In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dyula

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Explorers’ Narratives

African Studies Dyula
Robert Launay
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0111


The name Dyula (also spelled Dioula, Jula, and Juula) has a number of distinct though interrelated meanings. In the first place, in Mande languages, the word Dyula refers specifically to a professional trader, especially one engaged in long-distance trade. More generally, the word refers to communities of Mande-speaking Muslims who settled along trade networks from Senegal to northern Ghana. Many such communities referred to themselves by other names, such as Maraka or Jakhanke, and specialized in Islamic scholarship as well as commerce. However, especially in parts of Burkina Faso and in northern Côte d’Ivoire Muslim Mande-speakers did identify themselves as Dyula, whether or not they were specifically engaged in trade. Côte d’Ivoire was home to the large trading towns of Kong, Bouna, and Bondoukou as well as smaller Dyula communities and was the center of the Dyula as an ethnic as opposed to simply a professional identity. More recently, the relative prosperity of southern Côte d’Ivoire in the colonial period and afterwards led to widespread migration from the north and from neighboring countries and led to the emergence of a new Dyula ethnicity, especially in urban areas. Civil conflict in Côte d’Ivoire over the past two decades has led to anti-Dyula xenophobia.

General Overviews

Because of the multiple meanings of the term “Dyula,” there is no comprehensive overview. Perinbam 1980 is an excellent short introduction to the topic. The introductory chapters in Person 1968–1975 provide a thorough review of Dyula history, including trade and Islamic networks. Meillassoux 1971 is an excellent anthology of articles on West African trading networks, including Dyula. Launay 1982 focuses on Dyula social organization in historical perspective, from the 19th century to the development of new forms of Dyula ethnicity in urban Côte d’Ivoire.

  • Launay, Robert. Traders without Trade: Responses to Change in Two Dyula Communities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558054

    A historically informed ethnography of two Dyula communities in northern Côte d’Ivoire, with a detailed analysis of social organization and its relation to trade and to Islam. The book considers the effects of political and economic change in the 20th century, including the development of new forms of urban ethnicity.

  • Meillassoux, Claude, ed. The Development of Indigenous Trade and Markets in West Africa: Studies Presented and Discussed at the Tenth International African Seminar at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, December 1969. London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute, 1971.

    An excellent anthology of articles on trade and traders in West Africa, both in the precolonial past and in the present. Helps to situate Dyula trade networks within a wider context.

  • Perinbam, B. Marie. “The Julas in Western Sudanese History: Long-Distance Traders and Developers of Resources.” In West African Culture Dynamics: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives. Edited by B. K. Swartz and Raymond E. Dumett, 455–475. Paris, The Hague, and New York: Mouton, 1980.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110800685

    A short overview of the role of the Dyula in West African history, focusing on migrations, trade in different commodities (gold, kola, textiles), Islam, and the politics of Dyula culture, particularly the centrality of the organization of a trade diaspora through the relationship between landlords and strangers.

  • Person, Yves. Samori: Une révolution dyula. 3 vols. Dakar, Senegal: Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire, 1968–1975.

    The first chapters situate the Dyula in terms of the geography and the diverse societies of the regions where they are situated and discuss trade and scholarly Islamic networks in detail. This is the best general introduction to the subject. The rest of the work is a detailed study of the career of the Dyula conqueror Samori. There is an important bibliography.

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