| The Fula or Peul,
Peulh, Fulbe as they are sometimes
better known by in other West African countries make up 18% of
the Gambia's total population & are the second largest ethnic
group. They are closely related to the Tukulor
and are traditionally herdsmen but later some groups entered the
occupations of farming,
trading and in more modern times are many are also heavily into
In West Africa there are over 9 dialects which was caused by their
nomadic lifestyles as often there settlements would be near other
villages such as the Mandinka
or Serahule and they would soon pick
up new words.
History & Origins:
Toro in north eastern Senegal is said to be the cradle and
original cultural homeland of the Fulani in Africa who began their
migrations into the rest of the Senegambia region in the 13th
A number of research versions exist as to the origins of the Fula
One hypothesis is that they were either Caucasians or Semites
who had crossed the Sahara and entered the West African region.
The other hypothesis is that they originated in the lower basins
of Senegal and the Gambia as a result inter-marriage between Saharan
Berbers and the Serer and Wolofs. This resulted in two distinct
racial groups of Fulani.
The Berber group are marked by their light brown skin, straighter
hair and noses as compared to the more typical features of their
neighbours such as the Wolof or Mandinka. This group kept with
the nomadic cattle rearing lifestyle and are know as the Bororoje.
The other group had more typical Negroid features and are known
as the Fulani Gidda who engaged
in farming or lived in towns and cities and entered trading.
By the 7th century the Fulas became a distinct people and were
among the first to embrace Islam
and later became very active proponents of the religion
in a determination to spread the religion through Jihad (holy
war) particularly by (Ousman) Othman Dan Fodio (born 1754) of
Hausaland in northern Nigeria.
The fact that they were nomadic cattle herders meant that over
time over population and over grazing led to migrations out of
their homeland of Futa Toro in search
of better pastures. Their dwellings tended to be simple round
mud huts with thatched roofs or made of cane covered in cow dung.
As they migrated they formed settlements some of which evolved
into states such as Futa Jalon and Macina in Guinea.
There are four general Fula groups in West Africa namely Peul
Futa from Futa Toro, those from the state of Bundu, those from
Futa Jalon in Guinea and those who came from the state of Firdu
which was part of the Kaabu Empire. The people that migrated to
The Gambia came from Futa Toro and
Futa Bundu in Senegal and were non-Muslim pastoralists who asked
permission from the Mandinka Mansas and Wolofs to graze
their cattle on whose states they entered usually with an agreement
to pay taxes and / or look after the cattle of their new
landlords in return for protection from hostile natives. Other
groups from Guinea Conakry, Kaja in Senegal and Mali also migrated
into Gambia. They lived in communities in the main Mandinka towns
and sometimes a Mandinka village would over time turn into a Fula
In the 19th century their main settlements in Gambia were in Jimara,
Wuli, Tomana, Kantora and Niani located in the Upper River area.
As the migrations continued some decided to settle in towns and
villages. Some did inter-marry between the local indigenous groups
yet they firmly held onto their cultural heritage and traditions.
At the bottom of the social scale in their society were the slaves
who however, were very often brought into the family circle and
adopted the surnames of their owners.
The various Fulani states and empires that had emerged in the
19th century were eventually destroyed by the Europeans so much
so that by 1917 only the Fulladu Empire,
under Musa Molloh, had maintained
their independence but even this empire was soon broken up.
Other Ethnic Groups