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

  • Introduction
  • Article Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Case and Countrywide Studies
  • Social Stratification and Political Hierarchy
  • Indigenous Cosmology and Religion
  • Islamic Religiosity
  • Ethnopsychology
  • Gender
  • Pastoral Economy
  • Interethnic Relations
  • Contemporary Mobility, Identity and Urbanization
  • Pastoral Aesthetics and Visual Art Forms
  • Fulfulde/Pulaar Grammars and Dictionaries
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African Studies Fulani
Tea Virtanen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0163


The Fulani—also known as Fulbe, Fula and Peul—constitute one of the largest and most widely spread ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, living in some twenty African countries from Senegal to Sudan. They speak the Fulani language called Pulaar or Fulfulde, and are known for their pastoral traditions, although in the course of their long migration from the Senegal Basin eastwards after the 10th century many have given up pastoralism and the nomadic way of life and shifted to agriculture or various urban sources of livelihood. In many areas, the pastoral or cattle Fulani—called Fulbe ladde or Fulbe na’i and comprising such subgroups as Mbororo and WoDaaBe—still form a distinct group keen on preserving their indigenous traditions. These include a mobile pastoral way of life and an endogamic marriage system, as well as the Fulani behavior code (pulaaku) emphasizing reserve, fortitude, and forethought. Conversely, the sedentarized town Fulani—called Fulbe wuro or Fulbe siire—have a long history of intermarrying with surrounding groups and adopting traditions and social systems foreign to their own. Due to this intermixing it is often difficult to draw strict lines between the Fulani and related groups. The Tukulor, a farming and fishing people of Senegal, speak Pulaar and partly claim a Fulani ancestry. The Hausa-Fulani live in northern Nigeria, where the Fulani and the Hausa have intermarried for centuries, sharing the Hausa language and customs. There are also other subgroups such as the sheep herding Fulani (Fulbe mbalu), as well as professional groups such as wood carvers (Fulbe laube) and smiths (Fulbe wailbe). The Fulani are predominantly Muslims. Even though there are big intergroup differences in terms of devotion, Islam is one of their major ethnic boundary markers. Their fame as fervent Muslims dates back to their leading role in the 17th–19th century Muslim jihads in West Africa. Although the jihad-driven political and military might of the Fulani Muslim states is history, the Fulani still have a large influence in West/Central Africa. The town Fulani belong to the traditional power elite in many localities, and hold high clerical and administrative posts in Islamic brotherhoods and traditional sultanates. Many have also succeeded in obtaining high positions in national politics. Contrary to that, the cattle-raising Fulani have often remained politically and culturally marginalized, and some have searched for support from international human rights organizations, especially within the global indigenous movement.


Due to the vital role of the Fulani in West African history, there are plenty of references to their involvement in the region’s historical periods. One widely debated subject is the origin of the Fulani, which has generated highly imaginative theories of their migration history. Another broadly discussed theme is their 17th–19th century jihads and the ensuing Fulani Muslim states.

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