February 2018


Daily Articles

Fulbe by Any Other Name

by Keith Carey

According to “Peoples on the Move” the Fulbe are the largest nomadic group in the world with a population of about 27 million. The Fulbe, also known as the Fulani, the Fula, Peul, or Pulao, are more like a people group cluster than one people group. They share related languages and live scattered all over West Africa, reaching as far east as Sudan. Yet many have migrated to Europe and the United States where they can more easily be reached.

Who Are the Fulbe and Why Are They Important?
Historians don’t know for certain where the Fulbe peoples originated since they had no written history until the Arabs mentioned them in the 11th century, and European sources began to write about them in the early 15th century. Some think they came from Egypt or India. Others think they originated in West Africa. The latter seems more likely, because the Fulbe language, known as Pulaar or Fulfulde, is, according to the Ethnologue, related to languages of peoples who live in modern Senegal on Africa’s far western corner. Most of the 21 countries that they live in today are in West Africa. Generally, they live in the Sahel Desert just south of the more arid Sahara Desert. Others have migrated to places where water is more abundant like northern Nigeria and Cameroon where they intermarried with other tribes.
The Fulbe have always been very powerful in Africa. In the 17th and 18th centuries, but mainly in the 19th century, they took control of much of West Africa culminating in the Fulbe Empire, also known as the Sokoto Caliphate. It was founded by Usman dan Fodio. Unlike many conquering people, the Fulbe remained primarily nomadic livestock herders and traders, though through the centuries some have become more settled and began farming. Those who have remained nomadic often look down on those who have settled into a farming lifestyle. Ironically, they depend on such farmers for millet and other grains that they eat along with milk and meat from their herds. Their wealth is in the size of their herds, and Fulbe people have been known to steal livestock from those who can’t stop them from doing so.

Fulbe Values and Religion
For centuries the Fulbe peoples have followed traditional African religion which is animistic at its foundation. They believe in a supreme god, who has little or no contact with humans. They believe that there are supernatural forces that need to be controlled by following certain traditions. If you follow the traditions of your ancestors, then things will go well for you. But if you stray from the traditions or break taboos, you are likely to wind up with sick livestock and other misfortunes. They are also aware of using foresight and working good plans to ensure that their lives are in order. They call this hakkilo, roughly translated as intelligence or foresight.
A second Fulbe value is called semteende, or reserve and modesty. Children need to exercise semteende by behaving appropriately in front of their parents, and spouses should maintain a certain amount of distance from one another in public. The Fulbe people try not to speak out of place or make false assumptions.
A third moral value is Munyal, which means exercising patience and self-control. Fulbe people value keeping their emotions in check and not overreacting, even in times of hardship and tragedy. To violate these values, especially publicaly, would bring shame on the Fulbe and more importantly, on their family and clan. The Fulbe peoples will go to great lengths to avoid shame.
Combined, these virtues are known to the Fulbe as pulaaku, roughly translated as “Fulbe-ness.” These virtues and the code of behavior that goes with then are passed down from one generation to the next.

Getting Settled and Becoming More Islamic
The process of Islamization of the Fulbe has been going on for about a thousand years. During that time, their traditional beliefs in supernatural beings have been gradually replaced by faith in Allah. But even today, those who live nomadic lifestyles tend to remain animistic. Those who are settled as farmers or in cities are more dedicated to Islam. More on that later. But for now, let’s briefly look at the process of Islamization among the Fulbe.
According to Dr. Moussa Bongoyok, a scholar who studied the ways of the Fulbe, Islamization has gone hand in hand with the process of settling into farming or urban lifestyles. He divides their history into four parts. The first time period he calls the “Pre-Jihad Period” that began with their founding as a people up to the 18th Century. The Fulbe were completely animistic at that time. Almost all were nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists. They lived in peace with neighboring tribes, and they seldom had much of an impact on them.
The second era began when they were exposed to Islam for the first time. Initially they resisted embracing Islam, a religion that was brought to them by Muslim conquerors. Though the Fulbe peoples moved further south, they were eventually forced to accept Islam around 1030 AD. Since that time there have been a growing number of Muslim converts among them. However, most remained animistic, and they were not living in accordance with Islamic teachings. That led to a period of jihad, which took place during the 19th century. Islamic warriors, led by Usman dan Fodio, caused the Fulbe to become more Islamic, and in the process, they established Fulbe kingdoms. As Fodio’s forces expanded their jihad, they began to impose orthodox Islam on Fulbe peoples and others who lived near them. Powerful Hausa leaders opposed Fodio, but he was almost unstoppable at that time. During the 18th century, Islam became an integral part of Fulbe identity as their empire expanded. Fodio established the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria, from which he conquered in the name of Islam land in the south and east. (Bongoyok, The Sedentary Fulbe of Northern Cameroon: Culture and Worldview)
The third period that Bongoyok refers to is the European colonial period that began in the 19th century and ended with African independence in the 1960s. The French, British, and German colonizers quickly noticed that Fulbe leaders were better organizers than other local leaders. Fulbe leaders already had power and respect, so they were natural choices as intermediaries between the colonial powers and the general African population.
The fourth period began with independence and continues to the present day. That time period has brought about a loss of political power for the Fulbe. Bongoyok notes that this could change in places like northern Nigeria where Sharia (Islamic) Law is in effect.

The Fulbe Peoples Today
The Fulbe peoples seem to be going two different directions in the 21st century. Those who remain nomadic and pastoral look down on the ones who have settled on farms and in cities. To them, these people have compromised their Fulbe-ness. Furthermore, such urban dwellers do not possess cattle, the measure of Fulbe wealth. Those who live in the cities may despise the Fulbe who remain pastoral as being un-Islamic since the animistic ways are more dominant than their Muslim practices.
As time goes on, the Fulbe are more and more likely to settle in cities, especially those who make their living through trade. Urban life is posing serious challenges to their traditional values. Western and Arab ways are replacing the ways of the Fulbe. They are becoming a thing of the past for many who want to excel in their new urban environment. Ironically, those who are more settled are likely to become more dedicated to Islamic ways even though this often means becoming more Arabized and militant in the process. As it stands today, the Fulbe are instrumental in efforts to Islamize West Africa.

Let’s Pray!
Pray that Fulbe people will understand that Jesus is the one they need to guide them during this time of great changes.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will draw both rural and urban Fulbe to the person of Jesus Christ.

From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Dear Praying Friends,
Each month I join a Skype prayer meeting with African mission leaders from the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI). These are the experts on what we should be praying for in Africa, and this time they made it clear that the Fulbe, better known as the Fulani peoples, should be featured in our prayer guide. We prayed for the Fulbe peoples seven years ago, but these 27 million people need much more prayer today because of recent events that affect them directly.
At one time farmers and nomadic herders had cooperated with one another (see day 7). Cattle provided manure to fertilize crops, and the crops provided food for the cattle. We call that symbiosis, where two entities benefit one another. Unfortunately, symbiosis has given way to violent rivalry. War and drought have made the land less productive, and now the two groups are competing for the same space. The results are tragic, as our friends at MANI point out. You might find the entries for our first nine days to be almost redundant but the humanly impossible situation needs to be addressed with prayer. Let’s join our African brethren in praying for the Fulbe peoples.