webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

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

5. Sample Interviews

These sample interviews were recorded during the course of the discussions. As far as possible the writer has reproduced them just as they occurred. An interpreter, Yousoufou Issifou, was used for the first interview in which the interviewee spoke only Foula. The second interview was conducted in French, and the third one in English. No interpreter was used for either of the latter two. In each case the questioner (Q) was the writer, and the responder (R), the interviewee.

1. Diallo Abdoul: ex-Foula griot,
February 19, 1961

Q. Sir, I have been told that you are a Foula historian and that you can help me learn something about Foula history. I am an American who teaches African history in the United States. Since we are both historians, perhaps we can learn about each other's country.
R. I know. You teach English at the Lycée. If you really want to learn about the Foula, I can help you. But my history is not like yours. I have the gift of telling history. I have a good mind like all of my family, and there is no need for us to write it. My family has kept Foula history for many years, What do you want to know?
Q. First, why did the Foula come to Fouta-Diallon?
R. That is simple. First, the Foula came from Senegal where they were herders. A pious marabout Abouda Daye, had four sons: Diallo, Bah, Sow, Barry—and one began to speak an unknown language which he taught to the others. Since their father was a Muslim, they became Muslims and carried the religion to Masina, Fouta-Diallon, and other areas in West Africa.
Fouta-Diallon was chosen by Diallo because of its attractive pastures. The Foula settled among the Baga, Landouma, and Diallonke, who were small farmers. Later, the small groups of Foula were organized into a confederation under Koli, a great Foula chief.
Many Foula from Masina began their migration when the king would not allow them to practice Islam and to use the pasture land. Some of these Foula settled in Fouta-Diallon among the Baga, Landouma, and Diallonké, and practiced their religion privately.
Q. How were the Foula able to organize and get control over the whole of Fouta?
R. By the time of Karamoko Alfa there were many Foula Muslims organized in small villages under a marabout or karamko. When Karamoko Alfa and eight other karamokos called for a holy war, all Muslims participated. The Baga, Landouma, and Diallonké, who had begun to resist the increased number of Foula, were unable to withstand the, Foula attack. The Foula were better organized and had the support of Allah.
Q. How was unity established among the Foula?
R. I think Islam was the important factor. Of course, their common origin and language helped. But some Foula were not Muslims and did not participate. A few Foula today are not Muslims.
Q. What about the desire for land? Was this important?
R. As I said about the early Foula, the pastures here were attractive. That did not change, and they probably wanted to control the land. But religion was the main thing.

2. Diallo Tidjiani: primary school principal
Labé, April 2, 1961

Q. Who were the great Foula chiefs and why were they, great?
R. The Foula had many great chiefs. You know Karamoko Alfa who organized the country and led the war to make everyone Muslim. Ibrahima Sori was the greatest military chief who finished the war. He defeated Condé Bourama, and made the country strong. When Oumar was chief over Fouta-Diallon he won many wars for Islam. He also introduced cotton cultivation in the country. Alfa Yaya was the greatest chief of all. He converted many people and established many schools for the Muslims. But what made him the greatest chief was his courage to stand up to the French.
Q. How much support did Alfa Yaya have?
R. Many people supported him. There were some chiefs who wanted his position and were jealous of his military ability. But almost everyone supported him.
Q. Is it true that he helped the French conquer Fouta?
R. Not at all. The French tricked him. While he fought Boubakar, the French promised him some support. When they tried to take control, Alfa Yaya organized an army. But he did not have many weapons; and some of his rivals helped the French to overthrow him.

3. Ahmadou Camara: Malinké, tax collector,
Labé, May 7, 1961

Q. What do you think of Alfa Yaya?
R. He was a great chief. You know the Alfa Yaya song? It was written by the Malinke, who were once slaves of the Foula. We do not like that. But they wrote the song about Alfa Yaya. This means that the Malinké respected him.
Q. Was he as great as Samory Touré?
R. I am a Malinké. Touré was great for Sudan and Alfa Yaya for Fouta-Diallon. Both of them were great for Guinea. But Samory fought the French for a longer time and controlled a larger region than Alfa Yaya.
Q. When was the Alfa Yaya song written?
R. After he was arrested.
Q. The first or second arrest?
R. Shortly after his arrest.

4. Muhammed Cherif: Foula businessman and son of a karamoko
Labé, January 4, 1962

Q. How do the Foula assess their role in the history of Fouta-Diallon and the Republic of Guinea?
R. First, the Foula brought the Muslim religion and its culture to the country. This eventually, very slowly, was accepted by all the people of Fouta-Diallon. The Foula also helped to spread the religion throughout Guinea and into parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Therefore, the Foula's influence covered a wide area of West Africa.
Also, the Foula descended from Arabs. The nine karamokos at Pita were descendants of Arabs. My grandfather was an Arab and my grandmother was Foula. Foula history is connected with the history of the Arabs and, through the Foula, other groups have a relationship with Arabic and Islamic culture.
You know about Alfa Yaya. I have talked to you about him before and about the song honoring him. He was the greatest Foula chief. He resisted the French in Fouta-Diallon and was therefore resisting French control in Guinea.
All of these factors show the Foula contribution to the history of Fouta-Diallon and to Guinea.
Q. Do the Sousou and Malinké accept this explanation?
R. Maybe not everyone. But most do. It is in their legend and has been passed on by their griots. The Alfa Yaya poem is an example.