. It is social but ephemeral, given that many such settlements have no women and serve simply as shelters for the nomads who tend the herds.
There are, in fact, a number of settlement patterns among Fulani. Since the late twentieth century, there has been an increasing trend toward livestock production and sedentary settlement, but Fulani settlement types still range from traditional nomadism to variations on s.edentarism. As the modern nation-state restricts the range of nomadism, the Fulani have adapted ever increasingly complex ways to move herds among them. Over the last few centuries, the majority of Fulani have become sedentary.
Those Fulani who remain nomadic or semi-nomadic have two major types of settlements: dry-season and wetseason camps. The dry season lasts from about November to March, the wet season from about March to the end of October. Households are patrilocal and range in size from one nuclear family to more than one hundred people. The administrative structure, however, crosscuts patrilines and is territorial. Families tend to remain in wet-season camp while sending younger males-or, increasingly, hiring non-Fulani herders to accompany the cattle to dry-season camps.
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