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Futa Jallon / Peul Theocracy

The Futa or Foulas was a large and warlike nation which extended its conquests to the Niger, where they were known as the Peuhls. In religion they were Mohammedans, and some of their priests were excellent Arabic scholars. Their occupations were chiefly those of herdsmen, agriculturists, hunters, and warriors. But what struck the European traveller first was their fair complexion. When young they were even Caucasian-looking; but by the time they have reached mature years the ordinary expressions appeared, in spite of thinner lips and a nose less flattened than usually found on the west side of the African watershed. In manners and a certain polish they were agreeably distinguished from most of the people with whom the Europeans had hitherto come in contact.

The Peul aristocracy of the Fouta Djallon largely collaborated with the French colonial administration. In return their social system was left comparatively untouched, although certain chiefs were replaced. Serfdom, which was the economic base, persisted to the eve of independence. Many serfs departed to work on southern plantations or in the cities in Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Thus labor became the main export of the Fouta Djallon. Serfs also performed military service in World War II and sent money home to their families. Later, as veterans, they drew pensions and were able to acquire cattle, which had hitherto been a prerogative of free Peul.

The Fulbe came from Senegal in the sixteenth century and subjugated the natives. Incorporated into the Atlantic trade, Futa Jallon witnesswed a great economic and social revolution which resulted in the Muslim revolution in the early 18th Century. The 1725 revolution resulted in the theocratic of the Marabout party. Militant Islam emerged as the ideology for the construction of a new cultural, economic and political order. Futa Jallon is a mountainous region in West Africa, later a part of French Guinea, and bordered by Senegal on the north and Portuguese Guinea on the west.

The plateau areas of the Fouta Djallon had long offered attractive grazing land for the nomadic Peul pastoralist, and during the early centuries of the second millennium AD some Peul groups migrated to this region. The historical importance of the Peul in Guinean history dates, however, only from the seventeenth century, when considerable numbers arrived in the Fouta Djallon from Macma (Massina), a state in the upper Niger River basin.

The Peul newcomers, then only nominally Muslims, were accompanied by devout religious teachers. By about 1725 the teachers had converted the Peul into strong believers, as well as converting some of the surrounding Dialonké, a branch of the Soussou. In that year a jihad was launched under the cleric Ibrahim Musa against other nonbelievers.

Despite early successes the jihad was at the point of failure when Ibrahim Musa died in 1751. He was succeeded by Ibrahim Son, a secular military leader, who managed finally to establish firm Peul control over the Fouta Djallon and some surrounding territory in the latter 1770s.

A theocratic governmental system was instituted by the Peul under which the state, divided into semiautonomous provinces, was ruled by a Muslim aristocracy under an almamy (a military, religious, and spiritual leader) chosen by a select body of clerics and acclaimed by a general assembly of free Peul. Son's early dictatorial attitude when war leader had caused concern and led to selection of a descendant of Ibrahim Musa as almamy. After Son's victories in the 1760s, however, he ruled jointly with Ibrahim Musa until his death in 1784. The system of having joint almamy was then continued, and a sometimes bloody struggle ensued between the two groups of descendants until agreement was reached in 1837 for each almamy to rule for two years alternately. Refusal to hand over power resulted from time to time in further dissension, however, and this situation was not finally resolved until the French seized control of the Fouta Djallon in 1896 and a pro-French alnuimy was elected in the following year.

Although not particularly strong militarily, the Peul theocratic state substantially influenced some of the peoples around it. The practice of government based on Islamic legal and ethical principles offered reassurances that law and justice would be relatively uniformly applied. This tended to encourage trade through the Fouta Djallon, which appears to have become a crossroads for traffic between the forest zone and the savanna.

The Foulahs were said to have come originally from the Oasis of Tauat and the south of Morocco, where, in the seventh century, they were, as they were still, cattle breeders and hunters, and the preponderance of evidence is in favor of their being a Negro people, on which have been engrafted Arabic blood and religion. Their greater civilisation was to a large extent due to their contact with the Kadshaga, the original inhabitants of the former kingdom of Ghana, for from them they learned the cultivation of rice and cotton.

The “Toucouleurs,” as the French sometimes called them, were also the inhabitants of Futa-Jallon, which had been the scene of occasional rivalry between the English and French, who were both striving for what little trade it had to bestow on the favored nation. Ivory and gold in small quantities were obtained by barter from the people living to the north and east of them; but with the exception of weaving cotton into narrow strips of cloth, called pagus, there was no textile industry in Futa-Jallon or any of the countries along the River Gambia. In one or two places the smelting of iron was practised, but only on a very small scale, and the few native blacksmiths confined their labors to the fashioning of rude knives, arrow-heads, and hoes for agricultural purposes.

Timbo, capital of Futa-Jallon, lay 2,560 feet above sea-level in a hilly district encircled by the semicircular valley of the Bafing and traversed from south to north by one of its head streams. This royal capital is not a large place, consisting only of some groups of cone-shaped huts half buried in verdure at the foot of two neighbouring hills. The descendants of the original founders, who came from Massina less than two centuries ago, have alone the right to reside in Timbo, where, however, they spent the dry season only.

Fugumba, the holy city of Futa-Jallon, a group of a thousand huts some 30 miles north-west of Timbo in the valley of the Téné, which flows either to the Bafing or to the Falémé, is so embowered in trees that none of the surrounding heights command a complete view of the place. Here the conquering Fulahs erected the first mosque in this region, a lofty conic structure, in which each new sovereign came to be consecrated king of Futa-Jallon. The most learned commentators of the Koran pursue their studies in Fugumba, north of which follow, on the Bambak route, some other large places.

Futa Jallon - Social Structure

Some ethnic groups developed social and political units beyond the village level. An outstanding example are the Peul of Upper Guinea, who created complex social structures on a large scale based on domination of the area's more simply organized peoples. This domination assumed various forms. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries some conquered people were assimilated and absorbed; others were enslaved. A highly stratified feudal society evolved in which Peul overlords frequently claimed both the land and the cultivators. In this society four main social strata existed. There were chiefs and their patrilineal kinsmen, free Peul, Peul of the bush, and serfs.

Chiefs ruled in conjunction with the elders of the free lineages, whose members were descendants of those who had chosen to fight in the jihad. The free lineages supplied the chiefs for the misside (a village or cluster of villages with a mosque). Misside chiefs were concerned with marriage, divorce, inheritance, distribution of land, and the recruitment of men for the jihad. Their decisions were made with the help of lineage elders and the judges of the mosque. The Peul of the bush were descendants of those who either had not participated in religious campaigns or had actively hindered them. Consequently they were forced to pay tribute and, when they died, a fairly substantial part of their property (cattle, land, or gold) was given to the misside chief.

Serfs were descendants of earlier non-Peul inhabitants of the Fouta Djallon, such as the Dialonké and Soussou. Their numbers steadily increased with the acquisition of prisoners of war. The proportion of serfs in the Fouta Djallon, who had constituted about one-half of the population in the beginning of the twentieth century, remained until independence at about one-third. Serfs lived in their own villages, which did not have a mosque. They were economically self-sufficient, cultivating fields and gardens that had been put at their disposal by their masters. In return they worked five days each week on their masters' fields and gave him 10 percent of their own harvest, except maize (corn).

The Fulah state itself was divided into two rival factions analogous to the sofs of the Berber tribes. They were the Sorya and Alfaya, who took their rise after the conquest, when the first king abdicated in favor of a cousin, thus creating two royal dynasties, each with its champions and followers. To prevent the disintegration of the state it was ultimately arranged, after many sanguinary conflicts, that the two houses should henceforth reign alternately. But no important decision was come to without consulting the king for the time being out of office. On the other hand, the members of the national council were immovable, and their president scarcely yielded in authority to the almaneys, or kings, themselves. At each change of party the provincial chiefs had to renew their homage to the titular sovereign. So natural did this division into two factions appear to the Fulahs that they group foreign nations in the same way, calling the French Sorya and the English Alfaya.

But the true rulers were the families of the notables, who on all serious occasions met in council, and communicated their decision to the almaney. Nor were the Fulahs in other respects a difficult people to govern. So great was the universal respect for the laws, that the accused when ordered by their judges proceed to the place of appeal without escort, even at the peril of their lives. Ordinary theft was punished with the lash; more serious offences against property with the loss of the hand, then of the second hand and the feet, at each relapse successively. Assassins and even incorrigible drunkards were condemned to death, the criminals digging their own grave and lying down in it to see that it is of the required length.

If the king was about to vacate the throne, by reason of the expiration of his tenure of office, before he did so he made war on some neighboring tribe, which, if successful, brought glory to his name and gold to his coffers. This latter acquisition was the chief reason of nearly all our African wars, their real object being that of pillage and the possession of slaves.

Futa Jallon Under the French

The coast of French Guinea was known to Portuguese explorers at an early date. In the first part of the seventeenth century French merchants began trading in parts of the country, and in 1685 the Compagnie de Guinée obtained from Louis XIV exclusive commercial privileges for a large part of the west African coast, and the region was embraced in a general way in the French “pacte colonial.” The littoral portion, called Rivières du Sud, was taken possession of outright by France during the period from 1854 to 1869. The French, in 1884–85, obtained a footing in Bure and forced the Almani rulers of Futa Jallon and neighboring districts on the east to a treaty of peace in 1887. A stubborn contest was next undertaken with Samori and his newly founded Kingdom of Wassulu, on the southern head streams of the Niger, northeast of Liberia.

Some of the Fula kings even had cordial relations with the British. In 1881 the French, through a representative of the French administration in Senegambia, first concluded a treaty of peace with the Almami rulers of Futa-Jallon. In 1882, the king of Futa Jallon, Jalakoto, and Timbo signed peace treaties with the British. The defeat and conquest by the Fulas, the territories of Jimara, Tomana, Pata, Kamako, Yega and Fambanta experienced the migration of popular clerics. In February, 1891, at Kankan, on the Milo, he was defeated and driven out of Bissandugu, Sanakoro, and Keruane, and his followers, the Sofa, were scattered. In 1899 that part of the Sudan which contained the upper Niger districts was added to the Guinea Colony. It was not, however, until 1893 that a French protectorate was established, and a firm footing secured in connection with the Government of French Guinea.

The colony French Guinea included the region of Futa Jallon, the circle of Dinguiray in the middle of the colony, and in the east the circles of Siguiri, Kurussa, Kankan, Kissidugu, and Beyla. Part of the eastern boundary was formed by the river Sankarani. The estimated area was 239,000 square kilometers (92.278 square miles).

The coastal zone reached inland to a line varying from 25 to 60 miles from the sea, and is succeeded by a series of abrupt terraces, which were believed to mark the ancient seacoast. Some of the rivers which descend from the mountains of Futa Jallon spread out, upon reaching the coastal zone, into numerous branches forming a sort of network of canals. The alluvial soil of the region is particularly fertile and carries a luxuriant vegetation. Sandy plateaus upon a granite substratum stretch eastward to the mountainous region of Futa Jallon, in which were the water partings of the Senegal, Gambia, and Niger rivers. The eastern circles, attached to the colony in 1899, were lower and less rugged.

In French Guinea, rubber, palm kernels, and gums were gathered, and the cultivated crops include millet, rice, sesame, manioc, etc. Cattle raising is practiced on a large scale by the Fulah of Futa Jallon. Native manufactures included apparel, rush mats, pottery, dressed leather, weapons, and jewelry. Total imports and exports increased from 12,442,000 and 10,088,000 francs respectively in 1900 to 29,563,000 and 18,306,000 in 1910 and 19,274,000 and 20,058,000 in 1912. The principal export was rubber.

Futa-Jallon was divided into four administrative circles by the French in 1902, each circle being under the French commandant of the region. At the head of the native government were the princes, called Almami, of the two leading ancient families. Each prince rules for two years, and his powers were subject to the action of an assembly of nobles. The crowning of the Almami took place amid great festivities in the university town of Fugumba, in the oldest mosque in the land. The capital was Timbo, a village of 1500 inhabitants, and interesting for its palaces. Tuba is the largest city. Labé, also, is important, and Sokokoro was in a charming locality. The population of Futa-Jallon was given as about 600,000, mostly Fulbe.

The natives comprised several more or less mixed groups, the most numerous of which was the Fulah. The Fulah of French Guinea were descended from pastoral nomads who came to Futa Jallon towards the end of the sixteenth century. They were good herdsmen, but disdain agriculture. They were fervent propagandists of Islam and were socially organized under a head (almamy) exercising spiritual and limited temporal power. The Susu, or Jallonke, were generally supposed to have been driven out of Futa Jallon by the Fulah. They now dwell principally in the region between Futa Jallon and the coast. For the most part they were fetishistic, though sometimes classified as Mohammedan; Islam is making rapid progress among them. They numbered about 315,000.

The Malinke occupy the colony from Futa Jallon eastward. They showed marked aptitude for agriculture and commerce. Though largely Mohammedan, they were still given to fetishistic practices. Grouped with the Malinke were the warlike Coniagui and the Bassari, both fetishistic tribes, who dwelled in the northwest of the colony near the borders of Senegal and Portuguese Guinea. The Timene, in the southwest, were said by the French to be mainly fetishistic, quarrelsome, and degraded.

Allied to the Timene were the Landuman and the Baga, of the northwest coastal region. The Landuman were fetishistic, drunken, and degraded and seemed likely to perish. The Baga were said to be mild in disposition, but drunken; an official French report said that their ears were set near the top of the head. The Toma, allied to the Malinke, dwelled along the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone. They were fetishists, as also were their neighbors, the Kissien; the latter were said to be timid, of small stature, and agricultural.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:10:55 ZULU