The Fulbe

(Nigeria and Cameroon)


The ethnic name ‘Fulbe’ is the plural of ‘Pullo’, and the autonym for the Fulbe people as an ethnic group. ‘Pullo’ (Peul in French) is singular referring to ‘one Fulbe’ person (Barreteau 1984:172). The Fulbe often choose their clan names in relation to the name of an ethnic group or a place name close to them (Boulet at al 1984:126ff). For example the ‘Badaway’, which is the Kanuri word ‘nomade’, or ‘Sawa’ for the river Sava. The most frequent Fulbe clans in the area are the Yllaga, Wollarbe, Fereoobe, Ngara, Tara, Maoudi, Sava, Djenne and Djafoun. There are other Fulbe clans, but the largest ones are the Yllaga, Wollarbe, and Fereoobe. For the Northern Mandaras the Yllaga and the Fereoobe are the most important Fulbe clans (ibid). The montagnards of the Gwoza Hills refer to the Fulbe of Madagali as ‘Plata/Pelata’.


Mohammadou (1981:234f) gives a map of the historical migration of the ‘Peul’ (Fulbe) between the Yedseram river in the west, the Logone river in the east, and the Benoue river in the south of the Mandara mountains. The Yllaga migrated from Bornu up the Yedseram valley leaving the Northern Mandaras to their left, and they eventually founded Madagali. The Fereoobe migrated in southeasterly direction, leaving the Northern Mandaras to their right and eventually arrived in the plain of Maroua (Diamare). With regard to the Northern Mandaras, the Mayo Louti can be seen as a boundary between the Yllaga and the Fereoobe, with Gawar and Zamay as their main centres (Mohammadou 1988). However, historically, it was the Yllaga clan who first managed to access the Plateau of Mokolo, coming from Madagali. Still today the two main centre towns of those Fulbe who have historical links with the ethnic groups of the Northern Mandaras are Maroua and Madagali.


Boulet et al (1984:116f) counts 12,000 Fulbe in Maroua Town, but 59,200 in the arrondissement Maroua. In the arrondissements Mora 1,900 Fulbe; arrondissement Koza 700 Fulbe; arrondissement Meri 4,600 Fulbe; arrondissement Mokolo 6,200 Fulbe, and arrondissemetn Meri 4,600. Hallaire (1991:26) counts for Mokolo town and Mokolo land, and for Zamay (southeast of Mokolo) about 14,209 Fulbe. We can conclude from these figures that most Fulbe of the Northern Mandaras are found between Mokolo, Zamay and Gawar.


Unlike Chadic (Afroasiatic), fulfulde is a west-atlantic language (Niger-Kordofan). Barreteau (1984:172) informs us that ‘fulfulde’ is the name the Fulbe themselves call their language, while the English speak of ‘fulani’, and the French of ‘peul’. The most common fulfulde spoken in Cameroon is that of the area of Maroua. The fulfulde spoken in Madagali is the dialect of Adamawa.


Boulet et al (1984:126) explain that the Fulbe Yllaga (Fulbe of Madagali) have an historical reputation as a warrior clan, whereas the Fulbe Fereoobe (Fulbe of Maroua) have an historical reputation as a clan of diplomats. However, these ethnic labels might only apply for the time after the ‘Djihad’, launched by Usmanu of Sokoto in 1805. Modibbo Adama, was the most successful Fulbe Yllaga during the Djihad. The geograhical name Adamawa is derived from his name (Strumpell 1912). Nomadic Fulbe lived in peaceful contact with the Margi in the west and the Gisiga in the east of the Northern Mandaras already from the 16th century onwards. From 1805 onwards it was the Fulbe Yllaga who founded the first great lamidats. It was also the Fulbe Yllaga who, coming from Madagali, reached, around 1830, the plateau of Mokolo. Fighting the montagnards, especially the ‘Matakam’, for over 5o years, they were defeated by the montagnards of Cuvok (see page Bulahay groups) in 1895 (Mohammadou 1981:238ff). The Fereoobe arrived in the plain of Diamare around 1760 where they cohabitated with the Gisiga Marva and some Mofu groups. With the beginning of the Djihad they conquered Maroua in 1809. The Fulbe of Madagali as well as the Fulbe of Maroua fought wars against the Mandara till the beginning of colonial times (Mohammadou 1988:240-244).


Main author on the history of the Fulbe in the region is Mohammadou (1976, 1981, 1982. 1988, 1994). Barth, Passarge, but especially Strumpell’s study of the history of ‘Adamaua’ from 1912, are very important sources. Important recent studies on Adamawa are Braukamper (1970), Kirk-Greene (1969), and Njeuma (1973, 1978).