webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

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

Chapter I
The Origin and Migration of the Foula

A. Origin of the Foula

The Foula, known by several namest are scattered throughout the western Sudan, from Senegal to Equatorial Africa 1. In only a few areas, however, do they constitute the dominant group: Senegal Valley, Fouta Toro, Masina, Kita, Sokoto, Bauchi, Adamawa, Liptako, and Fouta-Diallon 2. Over the centuries the Foula have migrated to and from many regions and intermarried with various ethnic groups. Their origin is thus the center of controversy, based on both legend and theory.
There are three legends, or perhaps three variations of the same legend, which the Foula use to explain their origin. One of these legends traces Foula origins back to about a century after the Hegira when a Muslim, Omar, was responsible for the expansion of Islam in the general area around Egypt 3. Omar's missionary activity allegedly carried him to Masina where he converted the king. Before his departure, and at the request of the king, Omar appointed Ougoubatou Ibn Yassinou to continue the mission. Ougoubatou later was permitted to marry one of the king's daughters. From this union were born four sons: Rou'ouriba, Wané, Bodewal, and Daatou, each of whom later chose a different name:

Each of these men had families that eventually migrated throughout West Africa and gave birth to a new group, the Foula, who ultimately occupied and Islamized large areas across the western Sudan 4.
Another legend prevalent among the Foula of Fouta-Diallon maintains that an Arab, Abouda Daye, settled in Fouta Toro, northwest of Fouta-Diallon, where he allegedly became a Muslim. While in Fouta Toro he became the father of four sons, one of whom remained mute until the eighth month when be began speaking an unknown language. The father, who had become a marabout (Islamic teacher), believed that his son was the founder of a new people who would speak a new language as Mohammed the Prophet allegedly predicted 5. After the sons had mastered the new language, they moved into different parts of West Africa where they became proselytizers of Islam. Two of them settled in Masina, another in Fouta-Diallon, and the fourth farther east near Chad. From these sons descended a new people, the Foula 6.
A third tradition traces Foula origins to Berbers who came from Masina where they were converted to Islam around 660 A.D. The remainder of this legend is similar to the first one. Omar is identified as the Masina mission chief who converted the king, and Ougoubatou Ibn Yassinou (Yassiriné) was Omar's successor. Ougoubatou married one of the king's daughters and bad four sons who eventually spre ad Islam throughout the western Sudan 7.

In spite of variations, all of these legends emphasize two important points. One is that the Foula originated from people not indigenous to West Africa (Arabs or Berbers), and the second is that they were responsible for islamizing Fouta-Diallon. Both of these points may be debated but, as will be seen later, the fact that the Foula believe them and scholars are unable to reach unanimity on an alternative theory means that the legends must not be ignored in analyzing the development of Fouta culture and its influence, not only in Fouta-Diallon, but also in the Republic of Guinea.
Insights into Foula origin do not come entirely from legends. Several theories have been developed by explorers, administrators, and scholars. The French explorer Gaspard Mollien, who traveled extensively in West Africa in 1818, later developed the theory that the Foula descended from Nubians who migrated to northern and western Africa. They married the Wolofs and gave birth to the Torodos from which came the name Fouta-Toro (Toro country). These Nubian descendants, according to Mollien, also married the Diallonke from which the name Fouta-Diallon is derived. Over the years these people spread into many areas of West Africa 8.

The German linguist, Frederic Muller, generally supported Mollien's position. He held that the Foula were a mixture of the Negro and the Hamite and had occupied North Africa where they married Berbers and later migrated southward to settle in various parts of West Africa 9.
Andre Arcin, French archivist and colonial administrator, was more specific than Muller. He identified the northern edge of the Sahara (not the coastal region) as the route which the Foula took to West Africa from Ethiopia. They eventually settled, according to Arcin, in the southern part of Mauretania until the Moors drove them to Fouta Toro. Louis Tauxier, French anthropologist and archivist, and Charles G. Seligman, American anthropologist, generally confirm this same theory, though they contend that the Foula migrated along the North African coast 10.

The English historian, John D. Fage, traces Foula links back to the Ghana Empire, whose inhabitants were principally the Soninké. Later some North Africans, probably Berbers, who had been influenced by Jews, immigrated into Ghana and intermarried with the Soninkié. Subsequent migrations carried these people to the lower Senegal in Fouta Toro, where they married the Wolof, Toucouleur, and Serer. Fage concludes that this became the center where the Foula developed and began their great dispersion eastward toward Chad 11. Fage's theory is in general agreement with that of Maurice Delafosse, anthropologist and former governor of French colonies, who believed that people of Jewish descent migrated to Egypt and Cyrenaica where they later were persecuted by the Romans. They continued their flight to Fezzan, Aïr, and Masina, where they became advisers to and later masters of the Soninke, who represented the dominant element of Ghana. These immigrants intermarried with the Soninké, became the ancestors of the Foula, and migrated across the western Sudan 12.

These non-Foula observers generally support the theory that the similarity of language and physical features suggests that the Foula originated in East Africa, very likely Ethiopia, and that they migrated north of the Sahara to southern Senegal. All along the route they intermarried with indigenous peoples, and over the years expanded into several areas of West Africa. This is referred to as the Hamitic theory, which was given strong linguistic support by F. W. Taylor who stated that "the generally accepted theory" is that the Fulani are "of Hamitic tongues." 13 For a good many years this Hamitic theory of Foula origin was widely accepted. However, more recent investigation by the American linguist, Joseph Greenberg, refutes this theory by maintaining that the Foula speak a language closely related to Wolof of the same general area, and thereby belong to the Niger-Congo language family. The following is Greenberg's conclusion:

If Fulani is Hamitic, then so is Serer, and if Serer then Wolof and all the languages of the West Atlantic subgroup and the final result is the incorporation of the entire West Sudanic with extensions into Hamitic. For this there is no evidence 14.

Language, however, is not the only clue to origin.

Physical characteristics have also been used as criteria, but have since been generally discarded. As Paul Bohannan has written, "the differences between races cannot be specifically defined physiologically. The continuity of physical types of modern man has no natural breaking points." Since physical types as criteria are now regarded as meaningless, and language families are not conclusive, Bohannan considers the former standard classifications 15 (such as Charles G. Seligman's Races of Africa) outdated.

In addition to language and physical traits, some observers sought to establish relationships between ethnic groups on the basis of cultural similarity. One of America's most reputable anthropologists, Melville J. Herskovits, reviewed and reclassified the various culture areas outlined earlier by missionaries, scholars, and other observers 16. Although this approach is helpful in identifying certain aspects of culture with a geographical area for the purpose of classification, it is very inconclusive in documenting the direction, if any, of cultural diffusion. Many African areas, for example, have centralized societies and similar kinship systems and religions. In several instances these areas of cultural similarity are not contiguous. Determining origin and direction are indeed problems in such cases. It would thus seem, as Herskovits noted, that the use of culture areas is not to be thought of as an aid to the reconstruction of the history of non-literate peoples.
The conclusion seems to be justified that language, physical type, and culture areas are not completely reliable in establishing the definite origin of the Foula. The most that can safely be said about this origin is that in historic times the Foula have migrated to and from several widely separated areas of the western Sudan. In the course of these migrations they have intermarried with other people, exchanged cultural patterns, and throughout this process their origin and early history have become so blurred that scholarly research at present finds it difficult to separate legend from fact.

B. Migration to Fouta-Diallon

According to the Foulas their ancestors were living in the Senegal region in the early Christian era. It seems certain that they were there from the seventh century on. Tradition also maintains that the eleventh century Almoravid Jihad caused the Foula to migrate to several West African areas, including Masina. In 1494 when Masina was annexed to the Empire of Mali, some of the Muslim Foula began a series of rebellions. Shortly thereafter, two Portuguese ambassadors to the Emperor of Mali learned that Mali was at war with a Foula king, Koli Tenguella (also known as Kikali, or Kokoli). Koli, a descendant of Bodewal of Masina, organized his followers at Telimélé in Fouta and built a fort, remnants of which still stand. Koli freed the Foula from the Mali Empire and organized a confederation in which the Diallonké seems to have been the largest group, though the Foula of Fouta-Diallon were also included 17.

The establishment of Koli's confederation provided closer links between Fouta-Toro and Fouta-Diallon, between which the Foula, Toucouleur, and other ethnic groups migrated back and forth for centuries. From Kolis era on, small Foula groups, mainly family units, continued to penetrate Fouta-Diallon. Until the end of the seventeenth century the movement remained small, generally unorganized, and peaceful 18.

About 1670 the Bambara of Segou captured Masina and made it subject to them. It seems that the Foula there had not become Islamized in large numbers. Those who had accepted the faith, however, later organized and sought to convert all the Foula of Masina. Since the Muslim Foula resented paying taxes to the non-Muslim Bambara overlords, the latter regarded Foula attempts to organize as economic and political threats. Moreover, the cultivators and Foula cattle raisers frequently disputed over land rights. In short, persecution, rebellions, wars, and economic factors accelerated the Foula, migrations of the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth centuries 19.

C. Fouta-Diallon: The Land and its Early Inhabitants

Geographically, Fouta-Diallon has played a significant role in West African history. Located in the northwestern section of the Republic of Guinea, Fouta is a high plateau from which water drains into several important rivers, including the Gambia, Senegal, and the Niger. Foula oral accounts recall that these rivers not only provided easy means of transportation for the early immigrants, but they also facilitated trade between Fouta-Diallon and neighboring areas 20.
Although the concentrated rainy season of about five months' duration presents some planting and harvesting problems, Fouta-Diallon's soils produce large quantities of peanuts, fruits, corn, and fonio, a local grain similar to wheat. The heavy rains also provide for rich pastures which, along with the absence of the tsetse fly 21 in several districts, account for the emergence of Fouta-Diallon under the Foula at a center for cattle raising 22.
Four towns have served as key factors in the history of Fouta-Diallon.

All of these towns, except Fougoumba, became leading administrative, economic, and military centers under the French. But the Foula still recall them as vital to early trade and the exchange of ideas with neighboring peoples.
The earliest known of the indigenous peoples of Fouta-Diallon are the Baga 29, Landouma, and Tanda. These groups were basically rice cultivators who also engaged in pottery, iron forgery, and wood carving. Their political organization was.a loose confederation in which the real authority rested with the head of the family. Living in sedentary, small autonomous social units where political power rarely existed beyond the family group, the Baga, Landouma, and Tanda were unable to organize and coordinate any effective resistance to invaders 30.
The first invaders seem to have been the Diallonké 31, a Malinké people that migrated in small, unorganized family groups from the Niger region to escape the thirteenth century wars of Soundiata and the Malinké. Like the Baga, Landouma, and Tanda, the Diallonké lived in small family units as cultivators 32. Local tradition does not reveal any hostile or military conflict between the Diallonké and the other ethnic groups in Fouta. This may indicate that the area was not over-populated, and that none of these groups was expansionist in the search for conquest of land. It seems that they were not impelled to expand because of Islam, which had not yet become a major factor in their lives.
The Baga, Landouma, Tanda, and Diallonké seem not to have resisted the early Foula immigrants, who settled in Fouta-Diallon as cultivators and cattle raisers. During the seventeenth century, however, the small bands of Foula increased to sizable communities and att racted the attention of the militant Muslim Foula. of Masina, where Islam was making a bid for political as well as religious recognition. Some of these Muslim Foula began arriving in Fouta-Diallon in large numbers near the end of the seventeenth century. These newcomers were militant proselytizers who were joined by Muslim Foula residents of Fouta. The latter had been practicing the faith in small family groups and had refrained from missionizing because they feared for their minority position among the Baga, Landouma, Tanda, and Diallonki. But there were some pious Muslims in Fouta as evidenced in Labe, where it is still recalled by local inhabitants that Tierno Mamadou was a devoted convert long before Islam was commonly accepted 33.
Among this militant group of Foula proselytizers was Alfa Kikala of the Barry lineage. He had two children, Seidy and Foudouye Sery. The former had two sons, Nouhou and Maliki, ancestors of the two great dynasties: Alphaya (Alfa) and Sorya (Sori) respectively. These two dynasties contributed all of the rulers of the Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon, while the descendants of Foudouye Sery became lesser chiefs 34.
Other participants in this militant conversion of Fouta-Diallon were Sheik Aldiouma Maoudo of the Diallo lineage, Salli Dian of the Sow lineage, and Sheik Mamadou Ibn Alkali of the Bah lineage. Maoudo had five sons:

D. Islam and the Foula

The Foula migrations from Masina in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had a significant impact on developments in Fouta-Diallon primarily because these later newcomers came as Islamic missionaries. In order to understand that Impact, it should be emphasized that prior to the middle of the seventeenth century the Foula migrations to Fouta-Diallon had been slow and peaceful. Some of these early immigrants were Muslim nomads, traders, scholars, adventurers, and a few missionaries who migrated back and forth between Fouta-Diallon and the neighboring areas. During this period, the most Important carriers of Islam were the merchants, who participated in the Sudanic link of the trans-Saharan trade. These merchants were mainly Malinké, Soninké, and Sousou, people who often acted unintentionally as agents of Islam by establishing themselves in villages along the trade routes where they sometimes remained for long periods of time. Some of them settled permanently, intermarried with the Foula, and became nuclei of Islamic culture. Thus villages and towns along the trade routes developed Islamic characteristics and became favorable centers for the ultimate establishment of the faith. Important as were these developments, however, the early carriers of Islam were neither organized nor conscious of their role as agents of cultural change 36.
This situation remained unchanged until near the end of the seventeenth century. Although the migrations continued in small family groups for the most part, and settlements were still established peacefully in Fouta-Diallon, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century immigrants were better organized and were more militant adherents of Islam. They had been influenced by the vigorous expansion of the Islamic tariqa (brotherhoods), which were extensions of similar activities in the Muslim areas of North Africa and the Middle East. These tariqa had been formed primarily to make less rigid the dogmatism formulated by the orthodox Muslim scholars. They were also more willing to compromise with older religious beliefs and customs of other lands and to tolerate them, provided that outward adherence to the Muslim creed was maintained 37.
The late seventeenth century religious resurgence in Masina corresponded with the penetration of the Qadiriva brotherhood into the western Sudan. The Qadiriya, which had emerged as a reaction to the abstract, rational approach of Islam, was distinguished by its piety, tolerance, and humility 38. It therefore had considerable appeal among many West Africans, including the Foula.
Beginning with the eighteenth century and continuing into the nineteenth century, many Qadiriya Muslims migrated as militant proselytizers from Masina Into Upper Guinea and Fouta-Diallon where numerous converts were made. In fact, the first leader of the Foula Jihad in Fouta-Diallon was Karamoko Alfa who was converted and tutored by Kadry Sanounou, a Qadiriya chief from Kankan in Upper Guinea 39.

The intensified migrations which fanned out from Masina around 1700 were impelled to a large extent by the religious reform movement ofthe qadiriya. The new immigrants were driven into Fouta-Diallon not only to escape political and economic suppression, as noted earlier; they were also driven by the expansionist urge of a resurgent Islam in Masina. Thus political and religious drives of the Foula immigrants around the turn of the eighteenth century stimulated a movement which led to the jihad of 1725 in Fouta-Diallon and laid the basis for the establishment of a kingdom on theocratic principles.

A second conclusion which may be reached is that although other agents have played significant roles in islamizing Fouta-Diallon, the principal, most effective missionaries were the Foula themselves who in turn helped spread the faith into Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thus, in addition to an origin which confers upon them long historical continuity, the Foula also claim the credit for spreading Islam throughout Fouta-Diallon and adjoining areas.
In view of these two conclusions, there is little wonder that the Foula of Fouta-Diallon have been, and remain, a fiercely proud people who regard their role as a vital factor not only in the culture and history of Fouta-Diallon, but also in the Republic of Guinea.

E. Conclusion

Two important conclusions may now be drawn. First, in spite of conflicting details, it remains at least possible that Foula ancestry extends into North and East Africa. In the absence of conclusive documentation to the contrary, and in view of the fact that the Foula perpetuate through their oral tradition the legend of Arab or Berber origin, it is clear that Foula culture and history have been influenced by this myth or reality of an early bond with peoples long in contact with the mainstream of recorded history. As will be seen in a later chapter, this is an important factor supporting the belief among many Foula that they are superior in many respects to other Guinean ethnic groups.

1. Some of the names by which the Foula are known are Poul, Phoul, Pulaar, Foul, Fulani, Fula, Foulah, Peul, Peuhl, in the singular; and in the plural, Poulbé, Phoulbé, Peuls, Fulani, Fula, Fulfuldé, Foula, Foulbé, Fulbé, Foulahs, and Pulbé.
2. Fouta-Diallon ranks second only to Northern Nigeria in Foula inhabitants. See George Murdock, Africa: Its People and Their Culture History (New York: 1959), p. 413.
3. This may be a reference to Omar of the second caliphate, but this writer has not been able to confirm it.
4. Maurice Houis, La Guinee Francaise (Paris: 1953), pp. 25-26; and "Petit Historique des Foulbé du Fouta Djallon" (Archives de Guinée: 1936), pp. unnumbered. Hereafter cited as Petit Historique.
5. The writer has been unable to confirm this allegation.
6. This legend is somewhat vague and without dates, but it is based on numerous interviews with Foula chiefs, teachers, students, and ordinary villagers.
7. Apercu Général sur l'Histoire du Labé (Unpublished document compiled by a group of Foula chiefs and teachers in 1961. Hereafter cited as Aperçcu Général), pp. 2, 3.
8. Gaspard Mollien (T. E. Bowditch, editor), Travels of Africa to the Sources of the Senegal and Gambia. (London: 1820), pp. 157-158.
9. Based on the discussion in Louis Tauxier, Moeurs et Histoire des Peuls (Paris: 1937), p. 83.
10. André Arcin, La Guinee Françcaise (Paris: 1907) 225-235; Charles G. Seligman, Races of Africa (New York: 1935) pp 133-136 and the modified edition of 1959, pp. 69, 86, 155; Tauxier, Moeurs et Histoire, pp. 1-15.
11. John D. Fage, An Introduction to the History of West Africa (Cambridge: 1962), pp. 18, 146-147.
12. Maurice Delafosse, Haut-Sénégal-Niger (Paris: 1921), and The Negroes of Africa (Washington: 1931), pp. 1.7-19; Robert Cornevin, Histoire des Peuples de l'Afrique Noire (Paris: 1962), p. 156.
13. F. W. Taylor, A First Grammar of the Adamawa Dialect of the Fulani Language, (Oxford: 1921). p. 10.
14. Joseph H. Greenberg, Studies In African Linguistic Classification (New Haven: 1955), pp. 26, 29.
15. Paul Bohannan, Africa and Africans (Garden City, New York: 1964), pp. 60, 66.
16. Melville J. Herskovits, "The Culture Areas of Africa," Africa, III, pp. 17-27.
17. Delafosse, The Negroes of Africa, p. 79; Djibril T. Niane and J. Suret-Canale, Histoire de l'Afrique Occidentale (Paris: 1961), p. 51; and Niane, "A Propos de Koli Tenguella" Recherches Africaines (Octobre-Décembre, 1960), No. 4, pp. 33-36.
18. Based on numerous personal interviews. This notation documents materials supported by many personal interviews in various parts of Guinea. The techniques used and the persons consulted are discussed in the Bibliography under Oral Sources.
19. Personal interviews support the position of Niane and Suret-Canale, Histoire de l'Afrique, p. 85.
20. Personal interviews.
21. The Fulani pastoralists avoided regions infested with the tsetse fly, a carrier of the trypanosomiasis cattle disease
22. Personal interviews and R. Rubon, Geographie; La Cuinée (Paris; 1960), pp. 28-35.
23. Boke is located at the mouth of the Cogon river, where it becomes the Rio Nunez, in Northwestern Guinea. Even though it became tributary to the Almamy and the Lord of Labé, it was not part of the Kingdom of Fuuta-Jaloo. See Chapter 5 [T.S. Bah]
24. Obviously, it is erroneous to exclude Timbo from a list of Fuuta-Jaloo's towns. The author errs by mentioning Mamou instead of Timbo. Mamou did not exist in the kingdom of Fuuta-Jaloo. Located 30 miles west of Timbo, it was created by the French to (a) serve as a relay on the Conakry-Niger railroad project, and (b) to house the exiled Alfaya dynastic branch following the demise of Timbo. The Soriya dynastic branch was assigned to residence in Dabola, also 30 miles but to the east of Timbo. [T.S. Bah]
25. Personal interviews.
26. Personal interviews.
27. Discussed in Chapter II.
28. Personal interviews are supplemented with Arcin, La Guinée Française, p. 511, and Hyacinte Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte et dans l'Afrique Occidentale (Paris: 1853), pp. 260-261.
29. F. Lamp
30. Personal interviews and Aperçu Général, p. 2 confirm the accounts of Claudius Madrolle, En Guinée (Paris: 1995), p. 226; Arcin, La Guinée Française, pp. 1 6-177; and A. Demougeot. Notes sur l'Organisation Politique et Administrative du Labé Avant et Depuis l'Occupation Française (Paris: 1944), pp. 1- 5. Hereafter cited as Demougeot, Notes.
31. It was also known as Dialonkadugu (the land of the Dialonka)
32. Petit Historique, and Apercu Général, p. 2.
33. Personal interviews and Apercu Général, p. 3.
34. Apercu Général, p. 3.
35. Loc. cit.
36. Many personal interviews confirm this and the account given in John S. Trimingham, Islam in West Africa (Oxford: 1959), p. 193.
37. For a study of the tariqa in general see H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism (Oxford: 1953), pp. 147-164; for an analysis of the tariqa in West Africa, see Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, pp. 91-96, and J.C. Froelich, Les Musulmans d'Afrique Noire Paris: 1962), pp. 211-238. These accounts, as they pertain to Fouta-Diallon, have been supported by personal interviews.
38. Gibb, Mohammedanism, p. 155.
39. Based on numerous personal interviews and James F. Hopewell, "Muslim Penetration into French Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia Before 1850" (Columbia University Dissertation: 1958, p. 3.