Encyclopedia of African History
Kevin Shillington, ed. Vol. 1. New York & London. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 538-540
Futa Toro is the region situated along the middle valley of the Senegal River
in West Africa, immediately south of the Sahara Desert. The north bank lies in
Mauritania, while the south bank is in Senegal. The Senegal River was a link, not
a divide, between the north and south banks. The river also served as the central
focus of the region, linking east and west.
Futa is the general name that the Fulbe, the area's dominant ethnic group, gave to the areas where they lived, while Toro is the province with the oldest identity in the middle valley; it lies in the western portion around the towns of Podor and Njum. The area never extended more than approximately ten miles on either bank of the river, and stretched for about 250 miles along the length of the Senegal River. The linguistic evidence strongly suggests that Futa Toro may be the birthplace of the Fulbe people, and many Fulbe oral traditions cite Futa Toro as their homeland. The Fulbe of Futa Toro and elsewhere in the river valley now call themselves Haalpulaar'en, or "those who speak Pulaar:' the local dialect of the Fulfulde language. In Wolof, French, and general Senegalese usage, the Fulbe of Futa Toro are called Toucouleur, derived from the name of the ancient state of Takrur (or Tekrur).
Futa Toro's predecessor was ancient Takrur, situated on both banks of the middle Senegal River and contemporary with the Ghana Empire. Takrur may have been founded as early as 100 CE, reaching its height in the ninth and tenth centuries. The dominant ethnic group was Fulbe (sometimes called Fulani or Peul), with minority populations of Wolof, Berber, and Soninke. The rulers apparently became Muslims in the 1030s. The region was situated just beneath the Western Sahara and on trans-Saharan caravan routes, which were developed well before the tenth century.
The state also had the advantage of being on a river that flowed from the south, permitting people to live very close to the desert edge. Berbers operated the trade routes through the desert to Morocco, exporting some gold from Bambuk, further up the Senegal River, which was exchanged in Takrur. The people also grew millet and cotton and manufactured cotton textiles, which were traded to the desert nomads. While Takrur received some salt from desert traders, most of its salt came from the evaporating salt pans at the mouth of the Senegal River. Takrur defended itself successfully against several Moroccan raids in the eleventh century but was in decline by the twelfth century, owing primarily to local power struggles and competition for resources.
Several dynasties and groups attempted but failed to rule the middle valley after the decline of Takrur. The main obstacle was the length of Futa Toro along the river. In the period from about 1490 until 1776, however, most of Futa Toro was ruled by the Deniyanke dynasty founded by Koly Tenhella Ba. Futa Toro came into limited contact with Portuguese traders in the early sixteenth century, supplying some slaves, usually captives from non-Muslim states, for the transatlantic slave trade. Later the French, who used the Senegal River as a trade conduit into the interior, became Futa Toro's dominant European trading partners. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Futa Toro, like its predecessor Takrur, was often the subject of raids by Moroccan forces eager to expand the influence of their state and acquire the wealth in gold and slaves from the Western. Sudan. Futa Toro was able to maintain its independence from invading armies, but the constant attacks weakened the central state. By the sixteenth century, the Deniyanke rulers and a significant portion of the population were Muslims. A clerical diaspora from Futa Toro helped spread Islam throughout Western, Africa.
The inhabitants of Futa Toro practiced mixed farming, combining agriculture and livestock herding. The summer rains watered the highland crops and raised the river level, which spilled over the banks of the middle valley. After the waters receded in December, the moist floodplain could then be planted with millets, sorghum, and maize for a dry season harvest.
This double harvest made Futa Toro a food-exporting region and also drew migrant farmers from the surrounding areas. Cattle raising was also an important part of the Fulbe of Futa's early economy and identity. Fulbe herders practiced seasonal migration, staying near permanent sources of water in the dry season, then moving out with the rains, and finally returning when the water holes and pastures dried up. Futa pastoralists moved in regular patterns, either to the steppe north of the river and close to the Sahara Desert, or south into the steppe called the Ferlo between Futa Toro and the Gambia River. In Futa Toro, two groups of Fulbe emerged, including sedentary farmers and migratory herders. The herders were dependent on the farmers of all ethnic groups for agricultural goods and water during the dry season while the herders supplied milk and meat for the farmers. Raiding periodically disrupted the exchange of goods and services, but cooperation generally characterized farmer-herder interactions. There was also some fishing and craft production, especially leatherwork, blacksmithing, and weaving. Finally, griots or praise singers lived at court and performed many diplomatic and judicial functions in addition to their public performance. Much of what is known about the early history of Futa Toro derives from oral traditions preserved by griots.
In 1776 indigenous Muslims, led by Suleyman Bal, took advantage of the weak Deniyanke dynasty and launched a successful and influential Islamic revolution, creating the alinamate of Futa Toro. They Instituted a new ruling class, the torodbe. The most effective almamate ruler, Abdul Kader Kan, extended the borders of Futa to the west and southeast. However, the defeat of his forces by the Wolof state of Kajoor, signaled the decline of the almamate until its dominance by the French in the mid-nineteenth century.
Barry, Boubacar Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Kane, M. and D. Robinson. The Islamic Regime of Fuuta Tooro. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1984.
Robinson, D. Chiefs and Clerics: Abdul Bokar Kan and Futa Toro, 1853-1891. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.
Robinson, D., P Curtin, and J. Johnson. “A Tentative Chronology of Futa Toro from the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries.” Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines 12 (1972) 555-592.
Willis, J. R. “The Torodbe Clerisy: A Social View.” Journal of African History 19 (1978): 195-212.