Tassili n'Ajjer rock art The earliest evidence that shed some light on the pre-historic Fulani culture can be found in the Tassili n'Ajjer rock art, which seem to depict the early life of the people dating back to BCE. Examination of these rock paintings suggests the presence of proto-Fulani cultural traits in the region by at least the 4th millennium BCE. At the Tin Tazarift site, for instance, historian Amadou Hampate Ba recognized a scene of the 'lotori' ceremony, a celebration of the ox's aquatic origin.
In a finger motif, Ba detected an allusion to the myth of the hand of the first Fulani herdsman, Kikala. At Tin Felki, Ba recognized a hexagonal carnelian jewel as related to the Agades cross, a fertility charm still used by Fulani women. There are also details in the paintings which correspond to elements from Fulani myths taught during the initiation rites like the hermaphroditic cow. The female figure even has a hanging braid of hair to the back. Though no exact dates have been established for the paintings they are undoubtedly much earlier than the historic times when the Fulani were first noticed in Western Sahara.
The Fulani were cattle-keeping farmers who shared their lands with other nearby groups, like the Soninke, who contributed to the rise of ancient Ghana. While the initial expansionist groups were small, they soon increased in size due to the availability of grazing lands in the sahel and the lands that bordered it to the immediate south.
Fulani towns were a direct result of a nomadic heritage, and were often founded by individuals who had simply chosen to settle in a given area instead of continue on their way. This cultural interaction most probably occurred in Senegal , where the closely linguistically related Toucouleur, Serer and Wolof people predominate, ultimately leading to the ethnogenesis of the Fulani culture, language and people before subsequent expansion throughout much of West Africa.
Another version is that they were originally a Berber speaking people who crossed the Senegal to pasture their cattle on the Ferlo Desert south of the Senegal River.
Finding themselves cut off from their kinsmen by the other communities now occupying the fertile Senegal valley, they gradually adopted the language of their new neighbours. As their herds increased, small groups found themselves forced to move eastward and further southwards and so initiated a series of migrations throughout West Africa, which endures to the present day.
Delafosse, one of the earliest enquirers into Fulani history and customs, principally relying on oral tradition, estimated that Fulani migrants left Fuuta-Tooro, and Macina, towards the east, between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries. Their presence in Baghirmi was later recorded when Fulani fought as allies, to Dokkenge or Birni Besif, when he founded Massenya a Chadian town , early in the 16th century.
By the end of the 18th century Fulani settlements were dotted all over the Benue River valley and its tributaries. They spread eastwards towards Garoua and Rey Bouba , and southwards towards the Faro River , to the foot of the Mambilla Plateau , which they would later ascend in subsequent years. The heaviest concentrations of their settlements were at Gurin, Chamba territory, Cheboa, Turua and Bundang. These so-called "Benue-Fulani" reduced the frequency with which they moved from place to place.
The number of years they stayed at one spot depended on two factors: According to David Levison, adopting Islam made the Fulani feel a "cultural and religious superiority to surrounding peoples, and that adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker" between them and other African ethnic groups in Sahel and West Africa.
In , Askia Muhammad led the Fulani people from western Sudan, and over time gained control of much that was previously Songhai empire, removing Sonni Baru who had attempted to protect the interests of pastoralists. The Fula people led many jihads, or holy wars, some of which were major. Futa Bundu, sometimes called Bondu and located in Senegal and Faleme rivers confluence, became a center for the rise of West Africa-wide Fula empire and influence in 17th century. From the 18th century onwards, the frequency of Jihads increased such as those led by Ibrahim Sori and Karamoko Ali in , the Fulani became a hegemonic force and were politically dominant in many areas.
The Moroccans invaded western Sahel adding to an anarchical situation. Food production plummeted, and during this periods famines plagued the region, negatively affecting the political situation and increasing the trigger for militant control of the economic activity.
Imamate of Futa Jallon[ edit ] Main article: The first ruler took the title of Almaami and resided in Timbo , near the modern-day town of Mamou. The town became the political capital of the newly formed Immamate, with the religious capital was located in Fugumba.
The newly formed imamate was mostly located mainly in present-day Guinea, but also spanned parts of modern-day Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. This emirate was, in fact, a federal state of nine provinces: Later, due to strife between two branches of the Seediayanke royal lineage, the Soriya and the Alphaya ,  a system for the rotation of office between these branches was set up.
This led to an almost permanent state of civil strife, since none of the parties was inclined to respect the system, which considerably weakened the power of the political centre. The Empire of Massina[ edit ] Main article: Massina Empire Fula people have helped formed several historic Islamic theocracies and led many Jihad states such as the 19th-century Masina.
This jihad was inspired by events in northern Nigeria where an important scholar of the time, Usman Dan Fodio, established an Islamic empire with Sokoto as its capital. However, due to internecine warfare they were never able to organize a countervailing force against the Bamana Kingdom. In , an Islamic cleric named Aamadu Hammadi Buubu united the Fulbe under the banner of Islam and fought a victorious battle against the Bamana and their allies.
He subsequently established his rule in the Inland Delta and the adjacent dry lands east and west of the delta. Despite its power and omnipresence, the hegemony of the emirate was constantly threatened. During the reign of Aamadu Aamadu, the grandson of Sheeku Aamadu, internal contradictions weakened the emirate until it became easy prey for the forces of the Futanke, which subsequently overthrew the Maasina Emirate, in Toucouleur Empire Many regard the Futanke or Toucouleur conquest of the western Sudan and central Mali as a reform movement.
The character of the Futanke Emirate was somewhat different, although its founding was related to the conquest of the Maasina Emirate and the Bamana Kingdoms of Segou and Kaarta in the aftermath of a movement for reform. Threatened by French colonial forces while at the same time being supplied with firearms by them, the Futanke staged a jihad to fight paganism and the competing Islamic brotherhood of the Tijannya.
Its founder, El Hadj Umar Tall an Islamic reformer originating from the Fuuta Tooro on the banks of the Senegal River, died fighting against rebels shortly after his forces defeated the Maasina Emirate. After El Hadj Umar's death, the emirate was divided into three states, each ruled by one of his sons. These three states had their capitals respectively in the towns of Nioro , Segou and Bandiagara.
A most important distinction was between noblemen free people and the non-free Rimmaibe or Maccube. The noblemen consisted of the ruling class of political overlords and Islamic clerics, as well as the pastoral Fulbe populations, who helped them come to power.
Together, they formed a group of vassals to the political elite, and were considered noblemen, although, in reality, their political influence was minimal.
The conquered populations were reduced to servitude or slavery and more slaves were captured in order to provide enough labour for the functioning of the economy. In addition, there were groups of bards, courtiers and artisans who occupied lower political and social positions.
The Sokoto Caliphate and its various emirates[ edit ] Main article: It was the largest, as well as the most well-organized, of the Fulani Jihad states. Throughout the 19th century, Sokoto was one of the largest and most powerful empires in West Africa until , when defeated by European colonial forces. The Sokoto Caliphate included several emirates, the largest of which was Adamawa , although the Kano Emirate was the most populated.
Others included, but are not limited to: While establishing their hegemony, the Fulbe defined a strict social hierarchy and imposed limitations on economic and trading activities, the purpose of which was to ensure a constant flow of tax revenue and commodities to the state apparatus and the standing army, especially for the cavalry. The freedom for pastoralists to move around was curtailed in order to ensure the smooth functioning of other production activities, such as cereal cultivation and, in the case of Maasina, of fishing activities.
There appears to be a considerable resistance to the forced acceptance of Islam by these emirates. For example, many nomadic Fulbe, predominantly Wodaabe fled northern Nigeria when their liberty was curtailed and they were forced to convert to Islam following the jihads instigated by Usman Dan Fodio from Sokoto. Conversion to Islam meant not only changing one's religion, but also submitting to rules dealing with every aspect of social, political and cultural life, intrusions with which many nomadic Fulbe were not comfortable.