webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

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

Chapter III
Foula Control and Cultural Change

Muslim Foula conquest of Fouta Diallon represented but one aspect of the maintenance of Foula control and dominance. It is unlikely that reliance on military might and political expediency alone would have assured the kind of domination and influence which the Foula maintained for approximately 200 years. The duration of that control resulted in large measure from Muslim Foula success as motivating factors of cultural change without any major disruptions of traditional patterns of behavior.
Additions to and replacements of cultural traits, and the coexistence of old and new characteristics do not result only because of mere availability. Of vital importance also is the relationship between the new pattern of behavior and the rest of the culture into which the new form is to be absorbed. Except when forced, a new cultural trait must be appealing to the recipients. This appeal may take several forms. First, there may be certain rewards for acceptance, e.g., political or economic gain, social status, psychological satisfaction. Second, the new trait may appear to be simple and easily compatible with older patterns of behavior. Third, the prestige of the agents of change may persuade the recipients. Fourth, continuous contact between the agents of change and recipient individuals and institutions will help entrench the new forms. These several factors applied to cultural developments in Fouta Diallon during the Foula reign.
At the outset it is important to recall that Islam dominated the culture of the eighteenth century Foula emigrants from Masina. Moreover, the Foula successfully identified their social and political demands with Islam. For example, they characterized their struggle for political and economic freedom -autonomous political and economic control over their villages-as a religious campaign in the name of Allah who would eliminate all injustices and pave the way for the brotherhood of all men. Cast in this framework, the Foula campaign in the eighteenth century became more appealing to and inclusive of other groups.
Proselytizing Muslims drew upon the long history of Islam for prestige, and they relied on long established techniques of control-organization of mosques for religious, social, and political intercourse; creation of Koranic schools for indoctrination; and the practice of almsgiving to the poor. After conquest assured Foula military and political control, these simple techniques helped in the acceptance of Islam by many Fouta Inhabitants who thus were transformed from objects of Muslim Foula contempt to positions of religious obligation, responsibility, and respect.
Military conquest brought Foula control, but the maintenance of their dominance resulted primarily from the effective entrenchment of their behavior patterns as goals f or the entire community, and the gradual integration of their cultural forms with those already in Fouta Diallon. These points will be more clearly understood after an examination of the identification of Muslim Foula with traditional practices and beliefs, the development of servitude by the Muslim Foula, and Muslim Foula control over the economic system.

A. Foula Influence on Traditional Ceremonies and Beliefs

The appeal of Islam in Africa generally has been its concept of brotherhood reinforced by its toleration of diverse cultures. In the case of Fouta Diallon, Muslim proselytizers settled among local inhabitants and identified themselves with traditional beliefs and practices. Over the centuries the inhabitants of Fouta Diallon became unable to distinguish clearly between their pre-Islamic practices and beliefs and those that resulted from islamization. Specifically, Islam has tended to eliminate or confuse memory of pre-Islamic tradition and has thus rendered the reconstruction of the history of Fouta Diallon more difficult.
Foula presence in Fouta Diallon dates back at least to the eighth century, and by 1494 Foula military power was recognized as an important factor in the area 1. Following the outbreak of the jihad of 1725, many villages in Fouta Diallon submitted to Islam and Foula control. Thus, in spite of the difficulty of establishing clearly a base line separating pre- and post-Muslim Foula culture in Fouta Diallon, by the end of the eighteenth century the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon was established and Muslim Foula culture was substantial.
The areas in which Muslim Foula culture had very noticeable impact were marriage and naming ceremonies, funerals, circumcisions, and superstitions.

1. Marriage and Naming Ceremonies

The marriage ceremony which developed and became dominant in Fouta Diallon closely resembled similar ceremonies in other Muslim areas. Since the Foula were the principal carriers of Islam in Fouta, it seems reasonable to regard those Islamic features of marriages in Fouta Diallon as direct Muslim Foula influences. In any case, Foula oral accounts strongly confirm this.
A Foula marriage began when a young girl was chosen by a boy's father ,although the boy sometimes indicated his own choice. The father then contacted the girl's family and gave them gifts-clothes, kola nuts, salt, milk, and, in later years, money. It was at this time that the girl's parents were asked for their daughter. If the gifts were accepted, it was assumed that the agreement was sealed, although the girl's parents did not finally commit themselves until after having consulted with the family elders. Theoretically only the father's consent was necessary, but the mother's advice was customary 2.
When the parents told the girl the name of her future husband, she was required by custom to show her modesty by hiding whenever he appeared. She was also forbidden to use his name. Communication between the two was maintained through friends. From time to time the boy volunteered to work for the girl's parents and at various intervals he gave them gifts 3.
After a period of time, which extended from a few weeks to years, the fathers of the young couple arranged for the wedding 4. Usually the girl's father hesitated until he was sure that the boy was experienced enough for marriage (that he was capable of supporting a family and was respected in the village) and until the boy's father confirmed his son's love for the girl. After this was done, the wedding date was set.
On the wedding day the boy's mother and other women of the village welcomed the girl to a marriage hut where the groom awaited her. With her entrance into the hut, a big village feast commenced. After a week in this retreat the girl returned to her mother for a few days to gather her belongings. The mother and village women then organized a procession and led the girl to her new home with her dowry-utensils, jewelry, provisions, and sometimes cattle. The marriage was thus consummated and the bride's family received a final gift 5.
By the middle of the nineteenth century many Muslim Foula had begun having their marriages conducted by a marabout in a mosque. The marriage hut practice was disappearing. Instead, the married couple went to their quarters after the wedding. A feast was held, and gifts and felicitations were received 6.
Foula custom forbade marriage to a girl with whom sexual relations had been shared. If the boy returned the bride because she was not truthful about her virginity, he was reimbursed for everything, except the cost of the wedding. Under these circumstances friends consoled the girl's father by assuring him that he had reared her well but the sinful world made it difficult to protect girls 7.
For a good wife, Foula custom recommended paternal cousins and daughters of maternal uncles, but there were other permitted unions-daughters of maternal aunts, and more removed daughters. Prohibited unions were the mother, all paternal and maternal aunts, the mother-in-law, aunts of the spouse, grandmothers and grandaunts, daughters and nieces 8.
Traditionally, the Foula man married to have children and domestic help. A good wife, therefore, was obedient, quiet, economical, and sedentary. She never refused her husband's pleasures unless she was sick. She was mistress of the house-directing the workers, supervising the preparation of meals, and tutoring, the children who were not in school. In the domestic sphere, therefore, the mother's influence was dominant 9.
The husband's duties were to clothe, lodge, and feed his family. Islam allowed him up to four wives, but many had only one or two. The number of wives was determined primarily by one's economic circumstances, since each wife had to be provided for equally.
Divorce was easily obtained. The most common reasons for divorce were: failure to provide food, lodging, or clothing; barrenness or adultery; desertion, insults to parents-in-law, habitual bad treatment such as whippings, and unequal treatment of wives. But in spite of these numerous reasons of varying degrees of seriousness, most Foula marriages achieved the ultimate objective of union, reproduction. There was rejoicing among the family and friends when a wife became pregnant. A feast was always organized for the first child. During the subsequent months the wife continued her normal duties encept for sexual relations which were taboo until the baby was weaned, usually at the end of two years 10.
There was practically no advance preparations for births because of the possibility that the baby would not live. Even after the birth, the parents waited seven days before giving the baby a name. It seems that many Foula infants died before the seventh day, and so one who survived for seven days was regarded as having a good chance of normal life.
On the seventh day the naming ceremonies were observed at the home of the parents, relatives, or friends. The baby remained with the mother who received congratulations from the village women. With the men was an elderly man who announced the baby's name which up to that point was known only by him and the parents. After the name was announced, a sheep or goat was sacrificed and divided among the relatives and close friends. To conclude the ceremony the mother shaved the baby's head for good luck and felicitations from villagers followed 11.
Traditionally, the announcer was a griot (official troubadour), but after the coming of Islam the marabout eventually assumed this key position and introduced Muslim chants and the benediction. Over the years, therefore, the naming ceremonies acquired a religious significance identified with and greatly enhancing the pretigious position of the Muslim Foula.
In some of the more remote, non-Muslim areas of Fouta Diallon, a different kind of naming ceremony was conducted.
The mother carried the baby around the hut three times, accompanied by women carrying swords and knives if the baby were a boy, and household utensils and ornaments for a girl. The ceremony concluded with felicitations from the villagers. This practice persisted among those groups not influenced by the Foula proselytizers 12.
The honor of choosing the baby's name went to the father who often selected the name of a parent, relative, almamy, karamoko, or marabout If the honored person was a close friend and not deceased, the custom was to give the baby a gift. The names in Fouta Diallon reveal another area of Muslim Foula influence. Traditionally, the Foula name included three components: ethnic or tribal name, Islamic name, and common name. The ethnic name was one of the four great Foula lineages-Diallo, Bah, Sow, or Barry.
The Islamic name was one of several Arabic derivatives. For the men:

And for the women:

The third component of the Foula name was the one commonly used (nickname). This name frequently was the adoption of the name of one's village, e.g. Ibrahima Popodara. Customarily, when a male child survived several brothers and sisters who had died successively at an early age, the parents named him "Baila" which supposedly assured him life 13.
In sum, although Foula and indigenous marriage practices became interwoven over many years, there is evidence of Muslim Foula impact. It is also clear that the naming ceremonies came to be regarded as primarily Islamic activities because the Foula marabout gradually assumed and enlarged the traditional role of the griot. Lastly, Muslim names reveal unquestionable influence of Islam, the main carriers of which in Fouta Diallon were the Foula. In the marriage and naming ceremonies, therefore, Muslim Foula influence was substantial.

2. Funerals

Muslim Foula influence may also be observed in the ceremonies surrounding death. When a Foula was known to be dying, the family and friends recited prayers and sang chants led by a marabout. After death the body was washed, wrapped in a white cloth, placed on a bamboo stretcher, and carried by foot to the cemetery. Men of the village assisted in the burial ceremonies while the women's role was that of expressing grief. At the cemetery the body was laid in the grave with the face toward Mecca. The graves were always located near the mosque and regarded as sacred. According to oral accounts burials before the coming of Islam were largely family affairs and the bodies were interred on family property. Thus, once again Islam and the marabout became principal factors of change in another ceremony, funerals 14.

3. Circumcision

Circumcision was a common practice in Fouta Diallon and seems to have antedated the arrival of Islam because it is still practiced in the same general area by Foula and other ethnic groups that did not become Muslims. The practice in Fouta, however, became identified with Islam and gradually the marabout became the central figure in attendance and replaced the traditional older as distributor of charms to the circumcised boys. By this practice, not only did the marabout identify Islam and the Foula with the circumcision ceremony, he also appealed to the superstitions of Fouta inhabitants. The fact that Islam recognized circumcision does not minimize the marabout's role in interconnecting and identifying this pre-Islamic practice with the Muslim religion 15.
With the establishment of colonial rule and the introduction of western medicine and doctors, there developed a gradual tendency for parents to have their sons circumcised in the hospitals. Muslim chiefs and marabouts regarded this trend as a threat to Islam and to the traditional importance of circumcision, which was the initiation of boys into manhood. Muslim leaders in Fouta Diallon, therefore, encouraged the performance of the ceremony between the ages of seven and nine instead of at about fourteen. While lowering the age seems to have helped retain the ceremony of circumcision, it also seems to have modified its original meaning. For even the Foula recognized that a boy of seven could not be regarded as a man. Thus, only the form of the ceremony was preserved.

4. Superstitions

There are a few instances of divination in Fouta Diallon. Marty has recorded that Muslim clerics from time to time consulted with the spirit of Mohamned and thus claimed to predict rain, clear weather, and the state of future harvests 16. The Foula, however, maintain that these practices were remnants of the pre-Islamic days.
The wearing of good luck charms in Fouta Diallon prevailed before the coming of Islam and continued after islamization. As has already been indicated, the Foula marabout became a principal distributor of these charms, thereby sanctioning the practice and identifying it with the Muslim Foula.
As in the Muslim world generally, sorcerers and medicine men are not popular. This is due largely to the Islamic belief that only Allah is master of life and death, and that sorcerers are fakes. This belief allegedly did much to cause the gradual disappearance of sorcery in Fouta.
There remained, however, a fear of witchcraft among some of the inhabitants. Some Foula maintain that there are a few practicing sorcerers in some of the villages even today, but that their influence and respect among the villagers generally has greatly diminished.

B. Servitude in Fouta Diallon

The concept of slavery and the use of slaves in Fouta Diallon pre-dated the Foula conquest in this earlier period. However, slavery was basically a domestic or family institution in which slaves were regarded as members of the household. There seem to have been no stigmas attached to the institution by any higher authority. But the Foula conquerors developed a more widespread, rigidly stratified society.
After the creation of the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon, two castes emerged-free and servile. Although there was considerable mobility among the groups in each caste, there was none between castes or, for that matter, between the higher an lower echelons of a caste. The free caste included the ruling dynasties, their families, and their descendants; ministers, karamokos, marabouts, their families and descendants; herders and cultivators; traders and craftsmen-goldsmiths, blacksmiths, iron founders, woodcarvers, potters and griots 17.
The servile caste was the larger. Within it the highest level was the domestic servants who were born in the master's house, treated like a member of the family, and who sometimes acquired land through gifts and purchase.
Below the domestics were the field hands who were purchased.
They were frequently used as the marriage gift and for payment of debts. Generally, they were foreigners (Sousou and Malinké) who had been captured in the Sudanic wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. As captives, therefore, they were more harshly treated than the domestics 18.
The field slave's home was in a slave village (runnde) 19 supervised by an intendant who settled disputes and provided men for the chief's army. The intendant also supervised the labor gangs who worked the master's fields four or five days a week. At harvest time he sent the almamy a bundle of reeds, each representing a load of grain. This accounting system checked the provincial administrators who were directly responsible for the delivery of supplies from the slave villages to the almany 20.
The slave village had its own festivities. While the inhabitants may have been nominally converted to Islam, they only rarely attended the Koranic school and were, for the most part, without effective means of acquiring Islamic culture. They did, however, organize some of their activities -marriages, baby naming caremonics, circumcisions, funerals-in much the same way as the Foula, but in each case the consent of the master was necessary.
The master did not normally participate in these activities, though he was responsible for granting permission for marriages and he received the marriage gifts. Many times he allowed a couple to marry and remain on his premises as servants, with the commitment that they not be separated from their children 21.
Frequently the master named a slave baby in ceremonies similar to those of the free caste. When he chose a name it normally denoted the name of a day of the week. One could thus identify a slave by his name.
While no servitude brings full satisfaction to the enslaved, some slaves in Fouta Diallon were treated humanely. As already noted, domestic slaves sometimes acquired land. Other slaves acquired land by performing heroic deeds, e.g. saving the master's life or that of some member of his family, or fighting gallantly in battle.
Some slaves learned skills and engaged in remunerative work. But only in a few cases were slaves freed. A few heroic slave soldiers were liberated, however, and it was customary for the birth of a child to a concubine to result in freedom for the mother and child 22.
Any system which relies on force or the threat of it for existence can be expected to give rise to tensions and conflicts and encourage the suppressed to manifest a desire for freedom. Foula slavery was no exception. While a few slaves earned their freedom, others escaped to it. Although some freedmen chose to submit themselves to masters, the majority chose to remain free. As elsewhere, slavery in Fouta Diallon was not always humane. Some slave families were separated and children of domestic servants, the preferred category, were sold to pay debts. Corporal punishment was practiced. Moreover, free non-Muslims could not be assured of the continuation of their freedom 23.
Slavery was one means of entrenching Muslim Foula control. It caused fear and uncertainty on the part of free non-Muslims who could assure their freedom and peace of mind only by accepting Islam and the Foula social, economic, and political order. Slavery provided the labor demanded by the Foula nobility. Indeed, it guaranteed easier military, political, and economic domination by the Foula conquerors and thus became a key pillar undergirding Foula supremacy.

C. Foula Impact on the Economic System

1. Agriculture, Trade, and Commerce

Before the arrival of the Foula in large numbers in the eighteenth century, the economic life of Fouta Diallon was primarily agrarian. The Baga, Tanda, Landouma, and Diallonké had for a long time practiced sedentary agriculture, producing mainly rice, peanuts, fonio, and citrus fruits. Each family worked its own fields under the supervision of the family head, who was responsible for the division of the harvests. Some of the small bands of Foula who migrated and settled among these groups also began practicing agriculture 24.
The principal economic activity of the Foula, however, was cattle raisin, and trading. From the eighteenth century the Foula traded cattle and skins to the coastal region of the Nunez River in exchange for salt, tobacco, arms, cloth, and other items. While Fouta Diallon was the most favorable area in Guinea for cattle raising, the dry season imposed severe hardships because of the scarcity of green pastures. Some of the herds managed to graze in the valleys, but most of them existed on what could be found in the dry fields and around the dwellings. During the rainy season the herds grazed sufficiently in the many pastures on the plateau where there was little danger of the tsetse fly 25.
Traditionally, cows were considered the prestige animal and were seldom killed except when they became sick or when the village celebrated special occasions. The cow did, however, serve as a source of milk. With the gradual suppression of slavery, cows were used more freely for barter, the payment of debts, and contracts 26.
Trade and commerce in Fouta Diallon were greatly affected by the Foula view that manual labor was work reserved for slaves and immigrants. Because of this view, there emerged in Fouta a slave class of craftsmen who not only worked for the master, but were hired out as well. Some of these slaves eventually earned enough money to purchase their freedom and enter into the trades as free men 27.
In addition to the slaves, free immigrants from neighboring regions also entered the trades. These immigrants usually were Malinké who fled the many Sudanese wars of Sundiata (thirteenth century), Askia the Great (sixteenth century), Amadou Lobo Barry, El Hadj Omar, and Samory Touré (nineteenth century); but a small immigrant community of Sousou who fled from wars and coastal slavers also entered into the trades of Fouta Diallon. In their attempt to escape servitude, these immigrants sometimes encountered it in Fouta. If, however, they became Muslims they could be fairly certain that they would be able to practice their trades in freedom 28.
The main traders or artisans were blacksmiths (primarily making knives, stirrups, and agricultural tools), goldsmiths (mainly engaged in making jewelry), and leather workers (making sandals, mats, bags, etc.). In addition to these traders, [slaves] other castes were especially active in the home industries-spinning, weaving, dying, pottery 29.

2. Land Distribution

The control and distribution of land were also influenced by the Foula and helped them to entrench their dominance. When Fouta Diallon was conquered during the eighteenth century, control over the land passed from the Baga, Tanda, Landouma, and Diallonké to the Foula overlords.
Karamokos explained that Foula conversion of the area brought the indigenous peoples the benefits of Islamic culture and that by right of conquest the Foula assumed all power over land distribution.
Theoretically, all land came under the sole authority of the almamy, whose permission was necessary before a plot could legally be used for cultivation or construction. The almamy had the authority to grant land for life and to reclaim it for cause, such as disloyalty. He distributed land to provincial chiefs and delegated to them the authority for subdividing that land. The ordinary inhabitant was obliged to request land from his immediate chief who assessed him ten per cent of his produce. Likewise, this district or village chief paid ten per cent of his harvest to the provincial chief who in turn paid ten per cent of his receipts to the almamy 30. In order to qualify for free land use, the inhabitants of Fouta Diallon had to accept Islam and profess loyalty to Foula authority.
Under this system each political chief was responsible for all land directly under his authority. He collected the taxes and paid his share to the almamy. In case of land disputes in which no record of possession was available, the chief followed the advice of his council. At the lower political echelons (village or district) appeals could be made through the local chief or court to the next higher authority. In most cases, however, it seems that the most influential contestant won the dispute 31.
In practical terms, therefore, all land was divided into two general categories, almamy and private. Under the first category were all lands never appropriated to anyone by the almamy. These were the direct property of the almamy who, at his own discretion could allocate plots as he saw fit 32.
Private lands, within the general framework of the theoretical ownership by the almamy, existed under two forms, family and individual ownership. Family ownership, which was the most prevalent, comprised those lands on which lived groups of people who shared common immediate ancestors. This was property acquired by purchase or gift from the almamy or provincial chief and which had never been reclaimed. For the most part, family possessions remained common for several years after the disintegration of the Kingdom of Fouta Diallon.
Since under Muslim law a son could demand his share of an inheritance, family property was sometimes divided and individual ownership emerged. It was rare, however, for a man to separate his land from communal ownership. When this occasion did occur, the individual owner became responsible for a prorated taxation 33.

D. Conclusion

In sum, the maintenance of Foula domination in Fouta Diallon depended to a great extent on Foula control of social and economic activities, and successful, frequent interaction at the village, provincial, and central levels of the kingdom between the Foula and non-Foula, the Muslim and non-Muslim. This cultural interrelationship was facilitated by three factors: first, there were rewards for the acceptance of Islam. These included the assurance of freedom, possibility of political participation (the free assembly was open to all free men of Fouta), opportunity to use land and to practice one's skills, and the guarantee of social respectability. Second, Islam appeared easily compatible with older cultural patterns. Instead of immediately disrupting traditional practices, Islam became an integral part of the structure and provided new meaning to patterns of behavior, as in the case of marriages, baby naming ceremonies, circumcisions, etc. Third, Foula prestige was appealing, to the inhabitants of Fouta Diallon. This prestige resulted from Foula military conquests, the Foula role as Islamic proselytizers, the widespread use of the Foula language in the western Sudan 34, and the identification of Foula history with the broader history of Sudanic and northern Africa.
The continuous contact between these agents of change, the Foula, and the other groups in Fouta Diallon provided a setting in which there emerged a culture dominated by Muslim Foula influences, but which retained important aspects of the earlier traditional peoples. But perhaps the most decisive factor of this cultural change was direct religious influence and control.

1. See the text and footnote references on pages 1-9.
2. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, p. 323, and personal interviews.
3. Personal interviews support the account in Marty, L'Islam en Guinée, pp. 380-334.
4. According to oral accounts the marriage age was between fifteen and sixteen for girls and about eighteen for boys.
5. This marriage pattern follows closely that in other Muslim areas. See Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam (Cambridge: 1962), pp. 103-109.
6. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, p. 324.
7. Personal interviews.
8. Personal interviews.
9. Personal interviews.
10. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, p.p. 314-325, and persona1 interviews.
11. Personal interviews and observations.
12. Personal interviews and observations support the account by Trimingham, Islam in West Africa, p. 156.
13. Personal interviews.
14. Personal interviews.
15. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, p. 322 and personal interviews.
16. Marty, L'Islam en Guinée, p. 477, which was published in 1921, takes a stronger position than this writer's more recent research supports. However, clerics no doubt believed that claiming consultation with Mohamned's spirit enhanced their positions.
17. Marty, L'Islam en Guinée, pp. 441-452, and personal interviews.
18. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, pp. 330-331, and personal interviews.
19. See Derman, William. (1979). Serfs, Peasants and Socialists: a former serf village in the Republic of Guinea. Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley.
20. Marty, L'Islam en Guinée, pp. 446-447; v.1 pp. 314-315.
21. Personal interviews.
22. Personal interviews.
23. Personal interviews.
24. Madrolle, En Guinée, p. 165; G. Vieillard, Notes sur les Coutumes des Peuls au Fouta Diallon (Paris: 1939), pp. 86, 89; Marty, L'Islam en Guinée, p. 453; and personal interviews.
25. Personal interviews support Demougeot, Notes, pp. 20-22, and Histoire du Nunez, Bulletin du Comité d'Etudes Historiques et Scientifiques de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, Tome 21 (Paris: 1933), p. 237 (hereafter cited as "Histoire du Nunez").
26. Personal interviews and Petit Historique.
27. Personal interviews.
28. Hecquard, Vovage sur la Côte pp. 338.
Products of the home industries were made for home use and from localy grown materials: cotton, indigo and calabashes. After the liberation of slaves, women assumed these activities, except for weaving which remains a man's job.
29. Personal interviews.
30. For a short discussion on land distribution in Fouta Diallon, see Marty. L'Islam en Guinée, pp. 392-395.
31. Personal interviews.
32. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, p. 333.
33. Personal interviews.
34. In a limited way, Foula became a trade language in the western Sudan between the Sahara and forest belt.