FULA (Fulbe, Fellatah or Peuls), a numerous and powerful African people, spread over an immense region from Senegal nearly to Darfur. Strictly they have no country of their own, and nowhere form the whole of the population, though nearly always the dominant native race. They are most numerous in Upper Senegal and in the countries under French sway immediately south of Senegambia, notably Futa Jallon. Farther east they rule, subject to the control of the French, Segu and Massena, countries on both banks of the upper Niger, to the south-west of Timbuktu. The districts within the great bend of the Niger have a large Fula population. East of that river Sokoto and its tributary emirates are ruled by Fula princes, subject to the control of the British Nigerian administration. Fula are settled in Bornu, Bagirmi, Wadai and the upper Nile Valley, but have no political power in those countries. Their most southerly emirate is Adamawa, the country on both sides of the upper Benue. In this vast region of distribution the Fula populations are most dense towards the west and north, most scattered towards the east and south. Originally herdsmen in the western and central Sudan, they extended their sway east of the Niger, under the leadership of Othman Dan Fodio, during the early years of the 19th century, and having subdued the Hausa states, founded the empire of Sokoto with the vassal emirates of Kano, Gando, Nupe, Adamawa, &c.
The question of the ethnic affinities of the Fula has given rise to an enormous amount of speculation, but the most reasonable theory is that they are a mixture of Berber and Negro. This is now the most generally accepted theory. Certainly there is no reason to connect them with the ancient Egyptians. In the district of Senegal known as Fuladugu or “Fula Land,” where the purest types of the race are found, the people are of a reddish brown or light chestnut colour, with oval faces, ringlety or even smooth hair, never woolly, straight and even aquiline noses, delicately shaped lips and regular features quite differentiating them from the Negro type. Like most conquering races the Fula are, however, not of uniform physique, in many districts approximating to the local type. They nevertheless maintain throughout their widespread territory a certain national solidarity, thanks to common speech, traditions and usages. The ruling caste of the Fula differs widely in character from the herdsmen of the western Sudan. The latter are peaceable, inoffensive and abstemious. They are mainly monogamous, and by rigidly abstaining from foreign marriages have preserved racial purity. The ruling caste in Nigeria, on the other hand, despise their pastoral brethren, and through generations of polygamy with the conquered tribes have become more Negroid in type, black, burly and coarse featured. Love of luxury, pomp and finery is their chief characteristic. Taken as a whole, the Fula race is distinguished by great intelligence, frankness of disposition and strength of character. As soldiers they are renowned almost exclusively as cavalry; and the race has produced several leaders possessed of much strategical skill. Besides the ordinary Negro weapons, they use iron spears with leatherbound handles and swords. They are generally excellent rulers, stern but patient and just. The Nigerian emirs acquired, however, an evil reputation during the 19th century as slave raiders. They have long been devout Mahommedans, and mosques and schools exist in almost all their towns. Tradition says that of old every Fula boy and girl was a scholar; but during the decadence of their power towards the close of the 19th century education was not highly valued. Power seems to have somewhat spoilt this virile race, but such authorities as Sir Frederick Lugard believe them still capable of a great future.
The Fula language has as yet found no place in any African linguistic family. In its rudiments it is akin to the Hamito-Semitic group. It possesses two grammatical genders, not masculine and feminine, but the human and the non-human; the adjective agrees in assonance with its noun, and euphony plays a great part in verbal and nominal inflections. In some ways resembling the Negro dialects, it betrays non-Negroid influences in the use of suffixes. The name of the people has many variations. Fulbe or Fula (sing. Pullo, Peul) is the Mandingan name, Follani the Hausa, Fellatah the Kanuri, Fullan the Arab, and Fulde on the Benue. Like the name Abate, “white,” given them in Kororofa, all these seem to refer to their light reddish hue.
See F. Ratzel, History of Mankind (English ed., London, 1896–1898); Sir F. Lugard, “Northern Nigeria,” in Geographical Journal (July 1904); Grimal de Guirodon, Les Puls (1887); E. A. Brackenbury, A Short Vocabulary of the Fulani Language (Zungeru, 1907); the articles Nigeria and Sokoto and authorities there cited.
- Sir Wm. Wallace in a report on Northern Nigeria (“Colonial Office” series, No. 551, 1907) calls attention to the exodus “of thousands of Fulani of all sorts, but mostly Mellawa, from the French Middle Niger,” and states that the majority of the emigrants are settling in the Nile valley.