Fuuta-Jalon: Nineteenth Century
Encyclopedia of African History
Kevin Shillington, ed. Vol. 1. New York & London. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 538-539
Located in the Western Sudan, the Fuuta-Jalon Muslim theocratic state contributed to the Islamic renaissance in West Africa during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. From a political standpoint, the first half of the nineteenth century in Fuuta Jalon was characterized by a deep crisis of succession, starting toward the close of the eighteenth century after the demise of the forerunners, Karamoko
Alfa and Almami Sory Mawdho. While some (the Alfaya)
acknowledged the right of succession of the descendants of Karamoko Alfa, the constitutional
monarch, others (the Soriya) upheld
the claims of the descendants of his successor, Almami Sory Mawdho, in view of
the vital role the latter played in the consolidation of the state. This ultimately
led to a compromise consisting of a bicephalous system, whereby two Almami were
appointed to run the federation: one from Alfaya and the other, from Soriya,
ruling alternately for a two-year mandate.
This early compromise, however, was only effective at the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Hubbu uprising in Fitaba southeast of Timbo threatened the kingdom with disintegration. Hence, much of the first half of the nineteenth century was dominated by internecine wars between the two parties. The effect of this protracted war was the emergence of a state of anarchy that weakened the central power, tarnishing its image in the eyes of the orthodox theocracy. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, enforcement of the law helped secure the stability of the central organ of power, which, as a result, wielded greater control over the provinces, particularly those located in the “Rivers of the South” area, and engaged in new conquests, the most important of which was the Ngabou, which was the most powerful centrally organized state in the region. The only instance of failure occurred during the war against the Hubbu dissidents, who would not have been vanquished without Samori Touré's intervention in the early 1880s.
The nineteenth-century Fuuta-Jalon lived on a subsistence economy with a predominance of agriculture and animal husbandry, drawing most of its labor force from the slave class. This economy satisfied most of the country's needs, along with a dynamic foreign trade with Sudan and the Atlantic coast that benefited the ruling class. Though well organized, its tax system was implemented so abusively that it gave rise to the insurrection that became known as the Hubbu movement.
Nineteenth-century Fuuta-Jalon witnessed a consolidation of the changes initiated in the eighteenth century, including the passage from a patriarchal, egalitarian type of animist society to a hierarchical one dominated by the aristocracy that emerged from the Islamic conquests. Underlying the social order were religious considerations that made a distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims, the former enjoying the full rights of free people and the latter being subjected to slavery. This differentiation led to the division of society into two main groups: the rimbe, designating the order of free individuals, and the jiyaabe, referring to the slave class. Each class had its internal hierarchy depicting relations of inequality and exploitation. As regards the division of labor, there emerged a society where some (members of the aristocracy) concentrated the administration of political power and religion — court life, holy wars, intellectual and spiritual life — whereas those in the lower class (ordinary free men, artisans and slaves) were committed to manual labor and services. In this regard, nineteenth-century society in the Fuuta-Jalon was a hierarchical, non-egalitarian, and segregationist society.
In the field of religion and culture, the nineteenth century is said to have witnessed the golden age of Islam in the Fuuta Jalon. It was the century of great scholars and the growth of Islamic culture. All the disciplines of the Qur'an were known and taught: translation, the hadiths, law, apologetics, the ancillary sciences such as grammar, rhetoric, literature, astronomy, local works in Pular and Arabic, and mysticism. Nineteenth-century European visitors were highly impressed by the extent of the Islamization, which was visible in the large number of mosques and schools at all levels, the degree of scholarship, the richness of the libraries, and the widespread practice of Islamic worship. All this seems to have been facilitated by the use of the local language, Pular, as a medium of teaching and popularization of Islamic rules and doctrine. This intense intellectual and religious activity made Fuuta-Jalon a leading religious center in nineteenth-century West Africa. In the same way as it attracted disciples from all parts of the region, its own scholars visited the Moorish shaykhs or renowned scholars in Fuuta-Tooro, Macina and Bhundu to supplement their education.
European interest in Fuuta-Jalon was intensified during the course of the nineteenth century. The process that started from the end of the eighteenth century with the Sierra Leone Company continued throughout the nineteenth century and ended with actual European occupation of the region. Visits to the region were made mainly by French and English emissaries under various pretexts. Fascinated by reports about the country's real or alleged wealth, these European powers sent explorers, followed by trade missions with thinly disguised political motives, and finally, the conquerors who took advantage of the internal squabbles caused by the tight for succession to overrun the country in 1896.
Diallo, Thierno. Les institutions politiques du Fuuta Djalon au XIXe s. Dakar: IFAN, 1972.
Harris, J. E. The Kingdom of Fouta-Djalon. Ph.D. diss. Northwestern University, 1965.
McGowan, W. F. “Fula Resistance to French Expansion into Fuuta-Jallon, 1889-1896.” Journal of African History 22 (1981): 245-261.
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