The Fulani people of West Africa are the largest nomadic group in the world.
moving their households from one place to the next
As a people group they actually contain a large number of people from diverse groups who were conquered and became a part of the Fulani through the spread of Islam. The original Fulani however are of the North African or middle eastern origin and have lighter skin, thinner lips, and straighter hair. They are known as "white people" to many Africans. The first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars, they were able to take over much of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious force but also as a political and economical force. The Fulani are a very proud people, they are the missionaries of Islam and ended up conquering much of West Africa.
The Fulani are primarily nomadic herders and traders. Through their nomadic lifestyle, they established numerous trade routes in West Africa. Many times the Fulani go to local marketers and interact with the people there getting news and spreading it through much of West Africa.
The most important object in Fulani society is cattle, and there are many names, traditions, and taboos concerning cattle. The number of cows a person owns is a sign of his wealth. This has caused significant conflict in recent months between the Fulani and other ethnic groups. The reason for this is that the cows will many times go into the fields and eat the grain of local farmers. With increasing numbers of other transportation being used the Fulani are at risk of losing their identity as nomads and are being forced to settle in farms and villages. This sometimes creates other problems, because the Fulani are very proud people of their unique culture and used to ruling over the other people.
Another difference between the Fulani and other African people is that the Fulani have a huge respect for beauty. Beauty is considered very important and one of the ways this is shown is through tattoos that are put all over the body. A distinguishing feature of a Fulani can be their lips, which are many times a blackish color from the use of Henna or tattooing done on the mouth. Being brave and fearless are very important for the Fulani as is seen by their numerous weapons. One tradition is that when 2 boys reach coming of age they two boys hit each other with their staffs not showing any pain but instead laughing. Many have died in these ceremonies which are now against the law in many countries but continue to be practiced.
The Fulani normally raise large amounts of cattle and have therefore settled in large plain areas of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The Fulani hold to a strict caste system. The 4 caste subdivisions are the nobility, merchants, blacksmiths, and descendents of slaves of wealthy Fulani.
Text from Africa Guide
the last wagon
on their way to a new home
People and Places