People of Africa: Fulani

Fulani people

Primary language: Fulfulde (90% speakers)
Second language: Hausa
Third language: Tamajaq


People Name: Fulani
Primary Language: Fulfulde
Ethnologue Code: FUE
Dialects: Kano-Katsina-Bororro (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria), Bagirmi, Sokoto The Fulani people of West Africa are the largest nomadic group in the world.

Total People: 15 million Fulani with 100,000 Wodaabe
Urban Percent: 10% Fulani
Countries: Niger 1 million; Mali 1 million; Cameroon 700,000; Burkina Faso 500,000; Benin 230,000; Sudan 100,000; Togo 50,000; Central African Republic 25,000; Ghana 5,000; Nigeria 11 million. (Wodaabe: more than 40,000 in Niger and about 25,000 in Chad).

As a people group they actually contain a large number of people from diverse groups who were conquered and became a part of the Fulani through the spread of Muslim. The Fulani were able to take over much of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious force but also as a political and economical force. The Fulani are a very proud people, they are the missionaries of Islam and ended up conquering much of West Africa. The Fulani are primarily nomadic herders and traders. Through their nomadic lifestyle, they established numerous trade routes in West Africa. Many times the Fulani go to local marketers and interact with the people there getting news and spreading it through much of West Africa.

Fulani have a huge respect for beauty. Beauty is considered very important and one of the ways this is shown is through tattoos that are put all over the body. A distinguishing feature of a Fulani can be their lips, which are many times a blackish color from the use of Henna or tattooing done on the mouth.

Being brave and fearless are very important for the Fulani as is seen by their numerous weapons. One tradition is that when 2 boys reach coming of age they two boys hit each other with their staffs not showing any pain but instead laughing. Many have died in these ceremonies which are now against the law in many countries but continue to be practiced.

The Fulani normally raise large amounts of cattle and have therefore settled in large plain areas of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The Fulani hold to a strict caste system. The 4 caste subdivisions are the nobility, merchants, blacksmiths, and descendants of slaves of wealthy Fulani.

The most important object in Fulani society is cattle, and there are many names, traditions, and taboos concerning cattle. The number of cows a person owns is a sign of his wealth. This has caused significant conflict in recent months between the Fulani and other ethnic groups. The reason for this is that the cows will many times go into the fields and eat the grain of local farmers. With increasing numbers of other transportation being used the Fulani are at risk of losing their identity as nomads and are being forced to settle in farms and villages. This sometimes creates other problems, because the Fulani are very proud people of their unique culture and used to ruling over the other people.


Income: GDP US$280 (1991)
Occupations: While the men herd the cattle walking, the women ride with all their household belongings on the backs of donkeys. As well as fine cattle with huge horns, the Fulani have long legged sheep which have white hindquarters and black front half. The activities of the men vary with the seasons. They can have their brothers or sons replace them to take care of the cows. The women milk the cows, pound the millet, take care of the fire and look after the children.
Income sources: Cows (milk, meat, skins), traditional medicine. Some women earn money by braiding hair. Products: Curdled milk, butter.
Handcrafts: Beautifully decorated calabashes. Art forms: They are largely illiterate, but their culture abounds in rich proverbs, fables, myths and riddles, which subtly reflect the basic views and values.

Living Conditions/Community Development Status

Food: Their food is milk and very little else in the bush. They might also eat millet and tapioca. During feasts they will eat some meat and maybe some beans. No vegetables are eaten, in general. A problem is that the little money they have available for food is spent on tea instead of on nutritious food. Clothing: The man wears a tanned sheepskin around his hips, over this a black tunic. He also wears a turban. The married women do not cover their breasts for the 2 years after they have their first child. The young girls wrap a long piece of material around, made of woven strips sown together.


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