webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

Evanston, Illinois. 1965. 180 p. (Ph.D. Dissertation in History)

A. Islam and Foula Control

As a result of the holy war which began in 1725, Fouta Diallon became a Muslim kingdom in which the Foula sought to govern all aspects of society by the Koran. Consequently, the needs and goals of the religious group were the same for the whole community. The extent, therefore, to which the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon were either islamized or tolerant of Muslim patterns of life is vital to an understanding of the strength of Muslim Foula control over the kingdom.
Fouta Diallon practices the universals of Islam, and like other Muslim areas regards Mohammed as the last and greatest prophet sent by Allah to bring the holy word to all men. This word is embodied in the Koran which contains the inspired teachings of Mohammed. The following are the "five pillars of Islam," or the main religious duties: Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage to Mecca, and professions of faith. The fundamental tenet of the faith is, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet." This is recited variously in Arabic and Foula, though the latter is much more common. All Muslims are enjoined to pray five times daily: at dawn, twice in the afternoon, at dusk, and later in the evening. These prayers are said in the kneeling position and consist of recitations from the Koran. Muslims are also called upon to recognize the basic principles of the faith-faith in Allah, Angels, Apostles, the scriptures, and Judgement Day 1.
The nature of Foula religious beliefs raises the question of the extent of the group's islamization. While most Foula seem to have some conception of a supreme being, their views on life after death vary considerably. Some Foula, for example, contend that at the end of the world the trumpet will sound and every living being will die. When it sounds a second time, all graves will open and all souls will await the arrival of Allah who will decide where each person will spend eternity. Those who have not lived a good life must go to a place of eternal fire; those whose lives have satisfied Allah will be rewarded with life in Paradise where all is comfort and no one works. Christians, Jews, who have treated Muslims justly, Muslim children who have not been taught the word, and unbelievers who never knew a marabout and whose lives have been good, will be received in an intermediary place where they may accept or reject the holy word. In time this intermediary place will disappear and the inhabitants will be assigned either to Paradise or Hell, depending on their lives in the temporary station 2. Some Foula accounts relate a similar story without mentioning the intermediary place.
Although one may hear the above story from time to time in Fouta Diallon, there is reason to doubt its generality. While there are those who seem to accept the Muslim concept of life after death, there are others whose idea of life ends at the grave. One may frequently hear that when a man dies, "he's finished." Moreover, only a few deaths receive a religious ceremony and those are usually in the urban areas 3.
While the Foulas conception of life after death may be vague and confusing, his celebrations of Muslim holidays reveal a strong Islamic influence. The greatest holiday is the fast of Ramadan (Sumayee in Foula), the ninth month of the calendar, when religious ceremonies are more strictly followed. Continence is observed and eating, drinking, and smoking, are forbidden during the day. These observances are followed by men eighteen years and older, and by women from the signs of puberty. Anyone who does not fast during this period (travelers, the sick, etc.) may observe an equal number of days later. If it is impossible to fast because of health, one is obliged to give alms to the poor. For those who do not finish the fast, almsgiving is expected 4.
Other Muslim celebrations practiced in Fouta Diallon are the sacrificial feast (Donkin in Foula), the New Year (Jombente), and the birthday of the Prophet. Some of the older, more pious Muslim Foula may fast a day or so for these celebrations, but the emphasis is on Koranic recitations at the mosque. Unlike celebrations among their neighbors, the Foula rarely engage in dancing and their singing and instrument playing are limited to a few religious tunes. Possibly this is a result of greater islamization among the Foula. They do regard themselves as more serious and puritanical in their religious life than their neighbors 5.
To a great extent the Qadiriya tariqa (brotherhood) islamized Fouta Diallon. It accompanied the establishment of the kingdom in the early eighteenth century 6. That tariqa, however, was largely replaced by the Shad'hiliya which was organized in Morocco during the second half of the eighteenth century by al-'Arabi Ahmad al-Zarqawi. The Shad'hiliya was a reform brotherhood, which sought a return to more orthodox practices by emphasizing stricter observance of prayers, the fast, and pious meeting. Early in the nineteenth century, Ali as-Sufi, a Foula from Fouta Diallon, visited Fez and was initiated into the order. Upon his return to Fouta he organized disciples who established several centers of Shadhiliya. Goumba district was organized by Tierno Aliou, Ndama by Tierno Diawo, and Jawiya by Tierno Ismail 7.
During the middle and latter part of the nineteenth century, certain economic changes occurred and paved the way for a new tariqa. Developments in trade, improved means of transportation, and money-lending constituted threats to the more puritan Shad'hiliya which gradually was superceded by the Tijaniyya tariqa which was founded, in 1731 by an Algerian Berber 8.
In the nineteenth century Muslim adherents to the Tijaniyya spread along the trade routes into Senegal, Fouta Diallon, Timbuktu, and Segou 9. The order attracted the urban communities where the inhabitants were less bound to strict cultural and economic compliance of the traditional society.
Tijaniyya doctrine was simple, emphasizing both social and individual morality and rewards in this as well as the other world. This tariqa thus had a more worldly or practical appeal than the older tariqa. The period of greatest success for the Tijaniyya was between 1833 and 1864 when El Hadj Omar, a Toucouleur, spread the order across most of the western Sudan. Under Omar, however, Tijaniyya missionary activity became a fanatical and sanguinary campaign 10.
This later development of bloody proselytizing occurred because the Tijaniyya asserted that they were morally superior to all other.
The founder, of the order had held that members of his tariqa had been singled out for divine grace. As a devout Tijaniyya, therefore, Omar could not deal on equal terms either with Muslims or non-Muslims 11.
In 1848 with the support of the Fouta almamy, El Hadj Omar established his headquarters in Dinguiraye, located on the eastern edge of Fouta Diallon. By 1850 this had become one of the most important centers of Islam in this part of the western Sudan. In the early 1850's Omar visited Timbo and so impressed the almamy and karamokos that for several years thereafter Foula clerics went to Dinguiraye to study Tijaniyya concepts and Muslim law. In this way Omar and his associates had a tremendous impact on the Muslims of Fouta Diallon. Cooperation between him and the Foula kingdom was made easier because of the similarity of language and history between the Toucouleur and the Foula tribes 12.
These reformist tariqa—Qadiriya, Shadh'iliya, and Tijaniyya— sometimes adopted violent courses, as already noted in regard to the latter. The founders of neither, however, intended violence. The transformation very likely occurred in part from the inherent beliefs of the organizations, as indicated in the case of Tijaniyya and Omar. But there was another factor. Leaders of the tariqa could expect opposition from the orthodox authorities who controlled the political institutions, the religious system, and the army. Anticipating this opposition, the reformers very likely became more uncompromising, with the result that the tariqa developed into revolutionary movements.
Largely because of the effectiveness of the three tariqa, Islam was of real consequence to Fouta Diallon. This success was due to several factors. First, Islam penetrated the area without introducing a new, disruptive culture. Instead, it adapted to indigenous ways. Muslim beliefs and practices appeared beside traditional ones and eventually became recognized as an integral part of the traditional system 13.
Another factor explaining the success of Islam was that Muslim proselytizers tended to stress the external manifestations of Islamic culture-the adoption of the gown, mass rituals, ablutions, prayers, etc.-more than the deeply rooted question of basic religious beliefs. This does not mean that Muslims were not interested in instilling certain basic principles among the inhabitants of Fouta Diallon; but at the earlier stage of missionary activity the emphasis seems to have been concentrated on the outward manifestations of adherence 14.
Islam's appeal was also attractive because it supported a highly esteemed aristocracy (marabout, karamoko, alfa, tierno), which compared favorably with the hierarchical organization of traditional chiefs, sub-chiefs, and nobles. Moreover, conversion to Islam transformed the ordinary person from the object of Muslim contempt to acceptance, and gave him responsibility for the propagation of the faith.
The concept of universal brotherhood had particular appeal, especially after contact with the European. Because of the identification of Christianity with European political and economic exploitation, many Foula claim that Islam is the "black man's religion" 15. It is significant in this connection to note that the most important carriers of the faith, African traders and marabouts, in Fouta Diallon were well received and respected in the communities where they settled and learned the language and customs of the people whom they later converted.
It is also noteworthy that under Muslim law children born of a concubine to a man of the faith have full rights. This won for the Foula conquerors a great number of loyal converts. As more and more Africans became principal propagators of Islam, a real identity was established between the Muslim religion and the "black man."
A final reason for Islam's success in Fouta Diallon deserves more detailed consideration. Probably unintentionally, the French colonial administrators gave their stamp of approval to Islamic culture. Some of them reconized the usefulness of Muslims to the colonial administration. For example, a military comandant of Soudan, Colonel de Trentignian, advised Jean-Baptiste Chaudié, Governor-General of French West Africa, that Islam was "a kind of theocratic freemasonry and at the same time a military order" that could be used to preserve order 16.
Another observer wrote that "Islam from all evidence constitutes a real progress, ... The Muslim text is a landmark. It formalizes, generalizes, and fixes customs; it makes possible the evolution of law and profits from is acquired."17
This pro-Muslim bias among some colonial administrators led to books like L. C. Binger's Le Péril de l'Islam (Paris: 1906) and J. Brevié's L'Islamisme contre Naturalisme au Soudan (Paris: 1923), both of which maintained that Islam, declined when French control was established, resumed its expansion under French occupation throughout West Africa. This second group of writers considered Islam as disruptive of the religion and social order of the indigenous African.
In the controversy over the advantages and disadvantages of the Muslim the colonial administration, the French governor-general of West Africa issued a circular to initiate a policy to encourage the preservation of indigenous institutions against marabout missionary activity.
This circular, issued in 1911, placed restrictions on the movement of itinerant alms-collectors and Muslim proselytizers. Permission from the colonial administration was required before a Muslim could take the pilgrimage, or build new mosques and schools 18.
The effective application of this policy would have caused considerable unrest not only among the Foula, but between them and other ethnic groups in Fouta. Such a division of ranks would have assured earlier, more effective control by the French, whether intended or not. The administrators in the field, however, regarded the Muslim as closer to their position and having the advantage of a familiarity with the language and local problems. Thus, Muslims were employed in administrative posts requiring among other things judicial functions over the whole community. Some were also charged with the explanation and interpretation of local customs for administrators. This practice not only won additional power and prestige over the whole community for the Muslim Foula, it also more deeply entrenched his culture.
Islam's success in Fouta Diallon, however, did not result entirely from its appeal. The tariqa and sanguinary campaigns helped to spread the faith. But there was a more peaceful and successful means of propagation-the establishment of religious schools throughout the kingdom.

B. The role of the Koranic School

Religious schools have served historically as vital factors in the propagation and development of religion. It is not surprising therefore, that one of the first projects of the Muslim Foula was the establishment of Koranic schools. As early as 1823 René Caillé observed that the Koranic schools in Fouta Diallon were well managed, rigidly disciplined, and supervised by a karamoko who explained difficult passages in the Koran 19. These schools not only provided education for Muslim children; they also trained and dispatched disciples throughout Fouta Diallon and neighboring countries. In this way the Koranic schools were significant both in winning and training converts and in guaranteeing continued Foula influence and control over the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon.
According to Foula oral accounts, the Koranic school remained basically the same in its organization and program up to 1962 when all schools were nationalized by the Guinean government. Although ideally the teacher was a graduate of a superior Muslim school and the University of Al Azhar, in Fouta Mallon he normally was a farmer who had studied the Koran and possibly some Muslim law and theology. His small library generally included the Koran, some Arabic manuscripts, one or two books on Muslim law, a commentary on theology, and a few Foula compositions. Frequently he also possessed a few Muslim journals and Protestant Bible 20. Although the karamoko's basic teaching aid was the Koran, Foula poems were also used to mediate the main points of Islam for the new converts and the unlettered inhabitants of the area. The faith thus was more easily spread into the interior 21.
The karamoko solicited students of Muslim families and conducted classes in an open court or on his porch. There were also roving schools. The number of students in the schools varied, but seldom exceeded five or six. Some classes allegedly had from ten to thirty students. The size, however, depended largely on the time of the year. During the planting or harvesting season, those schools that did not close had fewer students than during other periods of the year. While custom varied, classes were normally convened every day except Thursday, which was the karamoko's day off, and Friday, which was reserved for village services at the mosque 22.
The Koranic schools were operated on a coeducational basis, though girls seldom attended more than about two years. The boys generally continued for about four years. The strict Muslim enrolled his children in the school, but continuation depended mainly upon the student's interest and the family's need for labor 23.
There were four levels of instruction: Jangugol, Windugol, Firugol, and Fennyu 24.

Students who completed the third level were entitled to the honorific title of Tierno, which signified that one was well versed on the Koran in Arabic and Foula.

The title of "Alfa" was conferred upon those who completed the Fennyu level and were thus regarded as Islamic scholars.

The karamoko vas remunerated from time to time with gifts brought by the students. At occasional festivities he received gifts from parents and chiefs. These gifts usually included, maize, kola nuts, fruit, soap, clothes, and sometimes money. The karamoko received his greatest tangible remuneration at the end of a given level of instruction when students' fathers brought gifts-a sheep, cow, goat, or some chickens 26.

A serious problem developed in the first decade of the twentieth century when the French began establishing schools in Fouta Diallon and encouraged Foula parents to enroll their children. Strong protests came from the Foula karamokos, marabouts, and chiefs who regarded the French actions as means of entrenching colonial authority and eliminating the influence of Islam. The chiefs were especially concerned about the effects of French education on the loyalty of Foula youths.
Because of the close relationship between the Koranic school and Islam, the Foula karamokos and marabouts feared that French education not only destroy Foula allegiance to Islam but also would lead to the introduction of Christianity in the kingdom. They also expressed concern about the fate of the Foula language, which would not be taught in the French schools. In short, Foula leaders saw the introduction of French education as a basic threat to Muslim Foula culture 27.

The French administration, however, was undeterred by these reactions. Schools were built and they attracted students. The French imposed requirement for the Foula to have money to pay taxes and fines, and the need for money to purchase supplies sufficed as important incentives for parents to send their children to the administration schools. Many of the students were adults who enrolled only long enough to learn the French language. They then became eligible for jobs as cooks, chauffeurs, messengers, porters, and other tasks. Those who completed their education qualified for positions as clerks and interpreters. In short, the development of the money economy in Fouta Diallon forced boys into the French schools.
Protests by Foula chiefs, karamokos, and marabouts did not prevail over the attraction of the limited economic opportunities available under the colonial administration for the educated Foula. Faced with this situation, Foula political and religious leaders reached a compromise with the French whereby the students could attend both the Koranic and French schools. From 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. they could attend the French school; from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. they could attend the Koranic school. Under this arrangement the students took advantage of both types of education. Gradually, however, the colonial administration began employing Foula karamokos and recruited Arabs and Berbers to teach Arabic in the French schools 29. In this way the French schools developed along lines that ultimately absorbed the teachers and much of the curriculum of the Koranic schools. Thus, the increased need for money, and the increased number of job opportunities with the colonial administration and private French business caused the Koranic school to lose much of its appeal. In spite of this, the Koranic school remained as a symbol of Muslim Foula influence and did not decline significantly until years after the disintegration of the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon.

In sum, by the time the French declared the protectorate in 1897, Fouta Diallon had established a reputation as a center for Islamic education in the western Sudan. As late as 1911, the French Inspector of Muslim Education visited Guinea and reported that in modest villages in Fouta Diallon karamokos were capable of conversing and writing in literary Arabic. It seems, therefore, that Koranic schools were well distributed throughout the kingdom and were staffed with satisfactory teachers.

C. Conclusion

Clearly, the role of the Foula in successfully spreading Islam and developing Koranic schools throughout Fouta Diallon was a determining factor in ensuring Muslim Foula influence and control in the kingdom. Karamokos and marabouts became political as well as religious leaders in the villages, and "respectable" parents sent their children to Koranic schools. A premium was placed on such titles as Hadj, Tierno, and Alfa. The fact that the Muslim religion has been identified and interconnected with some of the pre-Islamic ceremonies of Fouta Diallon has prevented many of the inhabitants of the area from making a clear distinction between their traditional and religious past.
So long as the Foula retained their religious domination, economic and cultural appeal, their political and military control remained secure. But from the early 1800's on, all of these factors were increasingly challenged by the vigorous penetration and rivalry of Europeans in the area. The result was the replacement of Foula domination by French supremacy.

1. In addition to The Koran (Penguin Books, Baltimore: 1959), the following are very "helpful works: Gibb, Mohammedanism, and Studies on the Civilization of Islam (Boston: 1962) are two valuable general studies on Islamic beliefs and practices; two helpful studies of Muslim social patterns and institutions are Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Muslim Institutions (London: 1954), and Levy, The Social Structure of Islam; J. C. Froelich, Les Musulmans d'Afrique, Alphonse Gouilly, L'Islam dans 1'Afrique, and Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, and A History of Islam in West Africa are appropriate studies for West Africa generally and contain valuable materials on Fouta Diallon.
2. These ideas are in general accord with the Arab version of the Day of Judgement. See The Koran, chapters 3, 6, 41, 55, 75.
3. Personal interviews and observations.
4. Personal Interviews and observations.
5. Personal interviews and observations.
6. Discussed in Chapter 1.
7. Institut Français d'Afrique Noire (IFAN,), Etudes Guinéennes (Conakry, Guinea: 1949), pp. 3-65; M. P. Cardaire, Contribution à l'Islam Noir (Cameroun: 1949), pp. 60-73; Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, p. 96; and personal interviews.
8. Gibb. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam (New York: 1953), pp. 202-205; and Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, p. 97.
9. Loc. cit.
10. Gibb, Mohammedanism, p. 1-69, and supported by personal interviews.
11. When Ahmadou Sheikhou, the Muslim king of Masina, supported the non-Muslim king of Segou against Omar, the Tijaniyya leader used this as grounds for a limited jihad against Ahmadou. See Jamil Abun-Nasr, "Some Aspects of the Umari Branch of the Tijaniyya," Journal of African History, III, 2, 1962, pp. 329-330.
12. Based on personal interviews and B. G. Martin, "A Mahdist Document from Futa Jallon" in Bulletin de l'IFAN, XXV, sér. B, nos. 1-2, 1963, pp. 47-57.
13. Essentially, these Muslim brotherhoods were variants of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. (See e.g., Louis Brenner. West African Sufi. The Religious Heritage and Spiritual Search of Cerno Bokar Saalif Taal. University of California Press. Berkeley & Los Angeles. 1984. 215 p.) [T.S. Bah].
14. See a fuller discussion In Chapter III.
15. Personal interviews.
16. The Foula consider themselves black when compared with whites, but some of them apply different standards when comparing themselves with other groups in Guinea and adjoining areas.
17. C.W. Newbury, "The Formation of the Government General of French West Africa," The Journal of African History, I, 1, 1960, p. 115.
18. Alain Quellien, La Politique Musulmane dans l'Afrique Occidentale Française (Paris: 1910), pp. 222-223.
19. Alphonse Gouilly, L'Islam dans l'Afrique, pp. 251-253; and Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, p. 205.
20. Caillé, Journal d'un Voyage, p. 308.
21. Personal interviews and observation.
22. See Appendix No. 2.
23. Personal interviews.
24. Personal Interviews.
25. These Foula words have the following meaning: Jangugol, to read; Windugo, to write; Firugol, to explain; Fennyu, the study of.
26. Personal interviews support Marty, L'Isam en Guinée, pp., 337-357.
27. Personal interviews.
28. Personal interviews.
29. Algerian instructors were placed in schools at Timbo and Labé. See Rapport d'Ensemble sur la Situation Générale de la Guinée Française en 1902 (Conakry, 1903), p. 99, and Rapport d'Ensemble ... 1903 (Paris: 1904), p. 165.