webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

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

Chapter VII — Conclusion

Although the origin of the Foula of Fouta-Diallon may be traced as far afield as northern and eastern Africa, the most that can safely be said at this point is that by the time the Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon was created in 1725 they had been migrating widely throughout the western Sudan and many of them had adopted Islam. Because they had become native to the region and inasmuch as Islam did not generally disrupt traditional patterns of life, the Muslim Foula succeeded in identifying himself and his beliefs with the indigenous communities in Fouta-Diallon. Over the years this identification clearly facilitated the Muslim Foula's role as a trader and, most significantly, as missionary and general agent of cultural change.
In his role as agent of cultural change, the Foula's long range impact was especially far reaching because he spoke a language used in many parts of the western Sudan, and he propagated a faith which established wide connections throughout much of West Africa. Fouta-Diallon thus became a part of the general expansion of Islam in the region during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries Missionaries were dispatched as far south as northern Liberia and Sierra Leone. The missionary appeal of the kingdom was greatlyincreascd during the middle years of the nineteenth century when El Hadj Omar established his headquarters in Dinguiraye. The Muslim Foula, therefore, became the primary means of islamizing Fouta-Diallon.

The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon was founded by the naturalized Foula who imposed their control by conquest. Political and religious authority were combined in the almamy who appointed friends and members of his lineage as central and provincial officials. Rule was authoritarian but not autocratic. The almamy was checked by council, the constitution, and the Koran. Although the alternate succession agreement contributed to persistent dynastic competition that frequently resulted in tiars of succession, it nonetheless made the almamys aware that their term of office could be extended indefinitely only by forceand that the most popular ruler could expect to return to office each time the dynasty's turn recurred. These several factors acted as restraints against tyranny and helped guarantee the continuity of the kingdom.

At the outset, however, the introduction of Foula rule over the whole of Fouta-Diallon led to instability, revolt, and political factionalism. But dissension was gradually being contained within the Foula political structure by the last quarter of the nineteenth century not only by military power and a functional political system, but also through intermarriage and concubinage, and the successful spread of Islam and its identification first with Foula culture and subsequently with traditional practices, such as marriages, names and naming ceremonies, circumcisions, funerals, superstitions, and the general social and economic structure. These became accepted as normal activities and conditions in Fouta Diallon. The imposition of French rule, therefore, did not greatly affect traditional Foula behavior and institutions. Moreover, up to 1906 the French ruled indirectly. Thus the Muslim Foula retained political and economic dominance, his cultural influence in ceremonies and daily life persisted, and the slaves, ex-slaves, and immigrants continued to regard him as leader and master.

However, the continued acceptance of the Muslim Foula institutions and patterns of behavior in Fouta Diallon depended largely on the extent to which alien forces were resisted. Although Foula chiefs and religious leaders attempted to prevent the increasing influence of Europeans, the attraction of material wealth and the determination of the French to impose their social, economic, and political system forced Fouta Diallon to become accommodative. From 1906 when the French divided Fouta Diallon between two pro-French almamys, to 1913 when direct economic and political administration became a reality, French influence slowly permeated the community through the schools, the French language and culture. The result was that the kingdom lost its sovereignty; the Foula social system became more western oriented; a few Foula allied themselves with the French for privileged or protected status; European products, money, and techniques increasingly were accepted and the Foula were forced to obtain European jobs. Consequently, the pre-colonial social and political changes taking place in the Muslim Foula system were restricted by French colonial rule.

French techniques of control were similar to those employed by the Muslim Foula: military conquest; division of the region and the appointment of loyal district and provincial officials responsible to a strong central authority; and taxation. Moreover, both the Foula and French made direct attempts to influence social and economic institutions and beliefs: chieftaincy, education, class structure, judiciary, agriculture, trade, and land ownership. The Foula techniques solidified a kingdom; the French, a protectorate.

The French, however, did not succeed in eradicating the influence of the Foula. The Foula heritage had been deeply entrenched over about 200 years and drew sustenance from a long and glorious past with which the inhabitants of Fouta-Diallon identified. The essential unity of Fouta-Diallon, therefore, was another Muslim Foula contribution.