Location: Guinea-Conakry, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Africa.

Population: n/a, also called Fulbe or Peul.

Language: Pulaar, Fulfulde.

Neighbouring Peoples: Tuareg, Hausa.

Types of Art: n/a

Fulani woman selling milk

History: Fulani are a nomadic people who have been influential in regional politics, economics, and histories throughout western Africa for over a thousand years. They played a significant role in the rise and fall of the Mossi states in Burkina and also contributed to the migratory movements of people southward through Niger and Nigeria into Cameroon.

They were also responsible for introducing and spreading Islam throughout much of western Africa. The height of the Fulani empire was between the early 1800s and early 1900s.

This power was consolidated under Usman dan Fodio and was centred in northern Nigeria. Dan Fodio was a devout Muslim who used religious fervour to ignite his troops to undertake a series of holy wars. Following the early success of Islamic warriors, non-Islamic Fulani joined ranks with their fellows to form an extensive and powerful empire.

Fulani shepherd boys

Economy: Fulani are mainly nomadic herders and traders. The routes they established in western Africa provided extensive links throughout the region that fostered economic and political ties between otherwise isolated ethnic groups. Dairy products produced from Fulani cattle were traded to sedentary farmers for agricultural products and luxury items. Fulani traders then traded these luxury items between various groups along their nomadic routes.

Members of individual Fulani clans often settled down among their sedentary neighbours, intermarrying and establishing trading contacts for future business transactions.

Political Systems: The two most significant factors in Fulani political systems are client age and competition. In order to gain political office a Fulani man would have to compete among his fellows for the right to rule. He could show his political favour by demonstrating that he had a large following in the form of individuals and families. By agreeing to become the client of a powerful man or family, a subject would offer tribute in the form of gifts and political support in exchange for the security of knowing that a person with political power would be looking out for the interests of the subject.

Fulani maiden masks

Religion: Fulani religion is largely, if not wholly, Islamic. Although there are varying degrees of orthodoxy exhibited throughout Fulani society, most adhere to at least some of the basic requirements of the religion. It is usually the case that the wealthy and powerful are among the most religious, while those who have fewer resources are less likely to observe their religion so strictly. Islam has been used to justify the holy jihads that brought the northern territories of modern day Nigeria under Fulani leadership. It was not unusual that such political and economic gains would be made for the Fulani empire in the name of Islam.

Credits: All images by P. Vallière and provided by Assou Sagara of SAGA Tours.