Fulani people or Fula people as they are also called elsewhere are an ethnic group that amounts to more than twenty million people in Western Africa. They can be found in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Chad, Guinea.
Legend says the Fulani originated from the Arabian Peninsula (de St Croix 1945), and migrated south-west to Senegambia. From Senegambia, they moved eastward, crossing several Sahelian and Sudanian zones, to the Red Sea (Frantz 1981). The Fulani of Nigeria are a part of this migrant, ethnic population having common occupational and biogenetic characteristics. Light-skinned with curly hair, the Fulani have pointed nose, thin lips, and slender statue (Stenning 1959).
The Fulanis are amazing people with a rich heritage. The familiar picture of a man from this tribe wielding a stick fending for his priceless cow is a picture that everyone can relate with. Scattered mostly in Nigeria and Cameroon, these semi-nomadic people’s lifestyle of cow rearing is a trend that has stayed with the Fulanis and has been handed from one generation to another.
The Fulani women are known to live simply, be nomadic, loyal and very close knit Nomadic and adventurous, especially when travelling with their male counterparts, the Fulani women are typically well travelled and you can find them almost anywhere at any given time. They tend to travel long distances on foot and hardly have a particular destination in mind.
As a people who possess a historic affiliation for animal husbandry, the men pan the countryside in search for lush greenery for feeding the cattle while the women who travel in groups behind them sell the cow’s milk as fura de nunu.
The Fulani women are known for their artistic hairstyles. Flamboyant in nature, this signature is considered absurd to many but they wear it with pride and they are known for selling handmade products made from herbs and oils to grow and lengthen hair.
Surprisingly enough, there is no just one traditional Fulani attire. The thing is that the tribe is so dispersed and lives among other cultural and ethnic groups that they absorbed the culture and traditions of those around them.
The living conditions in certain areas define what clothes to wear. Fulani women living closer to the dessert climate wears different things than those in less dry areas. Nevertheless, you would hardly ever find Fulani women without shawls to keep warm, brightly coloured scarves to protect their skin and hair and they typically wear layers and layers of jewellery.
Fulani woman typically wears ornaments made out of henna which is a hand-made dye women make out of special plants. They take this paint and decorate their bodies with particular ornaments. Such decorations usually go on their arms, hands, and even legs. Some of such decorations have a deep meaning which roots back into the history of the tribe, while others only aim to emphasise the beauty of the lady.
The Fulani are endogamous, marrying from cross- and parallel- cousins or from clan members (Deetuki). Endogamy is breaking rapidly, and the Fulani are increasingly having marital relationship with other ethnic groups, especially with the Hausa’s with whom they share a common religion. Religious more than cultural differences are the main barrier to inter-ethnic marriages with the Fulani.
Fulani women hardly ever marry for love and affection as their marriages may be planned among families even before the birth of the children and the Fulani men are typically polygamous in nature. This makes the women quite independent and tend to be knowledgeable about trade.
Regardless, the women of this tribe are expected to display appropriate modesty whenever the subject of marriage arises, for marriage confers on her a special status within the clan. An important public acknowledgment of the marriage is the movement of the bride to her husband’s village, termed bangal. The women of that village come to greet her, and the welcome is a rite of passage for the bride. The bride’s status increases with each child she has, especially with the birth of males.
Each wife brings cattle with her to the marriage and it is a major obligation for a woman to milk the cattle and prepare the dairy products.
Lineage members inherit cattle and widows. Among Town Fulani, inheritance generally follows Islamic prescriptions, with the exception that generally women do not contest their inheritance with their full brothers.
At 2 years of age, children are weaned. A child’s father remains distant throughout its life. Women provide for children’s needs. Thus, a mother and her daughters tend to the needs of her sons. A young girl first plays at carrying dolls on her back and then moves on to carrying her baby brother.
Among the Pastoral Fulani, baby girls are given amulets for fertility and boys for virility. Mothers take care to preserve and shape their children’s conformity to the Fulani ideal notions of beauty. Mothers attempt to lengthen their children’s noses by pressing them between their fingers, stretching, and squeezing hard. They also attempt to shape their children’s heads into the ideal round shape.
Keeping mortality constant, the fertility level of the Fulani women is linked to early marriages. A couple that marries early is likely to have more children than a couple that marries late. Most women become pregnant within the first year of their marriage and continue bearing children through the age of fifty. By the time a Fulani woman reaches her menopause, she would have given birth to five to seven children.