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Friday 23 August 2019



The myths of Fulani people are most fascinating and deepened in mystery with wide divergent opinions. Many scholars believe that they are of Judeo-Syrian origin and generally recognized as having descended from nomads from North Africa and sub-Sahara Africa. Tradition however, has it that Fulani came from the Middle-East and North Africa, settled in Central and West Africa from Senegal region and created the Tekruur Empire, contemporary to the Ghana Empire. Fulani thus, spread in all countries, in West-Africa and continue to lead the nomadic life style and mixed states of dominancy, which often absorbed with the indigenous population dominated.

Despite the speculated origin of Fulani people, current linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that an indigenous West African origin among the Peul and the vast majority of genetic lineages associated with them reflect those most commonly seen amongst other West Africans. Their language is also of West African origin, most closely related to that of the Wolof and Serer ethnic groups. Historical and archaeological records indicate that Peul-speaking have resided in West Africa since 5th century A.D.  Rock painting in Tassili-n-Ajjer suggest that the presence of proto-Fulani cultural traits in the region by  fourth millennium B.C. Scholars specializing in Fulani culture believe that some of the imagery depicts rituals that are still in practice by contemporary Fulani people.

Some Africans even refer to them as “white people” with respect to their physical appearances. However, recent studies show that they are of North African or Arabic origin, with respect to their characteristic light skin and straight hair, which is to their closed genetic patterns to those of North African people, but also that they are descendants of native nomads of the Upper Nile region (North Africa), the Berbers. This later opinion is however the one more generally accepted as most of their patterns are found in the Hilani tribe and keeps on saying that thus coming from the Middle East and North Africa, due to the increasing harsh climate in the sub-Saharan region, they migrate slowly to West Africa. As they mixed with local people and conquered territories, the Fulani tribe emerged by the 11th century as an identifiable group in the Senegambia Valley (Senegal).

The Fulanis were the first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars and were able to take over much of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious group but also as a political and economic force. They are the missionaries of Islam and continued to conquer much of West Africa.

Their adoption of Islam increased the Fulanis' feeling of cultural and religious superiority to surrounding peoples and that adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker. The Toroobe, a branch of the Fulani, settled in towns and mixed with the ethnic groups there. They quickly became noted as outstanding Islamic clerics, joining the highest ranks of the exponents of Islam, along with Berbers and Arabs. The term Fulani (FulbeSirre) never lost touch with their Cattle Fulani relatives however, often investing in large 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. Their dairy 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 Muslims. These groups were not so easily integrated into society as earlier immigrants 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 Fulanis entered an area more settled and developed than that of other West African areas. At the time of their arrival, in the early fifteenth century, many Fulanis 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 Hausas was attractive to many Fulanis. These settled Fulanis 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 term 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 to be 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 Hausas—such as Yakubu in Bauchi—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. The leader was Modibo Adamu, after whom the area is now named. His capital is the city of Yola. After their victories, the Fulani generally eased their Hausa collaborators from positions of power and forged alliances with fellow Fulanis.


The earliest evidence that shed some light on the pre-historic Fulani culture can be found in the Tassilin'Ajjer rock art, which seems to depict the early life of the people dating back to 6000 BCE). Examination of these rock paintings suggest the presence of proto-Fulani cultural traits in the region by at least the 4th millennium BCE. Tassili-N'Ajjer in Algeria is one of the most famous North African sites of rock painting.

Scholars specializing in Fulani culture believe that some of the imagery, depicts rituals that are still practiced by contemporary Fulani people. At the Tin Tazarift site, for instance, historian Amadou Hampate Ba recognized a scene of the 'lotori' ceremony, a celebration of the ox's aquatic origin. In a finger motif, Ba detected an allusion to the myth of the hand of the first Fulani herdsman, Kikala. At Tin Felki, Ba recognized a hexagonal carnelian jewel as related to the Agades cross, a fertility charm still used by Fulani women. There are also details in the paintings which correspond to elements from Fulani myths taught during the initiation rites like the hermaphroditic cow. The Fulani initiation field is depicted graphically with the sun surrounded by a circle lined up with heads of cows as different phases of the moon at the bottom and surmounted by a male and a female figure. The female figure even has a hanging braid of hair to the back. Though no exact dates have been established for the paintings, they are undoubtedly much earlier than the historic times when the Fulani were first noticed in Western Sahara.

In the 9th century, the Fulani may have been involved in the formation of a state with it's capital at Takrur which is suggested to have had the influx of Fulanis migrating from the East and settling in the Senegal valley, although John Donnelly Fage suggests that Takrur was formed through the interaction of Berbers from the Sahara and "Negro agricultural peoples" who were "essentially Serer". Fulani culture continued to emerge in the area of the upper Niger and Senegal Rivers. The Fulanis were cattle-keeping farmers who shared their lands with other nearby groups, like the Soninke, who contributed to the rise of ancient Ghana. During the 16th century, the Fula expanded through the sahel grasslands, stretching from what is today Senegal to Sudan, with eastward and westward expansions being led by nomadic groups of cattle breeders or the Fulɓeladde. While the initial expansionist groups were small, they soon increased in size due to the availability of grazing lands in the sahel and the lands that bordered it to the immediate South.
Agricultural expansions led to a division among the Fulanis, where individuals were classified as belonging either to the group of expansionist nomadic agriculturalists or the group of Fulanis who found it more comfortable to abandon traditional nomadic ways and settle in towns or the Fulɓewuro. Fulani towns were as a direct result of a nomadic heritage and were often founded by individuals who had simply chosen to settle in a given area instead of continuing on their ways.

This cultural interaction most probably occurred in Senegal, where the closely linguistically related Toucouleur, Serer and Wolof people predominate, ultimately leading to the ethnogenesis of the Fulani culture, language and people before subsequent expansion throughout much of West Africa. Another version is that they were originally a Berber speaking people who crossed the Senegal to pasture their cattle on the Ferlo Desert South of the Senegal River. Finding themselves cut off from their kinsmen by the other communities now occupying the fertile Senegal valley, they gradually adopted the language of their new neighbours. As their herds increased, small groups found themselves forced to move eastward and further southwards and so initiated a series of migrations throughout West Africa, which endures to the present day.

Evidence of Fulani migration as a whole, from the Western to the Eastern Sudan is very fragmentary. Delafosse, one of the earliest enquirers into Fulani history and customs, principally relying on oral tradition, estimated that Fulani migrants left Fuuta-Tooro and Macina, towards the East, between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries. By the 15th century, there was a steady flow of Fulɓe immigrants into Hausaland and later on, Bornu. Their presence in Baghirmi was later recorded when Fulani fought as allies to Dokkenge or BirniBesif, when he founded Massenya (a Chadian town), early in the 16th century.

By the end of the 18th century, Fulani settlements were dotted all over the Benue River valley and it's tributaries. They spread eastwards towards Garoua and Rey Bouba, and southwards towards the Faro River, to the foot of the Mambilla Plateau, which they would later ascend in subsequent years. The heaviest concentrations of their settlements were at Gurin, Chamba territory, Cheboa, Turua and Bundang. These so-called "Benue-Fulani" reduced the frequency with which they moved from place to place. The number of years they stayed at one spot depended on two factors: the reaction of the earlier settlers of that locality to their presence and how satisfactory the conditions were, i.e., availability of pastures for their cattle.

Written by Obulose Chidiebere

Edited by Onyebuchi Eucharia O.
For Family Writers Press International

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