History of the Fulani people

The Fulani peoples (also known as Fulbe, Fula, or Peuls ) live in West Africa. They are among the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse peoples in all of Africa. 

The list of countries where you can meet Fulani people includes: Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Gambia, Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Cameroon, Niger, Liberia, Ghana, and Sudan but they are largely concentrated in Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea.The total Fulani population is more than 6 million.

Researchers and Historians have been unable to give an unambiguous answer regarding the origin of the Fulani tribe. There are several theories, it is known that as a nomadic tribe they moved through many other cultures. The oral histories of the tribe point to their origin in Egypt, but the language of the Fulani tribe seems to originate from the Senegambian region.


By the 9th century, Fulani people who were migrating from the east took part in the creation of a state with the capital at Takrur.

From the 16th century, more Fulani people started to live in settlements as cattle-keeping farmers. In this time they were spread through the Sahel grasslands, at the territory from modern Senegal to Sudan.

In these times there started a division among the Fulani. The first group was nomadic agriculturalists and the second group was the Fulani people who abandoned traditional nomadic way of life and settled in towns.

There is fragmentary evidence of Fulani migration from the Western to Eastern Sudan. Oral history of the tribe has the information about migration from Fuuta-Tooro, and Macina, towards the east, the stories tell about the time between 11th and 14th centuries. In the time of the 15th century, we can see a steady flow of Fulani migration into Hausaland and Bornu.


By the time of the 18th century, Fulani settlements were situated all over the Benue River valley. They were spreaded among such regions as Garoua and Rey Bouba, Faro River, Mambilla Plateau and Gurin, Chamba, Chenoa, Turua and Bundang.

Fulani people who have Arabic and North African roots adopted Islam earlier than Fulani of other regions. New religion accelerated the process of transition to a settled way of life.

The Fula empire became the dominating kingdom of West Africa in the 1500s. Over the time the empire developed into many emirates with the center in Senegal River Valley.

It should be said that Fulani and Hausa people influenced each other’s cultures for a long time. There is even a term Hausa–Fulani people. In the time of the Fulani War (1804), these tribes were intertwined within Nigeria. This is the time of the beginning of the history of the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Today Hausa and Fulani account about 29% of Nigeria’s population.

Fulani people have the caste system that is typical for the West African region. They have four major castes, but the caste system is not so elaborate in such areas as northern Nigeria, Cameroon or Eastern Niger. 

The tribe retained its culture and traditions to this day. Despite the interaction with many other tribes, Fulani has distinct features that distinguish them from the rest of the ethnic groups. They have their own language, that is called Pulaar. They have their own attire, houses, food and behavior traditions.

Today, one finds both nomadic, pastoral Fulani (mbororo’en) and settled Fulani (Fulbe wuro). The pastoral Fulani (full-time cattle keepers) move about with their cattle for much of the year. In contrast, the settled Fulani live permanently in villages and cities. Although both groups share a common language and origin, they regard themselves as only distantly related.


The language of the Fulani is known as Fulfulde (or Fula or Pulaar). There are at least five major dialects: Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, and Masina in the west and Central Nigeria; and Sokoto and Adamawa in the east. Although they have similarities in grammar and vocabulary, communication among Fulani from different regions is difficult. As Muslims, many Fulani can read and write Arabic.


As Muslims, the Fulani observe the standard Islamic religious practices. They pray five times a day, learn to recite the holy scriptures (Qur’an, or Koran ) by heart, and give alms to the needy. For one month each year (Ramadan) they fast in the daytime. And at least once in their lifetime, they make a pilgrimage (hajj) to the Islamic holy land in Mecca. The most important duty is to declare one’s true faith in Islam and believe that Muhammad was a prophet sent by Allah.


All Fulani participate in Islamic holidays (Id). The most important are the feast after the fasting period (Ramadan) and the feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. On these days, people pray in thanksgiving to Allah, visit their relatives, prepare special meals, and exchange gifts such as gowns or cloth.


Shortly after a child is born, a naming ceremony is held, following Islamic law and practice. Around the age of seven, boys are circumcised, followed by a small ceremony or gathering in their household. Shortly after this time, they begin performing herding or farming activities, sometimes on their own. At this age, girls help their mothers.

Girls are usually betrothed in marriage during their early to mid-teens. Boys remain sukaa’be (handsome young men) until around the age of twenty. At that time, they start a herd or obtain a farm, and marry. There are ceremonies to prepare the bride and groom for marriage. Afterward, their families sign a marriage contract under Islam. By middle age, a man may be known as a ndottijo (elder, old man) who has acquired wisdom over the years.


Among the nomadic Fulani, life can be extremely harsh. They often live in small, temporary camps. These can be quickly dismantled as they move in search of pasture and water for their herds. Because of the settlements’ distance from towns, modern health care is not readily available.

Fulani have also settled in towns and cities. In the cities they usually reside in large family houses or compounds.


Dress codes and styles vary greatly. In general, however, married men and women follow the Islamic dress code, which prescribes modesty. The men wear large gowns, trousers, and caps. Women wear wraps and blouses. Married Muslim women wear veils when they leave their household.

Nomadic Fulani also wear Islamic dress, but it is not as elaborate. The women do not wear veils. Younger men and women adorn themselves with jewelry and headdresses, and they braid their hair.


The Fulani diet usually includes milk products such as yogurt, milk, and butter. Each morning they drink milk or gruel (gari) made with sorghum. Their main meals consist of a heavy porridge (nyiiri) made of flour from such grains as millet, sorghum, or corn. They eat it with soup (takai, haako) made from tomatoes, onions, spices, peppers, and other vegetables.


All Fulani adults and older children help educate the younger children through scoldings, sayings and proverbs, and stories. Children also learn through imitation. In many communities, children from about the age of six attend Islamic (Koranic) school. Here they study, recite the scriptures, and learn about the practices, teachings, and morals of Islam. Nowadays, Fulani children in towns and cities attend primary and secondary schools. Some eventually enroll in universities.


Among the Fulani, music and art are part of daily life. Work music is sung and played on drums and flutes. Court music (drumming, horns, flutes) and praise-singing are popular in towns, especially during festivals. Praise Singers tell about a community’s history and its leaders and other prominent individuals. Religious singers may cite Islamic scriptures.

Most commonly, decorative art occurs in the form of architecture, or in the form of personal adornments such as jewelry, hats, and clothing.


All Fulani communities have a strict division of labor according to age and sex. Men tend the cattle, work in the fields, or have formal employment in the city. Many men are either full-or part-time Islamic scholars or teachers. In the settled communities, Fulani men may work in government, education, business, or, to a lesser extent, as traders.

Women are responsible for managing the household (cooking, cleaning) and caring for the children. Even in the towns, most married women are housewives, but a few work as teachers, nurses, or secretaries.


Among the nomadic Fulani, young men participate in a kind of sport known as sharro. This is a test of bravery in which young men lash each other to the point of utmost endurance. This practice is most common as men enter manhood. However, some continue it until they become elders.

Among the settled Fulani, there is a variety of traditional local sports and games, including wrestling and boxing. Western sports such as soccer and track and field are now found in communities and schools.


In their spare time, Fulani women make handicrafts including engraved gourds, weavings, knitting, and baskets. Fulani men are less involved in the production of crafts such as pottery, iron-working, and dyeing than some neighboring peoples. They believe these activities may violate their code of conduct ( Pulaaku ) and bring shame upon them.

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