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Fula, Fulani Fulɓe
Peul women in Paoua.jpg
Fula women.
Regions with significant populations
Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Chad, Mauritania, Sudan, Egypt, Ghana, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire.
Fula language
Related ethnic groups
Wolof and Serer
 person  Pullo
 people  Fulɓe
 language  Pulaar (west), Fulfulde (east)

Fula people or Fulani or Fulbe (Fula: [Fulɓe] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); French: [Peul] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); Hausa: [Fulan] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); Portuguese: [Fula] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); Wolof: [Pël] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help); Bambara: [Fulaw] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) are an ethnic group spread over many countries, predominantly in West Africa, but found also in Central Africa and Sudanese North Africa. African countries where they are present include Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, The Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Chad, Togo, the Central African Republic, Liberia, and as far as Sudan and Egypt in the East. Fula people form a minority in every country they inhabit, but in Guinea they represent a plurality of the population (40%).[1]


Men from the Wodaabe subgroup performing Yaake dance

There are also many names (and spellings of the names) used in other languages to refer to the Fulɓe. Fulani in English is borrowed from the Hausa term, and it is also used by the Manding peoples, being the diminutive form of the word "Fula" in their language, essentially meaning "little Fula". 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 Fulɓe, which is a plural noun (singular, Pullo) has been Anglicised as Fulbe,[2] which some people use. In Portuguese it's Fula or Futafula.

Related groups

Fula society in some parts of West Africa features the "caste" divisions typical of the region. In Mali and Senegal for instance, those who are not ethnically Fula have been referred to as yimɓe pulaaku (people of the Fula culture).[citation needed]

One closely related group is the Tukolor (Toucouleur) in the central Senegal River valley, who had a strong kingdom paying a negotiated tribute to the Fula. Large numbers of other Fula-speakers live scattered in the region and have a lower status. They are descendants of Fula-owned slaves, now legally emancipated, although in some regions they still pay tribute to Fula elites, and they are often denied chances for upward social mobility.[3] In between groups are the Fula speaking fishermen and handcraftsmen. These groups are often collectively referred to (together with Fulɓe of the region) as Haalpulaar (Fula: [Haalpulaar'en] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), literally "Pulaar-speakers").

The Wodaabe (Fula: [Woɗaaɓe] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help)), 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

Young Fulani cattle herders circa 1967
Fula woman from Niger

The people who are known to English speakers as Fulani refer to themselves as Fulɓe (Pullo, singular). While in Nigeria, the Fulani are often categorized with the Hausa as a conglomerated ethnic group Hausa-Fulani, since following the Fulani War their histories in the region have been largely intertwined, outside Nigeria the two groups are usually considered distinct.

Rise to political dominance

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Beginning as early as the 17th or was it the 9th and 18th centuries, but mainly in the 19th century, Fulas and others took control of various states in West Africa.

These included the Fulani Empire, also known as the Sokoto Caliphate, founded by Usman dan Fodio (which itself included smaller states), Fouta Djallon, Massina and others.

Culture and 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. It is a language closely related to Wolof and Serer. 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 (where the Fula make up a ~40% plurality of the population), Fulas are minorities in every country they live in (most countries of West Africa and parts of Central and North Africa), so most also speak other languages of the countries they inhabit.


Fulani women with traditional facial tattoos
Fulani Herder from Mali

The traditional dress of the Fula consists of long colourful flowing robes, modestly embroidered or otherwise decorated. Also characteristic Fula tradition is that of women using henna and indigo around the mouth, resulting in a blackening around the lips. Fula ethics are strictly governed by the notion of pulaaku. Men wear long robes to the lower calves with trousers of cotton. Herdsmen wear the distinctive conical straw hat and a turban. Women wear long robes and turbans. They decorate themselves with necklaces, earrings, nose rings and anklets.[4]


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. Wealth is counted by how large the herd of cattle is and how many cattle.Long ago fulani tribes used to fight over cattle.


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. "Zaghareet" or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.


The Fulani traditionally eat millet, milk and meat as staples. Millet is eaten in the morning, noon and night as a porridge with a sauce or stew which usually contains tomatoes, peppers, bone, meat, onion and water and other vegetables. On special occasions they sometimes eat meat such as goat or beef. A thick beverage similar to the tuareg beverage eghajira is made by pounding goat cheese, milk, dates and millet.


Traditionally, Fula live in domed houses during the dry season. The domed house is supported by compact millet stalk pillars. During the wet season the house is covered by reed mats. However many Fula now live in mud or concrete block houses.

Notable Fulani people by country

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  • Tierno Aliyyu Ɓuuɓa Ndiyan (1855–1927). Author, theologian, Tijaniyya suufi.
  • Saifoulaye Diallo (1923–1981), former Guinean politician, first president of the national assembly (1958–1963) held various cabinet positions under the regime of Sekou Toure
  • Diallo Telli (or Boubacar Telli Diallo [1]), Lawyer, former Diplomat, First Sec. Gen. of the Organization of African Unity, died of starvation at Camp Boiro in 1977.
  • Cellou Dalein Diallo, Prime Minister of Guinea from 2004–2007
  • Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, Prince Among Slaves
  • Bobo Balde, football star
  • Katoucha, former haute couture model and anti-female circumcision activist
  • Abdoul Salam Sow, former footballer
  • Abdallah Bah, football star
  • Ibrahima Diallo, football star
  • Alpha Yaya Diallo, musician
  • Almamy Schuman Bah, football star
  • Amadou Diallo, young resident in the Bronx killed by police in 1999
  • Almamy Bocar Biro Barry Leader of Fouta Djallon and Resistance Fighter against French occupation. [2]
  • El Hadj Habib Diallo Late Mano River Union Secretary General and Former Guinean Ambassador to Canada, Liberia, United States of America and China, Former Minister of International Cooperation, Energy & Hydraulics, Member of the CNT (National Transitional Council).
  • Alpha Yaya Diallo Leader of the State of Labe in the late 1800s Fouta Djallon.
  • Bailo Bah Flutte Master, Musician.
  • Karamoko Alfa First Almamy of Fouta Djallon and Father of the Alphaya Ruling family. Cousin of Ibrahima Sory Mowdho.
  • Ibrahima Sory Mowdho Second Almamy of Fouta Djallon and Father of the Sorya ruling family. Cousin of Karamoko Alfa.
  • Elhadj Umar Tall Almamy of Dinguiraye, Guinee. Fought against French Occupation. Helped expand Islam in West Africa.
  • Hadja Rabiatou Serah Diallo She is the Leader of the National Union in Guinea. Elle est une syndicaliste guinéenne née en 1950. Elle est la première femme africaine à accéder à la direction d’un syndicat national et organisé la grève générale en Guinée de 2007.


Sierra Leone

Burkina Faso


The Gambia

See also


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  1. Guinea entry at The World Factbook
  2. The letter "ɓ" is an implosive b sound, which does not exist in English. In the orthography for languages of Guinea (pre-1985), this sound was represented by bh, so one would have written Fulbhe instead of Fulɓe or Fulbe.
  3. Lotte Pelckmans (2011) Travelling hierarchies. Roads in and out of slave status in a central Malian Fulbe network.
  4. Pulaaku Ethics

General references

  • 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.
  • Christiane Seydou, (ed.) (1976). Bibliographie générale du monde peul. Niamey, Institut de Recherche en Sciences Humaines du Niger

Further reading

External links

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