AskDefine | Define fulani

Dictionary Definition



1 a member of a pastoral and nomadic people of western Africa; they are traditionally cattle herders of Muslim faith [syn: Fula, Fulah, Fellata, Fulbe]
2 a family of languages of the Fulani people of West Africa and used as a lingua franca in the sub-Saharan regions from Senegal to Chad; the best known of the West African languages [syn: Fula, Ful, Peul]

Extensive Definition

The Fula or Fulani or Fulbe (the latter derived from the word in their language, Fule) are an ethnic group of people spread over many countries in West Africa, Central Africa and as far as East Africa. The countries in Africa where they are present include Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, The Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Togo, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Liberia, and as far as Sudan in the east. With the exception of Guinea, Fulas are minorities in every country they live.

One people, many names

There are also many names (and spellings of the names) used in other languages to refer to the Fule. Fulani in English is borrowed from the Hausa term. Fula, from Manding languages is also used in English, and sometimes spelled Fulah or Foulah. Fula and Fulani are commonly used in English, including within Africa. The French borrowed the Wolof term Pël, which is variously spelled: Peul, Peulh, and even Peuhl. More recently the Fulfulde / Pulaar term Fule, which is a plural noun (singular, Pullo) has been adapted to English as Fulbe, which some people use. In Portuguese it's Fula or Futafula.

Related groups

A closely related group is the Tukolor (Toucouleur) in the central Senegal River valley. These people are often referred to together with Fulɓe of the region as Haalpulaar'en (Pulaar-speakers).
Fula society in some parts of West Africa features the "caste" divisions typical of the region. In Mali, for instance, those who are not ethnically Fula have been referred to as yimɓe pulaaku (people of the Fula culture).
The Woɗaaɓe, also known as the Bororo, are a subgroup of the Fula people.

Traditional livelihood

The Fulani are traditionally a nomadic, pastoralist, trading people, herding cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry hinterlands of their domain, keeping somewhat separate from the local agricultural populations.


Origins and spread

According to the ancient origins of the Fula people, they are from a Semitic origin. Following this tradition, the ancestors of Fulani or fula is Jacob also called Israel, son of Issac, son of Abraham. When Jacob left Canaan and went to Egypt where they did not know about Joseph's fame. The new Pharaoh made the Israelites work hard at slave labor. The Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites, including the tribe of Judah or Fulani. They were rich in cattle and sheep husbandry. They emigrated from Egypt, some of them went back to Palestine and Syria under Moses guidance while the rest crossed the Nile with their cattle and headed west. They took the name of fouth or foudh meaning those who left. A group from the latter moved along the edges of the Sahara to Touat-Air and then to West-Africa. Those who came to Masina (in present day Mali) spread to the neighboring regions where they were rejoined by Fulani groups from Morocco.
It has been established that about 700AD, Fulani groups from Morocco, moved southward, and invaded the regions of Tagout, Adrar, Mauritania, and Fuuta Tooro. The cradle of the Fulani group is situated in the Senegal River valley, where Fulanis established kingdoms and many converted to Islam. The beginning of the IX th Century, they continued their migration in the regions of Bundu, Bambouk, Diomboko, Kaarta, and Bagana. Finally those who where concentrated in the Ferlo from the XI to the XIV century moved in various groups to the Fuuta Jalon, to the Volta river basin , to the Gurma, to the Haussa land, and to the Adamawa, Boghirme,Ouadai. But several centuries ago, right after their ultimate ethnogenesis they appear to have begun moving from the area of present-day Senegal eastward.
During the 16th century the Fula expanded through the Sahelian grasslands stretching from what is today Senegal to Sudan. Their military strength centered on powerful cavalry that could quickly move across the large empire and defeat rivals, but the Fulani could not expand southwards, as the horses could not withstand the diseases of those latitudes.
Many were sold as slaves through 17th century,18th century and 19th century and ended up in America and many other parts of the world

Rise to political dominance

Beginning as early as the 17th and 18th centuries, but mainly in the 19th century, Fulas and others took control of various states in West Africa in a series of jihads. The result was a series of jihad states.
These included the Fulani Empire founded by Usman dan Fodio (which itself included smaller states), Fouta Djallon, Massina and others.

Culture & Language

The language of Fulas is called Pulaar or Fulfulde depending on the region, or variants thereof. It is also the language of the Tukulor. All Senegalese who speak the language natively are known as the Halpulaar or Haalpulaar'en, which stands for "speakers of Pulaar" ("hal" is the root of the Pulaar verb haalugol, meaning "to speak"). In some areas, e.g. in northern Cameroon, Fulfulde is a local lingua franca.
With the exception of Guinea, Fulas are minorities in every country they live in (most countries of West Africa). So some also speak other languages, for example:
The traditional dress of the Fula in most places consists of long colorful flowing robes, modestly embroidered or otherwise decorated. Also characteristic Fula tradition is that of women using Henna around the mouth, resulting in a blackening around the lips. Fula ethics are strictly governed by the notion of pulaaku.
Fula are primarily known to be pastoralists, but are also traders in some areas. Most Fula in the countryside spend long times alone on foot, moving their herds; they were the only major migrating people of West Africa, though most Fula now live in towns or villages.
The Fula have a rich musical culture and play a variety of traditional instruments including drums, hoddu (a plucked skin-covered lute similar to a banjo) and riti or riiti (a one-string bowed instrument similar to a violin), in addition to vocal music. The well known Senegalese Fula popular musician Baaba Maal sings in Pulaar on his recordings.

Notable Fulani people by country


Sierra Leone




Burkina Faso




  • Almanach de Bruxelles (now a paying site)
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2005): "Adamawa Fulfulde". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th ed. Dallas: SIL International. Accessed 25 June 2006.
  • Ndukwe, Pat I., Ph.D. (1996). Fulani. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.

Further reading

fulani in Catalan: Fulbe
fulani in Czech: Fulbové
fulani in Danish: Fulanierne
fulani in German: Fulbe
fulani in Estonian: Fulbed
fulani in Spanish: Fulani
fulani in Esperanto: Fulboj
fulani in French: Peuls
fulani in Indonesian: Fula
fulani in Italian: Fulani
fulani in Lithuanian: Fulbiai
fulani in Dutch: Fulbe
fulani in Japanese: フラニ族
fulani in Polish: Fulanie
fulani in Portuguese: Fulas
fulani in Russian: Фульбе
fulani in Serbo-Croatian: Fulbe
fulani in Finnish: Fulbet
fulani in Swedish: Fulani
fulani in Turkish: Pöller
fulani in Ukrainian: Фульбе
fulani in Walloon: Peul (peupe)
fulani in Chinese: 富拉尼人
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1