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
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:
Futa 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 century.
A number of research versions exist as to the origins
of the Fula people. 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 one.
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
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.