Friday Discourse (110)
Fula and their Problems in Nigeria (1)
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Tilden Fulani, Toro LGA, Bauchi State Nigeria
The number of their cattle is fast dwindling. Their language is diminishing by the day. More insidious cultures are taking over their hitherto esteemed habits and values. They are the least beneficiaries of public social services. In recent ethno-religious crisis that started with the debut of this administration, they have become easy targets in the middle and Southwestern part of the country. In many parts of the Northwest and the Northeast, where they would have easily found succor, they have been fighting with farm-ers over grazing areas for decades now. To crown their catalogue of problems, they have been stigmatised as feudalists and colonialists, fit, according to some, for elimination through a nationwide genocide. They are the most endan-gered human ‘genus’ in Nigeria.
My dear reader, you are welcome to a series that examines the life and problems of the Fula, or Fulani, as we know them in this country. If my discourse will make a single member of their genus to become aware of the problems facing his people, or make someone among others to sympathize with them, then my objective is ful-filled. And if another would take practical steps to ameliorate their predicament, it would be a bonus I never hoped to earn.
To begin with, I think a clarification is neces-sary. I am afraid that I will be accused of raising the banner of ethnicity. That is not my intention. Islam strongly condemns tribalism, though it recognizes tribal differences as natural traits among human species. Yet, it does not deny us an objective examination of our problems in their proper contexts. There are problems we share globally with citizens of other nations; others are limited to our country, region, tribe or even area. What is paramount, in my view, is that our examination must be for the purpose of finding solutions that will bring us together. This is the spirit with which this essay was written. If my style and humor has offended any of my readers, please let him accept my sincere apol-ogy.
Also, without any prior permission from an-thropologists, I have found it necessary, for the purpose of our discussion at least, to divide the Fulani into two: Fula naturalis, representing the Fulani who are largely nomadic or semi-sedentary and who have maintained both tradi-tional cultures of the Fulbe in language and cat-tle keeping; and Fula domesticus, who have completely transformed from the natural no-madic state of the Fulani to that of sedentary cosmopolitan life, grabbing its opportunities, facing its challenges and suffering from its prob-lems. Their cattle have divorced them, or they have divorced their cattle, just as they did with their language in most cases.
I will start first with the language because it is the most crucial factor in the continuity of cul-ture. Some would say its disappearance is as threatening to its people as genocide. Fulfulde, the language of the Fula, is fast disappearing due to three principal factors that we will now con-sider individually.
The first is marriage. There is a strong corre-lation between genetic adulteration and the sur-vival of a language. Like other nomads, the Fula have avoided this as much as possible in their history. It appears that their migration into the farthest region of sub-Saharan Africa in the ninth century A.D. and their intermarriage with tribes like Jolof and Wolof has not affected the lan-guage because it once enjoyed the status of a lingua franca of the Senegambian region, as it does in Guinea today, something like what we have in Adamawa since the Jihad. That has helped to make many other tribes adopt it as a language and get assimilated into the genus to participate in their eastern migration through ancient Mali down to where we find them in the Central and Southern African countries today.
But where fulfulde remained a minority lan-guage, any intermarriage with other people de-creases its chances of survival. In Hausaland for example, the introduction of a single non-Fulani wife has in most cases put an end to its employ-ment in the house.
The Fulani are less concerned with marrying their daughters to outsiders than allowing their sons to marry from non-Fulani wives. They have understood that importing a foreign gene into the genus pool is more catastrophic to the continuity of language than exporting a gene out of it, though the latter too has its effect. In fact, one of the factors that contributed to their survival is that their genetic pool has continued to quench the thirst of many non-Fulani (I will not call them habe for now) who are attracted by one of their Berber features which they notice on some of their females. Where such features become exceptional, the competition for them between a poor insider and a rich outsider becomes intense. Usually, the girl is won over by the outsider to relocate from the environment of her Fula natu-ralis parents to the spacious palace of a prince, or the glittering mansion a bourgeois or the mod-est house of a middle class Romeo. A copy of that gene is gone. And if it were not for the po-lygamous nature of the genus and its high fer-tility of its female, the Berber features of the Fula would have been completely exhausted through this artificial selection.
Nevertheless, it is really gladdening to see how the borrowed Fula genes are gradually gain-ing dominance, through the above-described method of artificial selection, over others in sub-sequent generations of elite families throughout Hausaland. At the same time we regret the recent discovery of these features by the western capi-talist fashion and movie industry. M-Net for ex-ample has just whisked away a fifteen-year old Senegalese Fulani girl – Fatimatoulaye Diallo – for a sponsored carrier in the United States.
The second factor is their involvement in administration. It is one of the ways of trans-forming the naturalis into a domesticus espe-cially in Hausaland. The Hausa are as notorious as the Egyptians. Their language and culture is pervasive. Like their Egyptian counterparts, any conqueror is allowed one choice, as rightfully noticed by the late Taha Husein: it is either as-similation or annihilation. Where the conqueror intermarried with the indigenes, his rule remains as long as his astuteness could afford; otherwise, if he plays the game of the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the French and finally the English in Egypt by alienating himself from the fellaheen, his regime becomes short-lived and very soon none of his progeny will taste the sweet water of the Nile.
The Fulani leaders of the 19th century Jihad in Hausaland have wisely preferred assimilation, though unlike the Arabs, they did not attempt to superimpose their language on the Egyptians. If anything they preferred Arabic and Hausa in their official communication, using Fulfulde only for personal consumption of the Fulani. Thus, though Danfodio and his brothers spoke fulfulde among themselves, barely two centuries later, I doubt if the occupant of his seat, the present sul-tan, would understand jam mbandu na?
I doubt if there is anyone that could under-stand fulfulde among any Northern Fulani Emirs in the Northwest or the near Northeast. They have become the best samples of Fula domesti-cus. Exceptions to this are the fulbe fombina, the domesticus of the far Northeast and northern Cameroon, who have benefited from the lingua franca status of the language in the region. The palaces of the Lamido and the Emir of Gombe for example have remained enviable for retaining their fulfulde. They only need to contend with the third factor: urbanization.
Anytime the Fulani and his cattle part ways he leaves behind him the shell of nomadic life that limited his interaction with other people. For every minute that his children will speak with others in Hausa or other languages, their fluency in fulfulde is dropping from the standard thres-hold of the naturalis. In most cases, at the gate of the city the language seems to tell him what Khidr told Moses: “this is our point of depar-ture.”
Nature is sometimes the facilitator. When-ever hit by a catastrophic loss of his cattle to disease, like the rinderpest epidemic of the early eighties where millions of cattle were lost in few months, nature offers the Fula naturalis only a choice between two extremes: abandon the bush and come to civilization or remain there to rear the few cattle that remained for others. Most threw away their shepherd’s stick and said good-bye to the bush, forever.
Sometimes it is the sheer demands of life that would finish his cattle. If he has attempted to buy the luxuries of urban life such as education, cars, urban dishes and wives, then, coupled with growing lack of grazing areas, the number of his cattle will dwindle annually.
Finally, today if the Fulani does not come to the town, the town will go the Fulani. It will trek to meet him in a settlement that has been exclu-sively his. A highway may pass through the set-tlement. That is enough to trigger a chain reac-tion. It will attract other people from the sur-rounding bush. If the surrounding land is fertile, that will attract farmers, just as a river will also attract fishermen and dry season farmers from Kano and other distant places.
As the population of the settlement increases over several decades, the kilometre long plots that used to separate one Fula family from an-other for the purposes of privacy, farming and grazing becomes filled with houses of other peo-ples, few of them Fula, many of them whom I am now ready to call habe. The local gov-ernment would find it economical to establish a market, then a well, then a school, then a police station and then an area court, then a clinic, then a secondary school, then electricity, then tap water and finally a prison.
As these developments take place, the Fula is gradually becoming introduced to a way of life in which he now depends on the skills and pro-ducts of other people with whom he shares the town. By now his cattle have been pushed many kilometres away from the fast developing town. He will visit them weekly at the beginning. Later, it becomes monthly, then annually, before the cattle finally decide to leave him. He is now a Fula domesticus, with his children attending schools and universities; others becoming dri-vers, civil servants, merchants, politicians and taking habe wives. Ask any of them about the cattle, or his staff, or fulfulde, all he will do is to laugh. His affinity to the genus can only be veri-fied from his morphological features. The town has transformed him, in situ, into a Fula do-mesticus.
I leave the reader to think of the various ways the Fulani are losing lose their language. If the reader is a Fula, let him map out the route he took to becoming a domesticus. Let him find out which past and present factors contributed his present state.
Now let us turn to solutions for the remaining part of the article. First, the most important thing to note is that it is an act of sheer negligence and disservice to humanity and religion to take any measure that will contribute to the death of any language. Language is a creation of God, to serve the purpose of speech, identification and understanding among the human family. That is why I am worried at hearing other tribes around speaking Hausa in their homes.
As we would like to always appreciate how Hausa has become a lingua franca of the North, we should not be afraid to submit that it should not be allowed to wipe out other languages. The Hausa, majority of whom are Muslim, would themselves not like that. Hausa is so incipient and conquering. It will use any slight opportunity it is allowed to oust any language in a home. For this reason, some families have banned it com-pletely from their homes. And it worked beauti-fully.
The second suggestion is for every member of the Fula genus to exercise care in the selection of his marriage partner. The danger of genetic adulteration that will contribute to the loss of the language is strongest among those that have at-tended schools of western education or those who see Islam as endorsing a singularity of cul-ture. The first wives, in particular, if not all, must come from the genus. If you are looking for piety, the Fula are not destitute of some. The advantage here is that you are likely to return with beauty and many more qualities in addition. Boy, what luck!
But if a Fula naturalis will find his ‘Mary’ irresistible and at the same time he wishes to maintain the language in his house, then he has no option other than taking all necessary steps to naturalize her. If she is sufficiently intelligent, and especially with the persistence of the hus-band, she will quickly pick the language from other family members and relations. This too has worked in many families.
To those Fula domesticus who have lost the language long ago but would like to restore it, I will prescribe the pill of the late Wazirin Sokoto, Dr. Junaidu, if they have enough zeal and time. He was so disturbed with this deficiency that limited his access to the literature left behind by his ancestors. So one day, at the age of forty, he set out to learn the language by abandoning Sokoto and living among some Fula naturalis. And he succeeded.
Another suggestion to the domesticus that have lost the language is that they and their chil-dren, again where it is not too late, should take wives and husbands from the naturalis. The re-sults may be fantastic even from the first genera-tion. We will be delighted if the Fulani ruling houses in the Northwest and Northeast will adopt this strategy. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Hassan Attu Bungudu, Isyaku Dikko and all my blue-blooded domesticus friends must please take note. I will make it a precondition for their enthronement whenever the seats in Kano, Bungudu or Katsina become vacant. Their oath of office will be served in fulfulde and henceforth the court itself will adopt it as its only official language. What a crime!
The Fula cannot afford to miss the opportuni-ties of urbanization like education, modern health care, transportation, roads, and even mod-ern methods of animal husbandry. There just aren’t enough cattle to employ all their children. So they must learn other trades and become em-ployed elsewhere.
Apart from the home-based suggestions given above, Fulani need to explore the oppor-tunities that civilization offers. First, I see no reason why any two of them would meet and use either English or Hausa. They must not shy away from using the language in schools, offices, mar-kets, mosques and so on. They can do so as much as the situation would warrants, without courting unnecessary apprehension from other people.
They need to intensify efforts in teaching ful-fulde orthography and speech through various centres and media. I am yet to come across a fulfulde newsletter even in Yola or Gombe or Bauchi in which I will maintain a column. Hey Fulbe, what is happening? I am yet to see an Alliance Fulanaise in Sokoto, Gusau, Katsina, Zaria, Kaduna, Jos, Maiduguri and other cities, places where evening lessons are offered the children of domesticus like the late Dr. Junaidu, Shagari, Buhari and Ado Bayero. They may not be opportune to abandon Sokoto, Daura or Kano and live among the naturalis in order to recover the language.
I am yet to be invited by any of our universi-ties offering fulfulde to deliver a lecture or recite a poem in the language; or by an association calling itself kaural fulbe, holding a week of campaign for the understanding of the Fulani heritage and its contribution to the society. If next time any naturalis sends me an email in English or Hausa, I will return it, saying, “forget it, use ni.”
All I am saying here is that there are a thou-sand ways today to promote fulfulde beyond the reta saa’a fulbe in stations like BRC Bauchi. While legitimately becoming worried that Fulani are butchered in various parts of the country, we must recognise the fact that the greatest threat to the culture of a people is the disappearance of their language.
While I sit down to explore ways of solving other problems facing the Fula genus in Nigeria for your consumption next week, kindly help us by proffering suggestions, as we attempted doing in this discourse, on how their rich language will be saved from the contagion of extinction. I will be glad to receive it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, start your tutorial by knowing that in the pleasant dia-lect of fulbe fombina, ‘Jam bandu?’ means ‘how are you’ and ‘Jam waala’ means ‘good night.’