The Fulani are present in about twenty countries in West Africa, including Burkina Faso but also in Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan. At the origin, the Fulani are nomads, but nowadays many settled. We will first introduce the Fulani, then we will talk about their beliefs, and finally we will learn about their traditions.
Who are the Fulani?
They are predominantly Muslim. Their mobility throughout West Africa favoured exchanges and intermixing with other populations. Their origin and their identity continue to be questioned. Origin of the name: The natives call themselves “Pullo”. The word “Pullo” comes from the verb “fullade” (meaning “to disperse”). The terms fula, fulbé, foulbé, are terms to designate the Fulani
Ancestral belief in Fulani
The creator God is “Gueno”; he is uncreated and lives in eternity. There are also 28 deities (secondary gods). The Fulani consider milk as a sacred substance. The cow is highly considered. They don’t sell, or kill the cow. The cows are like members of the family. Their two mythical ancestors: Aya was the keeper of the herd and shepherd, his wife Adia inherited the secret of milk. It should be noted that only the Peuls are engaged in intensive husbandry and feed mainly on dairy products. At the time of the Malian Empire, there was a synergy between the customs and beliefs of the Peuls and Bambara. The Fulani has two types of initiation: External and Internal. The external initiation is practiced during retreats and ceremonies, and the inner initiation is accomplished within oneself throughout lifetime.
The high ranking priest is called Gando and the grandmaster is called Silatigui. The esoteric (and also Muslim) figure of the Peul is the hexagram (the Star of David). Their sacred tree (which they make the famous sticks) is the ebony tree growing in West Africa. The skull symbolizes the matrix of knowledge of men but also dogs, believed to be very familiar with the invisible world. The 9 bones of the skull, representing the 9 paths of initiation are widely used in divination. There is a kinship to joke (“dendirakou” in Peul language) between Fulani and blacksmiths (masters of fire).
The Fulani today are almost all Muslims; however there are also Christians Fulani. The Fulani of West Africa, were among the propagators of Sunni Islam, especially the notables of the Tekrour (TorooBé) ethnic group, such as Ousmane Dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto empire (Dèm of Sokoto), Sekou Amadou, founder of the Peulh empire of Macina, and Amadou Lobbo Bari “Emir of Macina”, Muhammad Bello “Sultan of Haoussa”, Modibo Adama, founder of the Peulh kingdom of Adamaoua.
Sociogeographically speaking, the conquering Fulani who practice jihad are often sedentary Peul families (especially in West Africa) and are mixed with the populations with whom they cohabit. They established Koranic schools and are propagators of Sufi brotherhoods.
There is no Fulani society, but Fulani societies. The Peul corpus is said to be “flexible” and adaptable. It is in a perpetual evolution, while keeping its initial typical features. Fulani are endogamous and semi agnatic. The woman Fulani is not veiled.
There are four traditional Fulani weddings with four corresponding divorces:
• the first marriage is decided by the parents ( this marriage (dewgal) takes place around the age of 21)
• the second marriage after a divorce or widowhood
• the third marriage , the “marriage-gift” (political)
• Lastly, the culnol, concubinage of a nobleman with a kordo, a woman of servile condition.
The Fulani are monogamous in general. They can divorce several times and they contract several marriages in their lifetime. Polygamy is found mainly in cities among the Islamized Fulani.
Among the Wodaabe Fulani, the children are married at a very young age. But the woman has the right to live a single life until she is eighteen. Among the Fulani Bororos, during the “Spring Festival” called worso, men meet in a particular place and dance guerewol while the women are watching; after the dance, the women choose a fiancé among the dancers. The Wodaabe are “successive” monogamous with many divorces or separations. The concubinage is prohibited and quickly sealed by a teegal “nuptials”. There is a survival of an old matriarchy and the inheritance is matrilineal.
The rules of caste do not seem to be challenged by the economic development. Everyone stays in their area of traditional skills. In cities, there are three social classes:
• DurooBe noble (transhumant pastoralists)
• Jaawambe, jaawanndo (counselors and armed auxiliaries)
They are grouped under the name of nyeenybe (nyenyo)
• Maabuube, maabo (weavers, potters)
• Wailybe, baylo (jewelers, blacksmiths)
• Lawbe, labbo (woodcrafters)
• Sakkebe, sakke (shoemakers)
• Bammbaado, wammbaabe (griots)
The Nyeenybe are known for their endogamy.
Maccube, maccudo, or kordo. The servile are of diverse ethnic origins, often prisoners of wars, former servants who were taking care of the cattle, agriculture, and assisting in the forge. They have become autonomous and started their own businesses.
The Fulani, apart from the castes, are grouped into many clans or tribes called leyyi:
• Fulbe ururbe or worworbe present everywhere, in Senegal, Fouta-Djallon, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, they are the Peuls of the west, in the east they are called burure or bororo’en. They are among the first Fulani who settled down.
• Fulbe laace are Fulani found especially in Senegal, in the region of Djolof. They are related to the Wolofs with whom they cohabit, (linguistic interpenetration), they keep the herds of the Wolofs, they were also found in Sine-Saloum, and the Ferlo where they were transhumant pastoralists, they are also called fulbe jeeri name given in general to all fulbe of this part of Senegal, most are of surname Ka.
• Fulbe jaawBe, the largest of leyyi, they are particularly present in Senegal, Mali, they practice sheep husbandry, but also fishing. There are many jaawbe subgroups. They are at the origin of the JaawamBe Fulani caste, reputed to be fine strategists in the old Fouta-toro.
• Fulbe cuutinkoobe, Fulani from the former region of Diara between eastern Senegal, and west of Mali, they are a subgroup of the Fulani family of raneebe, most of them are of surnames Diallo , cuutinkoobe, were originally jaawBe, they are present in southern Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea.
• Fulbe yirlaabe, they are the Fulani most to the east, Chad, northeast Nigeria, Adamaoua in northern Cameroon. Yirlaabe or ngiril, are very present in the West too. They are all from Fouta-Toro.
• Fulbe wodaabe, especially present in Niger today and originating from Diafunu, some called diafunu’en, former region surrounding the Mauritanian Sahel, Macina in Mali, northeastern Senegal. These are the Fulani who have most preserved their nomadic traditions and their culture, they are also the most rustic, they have remained very close to nature, they are great drovers, and even if they are predominantly Muslim, they practice a very basic Islam. They are present in Senegal where they are scattered everywhere and where one finds many subgroups, in Fouta-Djalon, where many have settled down. In this leyyi the sedentary Islamized are called wolarBe. These clans are sometimes divided into several fractions and sub-fractions called kinde, according to their surnames, the regions they inhabit, the animals they raise, the ancestor (clan chief) which they claim, there exists still other clans, including kolyaabe koli Tenguella, yaalalbe. The castes are the same, for all leyyi. Some Fulani clans are linked by the jongu, a relationship, which requires them to help each other, to mutual respect.
• There are 31 nomadic groups, 48 semi-nomadic groups and 29 sedentary groups
We thus find by social position
1. Bari Rhaldiyanké: holders of temporal power, ensure the proper functioning of the group. Bari Sériyanké: holders of spiritual power, responsible for teaching. Bari Soriyanké: holder of the judicial power.
2. By building from the initial root bh (r) are the “warriors”, the “drummers” and “go to battle with a smile”, hence an etymological confusion with Diallow (jaal) “tease, joking “(Peul + Mandingo) but [ba ‘] in root Peule means” to make a mockery “. Bâ go into battle with a smile, but “they can not explain things”, it is the Bari who are in charge. They deal with transmission, education, memory, and “spiritual elevation.”
3. Saw / Sow [sau] in pular; “Doubling, separating, distinguishing”. In the Peule society they are the artisans, the traders. “to follow”, “to mingle with”; “Bring wood”; “Impure” – According to Cheik Anta Diop it could be a branch of the Sao people, having “followed” the Fulani from Sudan The most common Fulani surnames these days are: Ba, Barry, Bari & Bahri (Chad, South Libya), Akbari (Sudan, Mali), Barani (Central African Republic), Bar (Burkina-Faso), Egge, Ka, Diallo, Sall, Sow, Dia, Baldé, Bal, Baandé, Nouba, Dioum, Diagayété, Seydi, Seydou, Diaw, Thiam, Mbow, Niane, Bocoum, Diem, Diack, (integration into the Wolofs group of Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Kara, Kan, Khan, Han, Hanne, Kaka, Kande (Niger and Burkina Faso)
The Diamanka, Mballo, Boiro, Sabaly, Diao, Balde, Seydi, Kande, historically inhabit the region of Kolda in Senegal, where the state of Fouladou was historically located, between southern Senegal and northern Guinea-Bissau; Dicko (Fulani Ardo, Warrior) and Bello (Niger, Nigeria); Baal (Senegal); Sow become Sidibé in (Mali, Guinea, Burkina-Faso); the Sangaré of Mali, become Sankara in Burkina-Faso, which becomes Shagari in Nigeria