D. W. Arnott.
Literature in Fula

Literatures in African Languages: theoretical issues and sample surveys.
B.W. Andrzejewski, S. Pilaszewicz, W. Tyloch (eds.).
Cambridge University Press. 1985. p. 72-97

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The Fulani, Fula, or Fulɓe are the traditionally nomadic cattle owners of West Africa, whose ultimate origins have been the subject of much speculation. While their early habitat in West Africa was apparently in an area in the vicinity of the borders of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, they are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a wide band of West Africa, roughly between the 10th and 15th parallels, and extending from Senegal, Gambia and Guinea in the west, through Mali, Upper Volta, Niger and northern Nigeria to Chad and Cameroon, with offshoots in southern Mauritania, northern Sierra Leone, Ghana and Dahomey, and even as far cast as the Sudan (where they are known as Fellata). The main concentrations are in Fuuta Jaloo in northern Guinea, Fuuta Tooro in northern Senegal, central Mali (particularly along the western side of the Niger bend), northern Upper Volta, Gwandu and Gombe emirates and parts of Adamawa in Nigeria, and northern Cameroon.
The Fulani's own name for themselves is Fulɓe (sing. Pullo, root: “Ful-”/“Pul-”); “Fulani” — the term used here — is in fact the Hausa name for the people, but was long ago taken over into normal English usage in Nigeria, and gained currency in English writing about them. (In the same way, English writers about the Gambia and Sierra Leone have adopted the term “Fula(s)”, which is the term used by many non-Fulani in those countries and in Senegal and Guinea.) French and German writers have used the terms “Peul” (or “Peulh”) and “Ful” respectively both derived from the simple root. The Fula-speaking Tukulor(s) of Fuuta Tooro in northern Senegal, although sometimes treated as distinct from the Fulani, are probably best regarded simply as a particular and distinctive group of Fulani.
For the language there is no one name used by all Fulani: “Fulfulde” is the most widely used term, the other being “Pular”, used in Senegal, Gambia and parts of Guinea. “Fula” is often used, as here, as an overall name for the language as a whole.
Some Fulani still live the traditional nomadic life, moving each year from dry-season to wet-season grazing grounds and back. Others have, through the years, taken to a more settled way of life, combining agriculture to some extent with their pastoral activities. And in some cases the processes of settlement, concentration and military conquest have led to the existence of organized and long-established communities of Fulani, varying in size from small villages to towns as large as Labe and Dalaba, Kaedi, Matam and Podor in the west, Bandiagara, Dori and Djibo in the bend of the Niger, and Birnin Kebbi and Gombe, Yola and Jalingo, Maroua and Garoua in the east.
On the historical plane the outstanding periods have been the establishment of the Fulani presence in Fuuta-Jaloo in the 18th and early 19th centuries, after their move from Masina (in present-day Mali), Shehu Usman dan Fodio's reformist movement and holy war (Jihad) at the beginning of the 19th century, establishing Fulani dynasties in the Hausa states, the subsequent movements and campaigns that led to the rise and fall of the Masina empire under Sheku Amadu, and the Tukulor empire of El Hadj Umar based on Fuuta Tooro.
Culturally, the Fulani were originally animists, but many were converted to Islam several centuries ago. Islam has played a large part in their history, especially during the wars against their neighbours, when the religious motive was as strong as the ethnic, if not stronger.
To a very large extent, because of the semi-isolation of the nomads as a minority among peoples speaking other languages, or because of the relative homogeneity of the predominantly Fulani areas, the Fulani have preserved their own language, even though their great geographical spread has meant the existence of many different dialectal varieties, each borrowing from the major language of the area.
Some understanding of the nature of the Fula language is necessary for a proper appreciation of certain aspects of Fulani literature. It is a highly inflexional language, with:

  1. active, middle and passive voices, each having between 12 and 15 different tenses marked by distinct suffixes
  2. a system of some 19 infixes which give a verb special overtones of meaning (reflexive, causative, dative, reciprocal etc.)
  3. a complex suffixal noun class system of some 25 classes, in which every singular noun belongs to a particular class, indicated by its suffix, with corresponding plural, diminutive and augmentative forms in other classes; and any adjective, pronominal, demonstrative or interrogative form agrees with the noun to which it refers.

Combinations of nouns and other words agreeing with them, as well as the repetition of similar verbal forms, readily lend themselves to patterns of parallelism and alliteration which are frequently used by singers and poets as effective stylistic devices. Furthermore, the process of word-building by accumulation of affixes, which is still very much a live process, facilitates a crisp, succinct style, in which one or two words can convey a meaning which in other languages would need many more. In addition, the combinations of long and short syllables (particularly in the trochaic pattern of so very many words, with a long root syllable and a short suffix) readily produce an attractive lilting rhythm.
Since the Islamic reform movements of the early 19th century Fula has been written in a form of Arabic script, modified with reasonable success to cope with Fula sounds not found in Arabic. More recently European administrators, missionaries, educationalists and scholars have used a variety of roman-type orthographies, some based on French spelling with the addition of various diacritics, others following English spelling with extra “hooked” letters (a “hook” being added to b, d and y to represent the “glottalized” consonants. In 1966 a standardized orthography was agreed on at a UNESCO-sponsored congress at Bamako, using “hooked” letters and with long vowels marked by doubling (aa, ee, ii, etc.) and this — which is the orthography used here in quoted excerpts — has since been adopted with varying degrees of consistency by scholars and government organizations.
Particular attention has been devoted to Fulani literature by scholars at the Ecole Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes in Paris (now the Institut National des Langues et Cultures Orientales), especially:

The Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire in Dakar holds a valuable stock of archive material; and among other Fulani littérateurs, mention must be made of:

Like many peoples of Africa, the Fulani have a rich oral literature, in prose, and especially in song; but alongside this there is an equally copious, if more recent, “formal” literature (in regular metres and usually written down) developed over the last two centuries from religious verse modelled on Arabic originals.
Prose forms include not only tales of many kinds, Including ubiquitous animal tales (in which, for the Fulani, the trickster hero is the hare), 1 but also historical traditions of the past glories of the Fulani empires of : Fuuta-Jaloo, Fuuta-Tooro, Maasina, Sokoto 2. They also have a rich store of proverbs 3 and riddles, with their common pattern of imaginative comparison 4, and they enjoy other forms of word-play, including philosophical “epigrams” and ingenious “chain-rhymes” 5.
Songs of many kinds are linked to a variety of different cultural contexts and activities —including lullabies and love — songs, dance-songs and work-songs, such as those sung by women as they rhythmically pound their corn. In many of these —as indeed in the riddles and proverbs— the Fulani's feeling for the flexibility and assonance potentialities of their language are apparent. This may he illustrated by an extract from a prayer for rain from northern Cameroon, traditionally sung by children going round from compound to compound in time of drought 6:

Alla waddu ndiyam duulel God bring the cloud-borne rain!
Aamiina yaa Alla! Amen O God!
Ko narriɗo bane iyeende? What Is [so] dark as a storm?
Aamiina yaa Alla! Amen O God!
Nduula pura, nduula iyeende… Great grey cloud, great storm cloud
Alla Jawman, gawri yoorii! Dry is the corn, Lord God! [Lit. My Lord God, the corn has dried]
Yaa Alla, gawri yoorii! Dry Is the corn, O God!
Alla, nga wadda ndiyam iyeende! O God, may it [sc. the cloud] bring storm-borne rain!
Aamiina yaa Alla! Amen O God!
10 Koroy keewa, tummukoy keewa, 10 That the little gourds may be filled, and the little calabashes be filled,
Mbarbaloy keewa, That the little corn-fronds 7 may be filled!
Aamiina yaa Alla! Amen O God!

As is so often the case with songs from various parts of Africa, this song is antiphonal, with a regularly recurring refrain; but there are other stylistic features which are especially typical of much Fulani song and verse:
the recurrent echoes of key words (waddu [bring] in line 1 and wadda in line 8; ndiyam [water, rain] combined first with duule [clouds] and then with iyeende [storm]; and iyeende [storm] occurring first alone, then dependent on nduula [great cloud] and then on ndiyam);
the parallelism in lines 6 and 7, and that in lines 10 and 11, heightened by the repeated diminutive plural suffix -oy with its overtones of affection;
the way in which the plural duule is picked up and modified in the repeated augmentative form based on the same root, nduula, while this is itself reinforced in the concordant suffix -a in pura [great grey] and echoed by the concordant pronoun nga in line 8.
Similar parallelisms and alliterative use of suffixes, both nominal and verbal, are also conspicuous in the following love-song from Gombe in Nigeria, supposedly sung by a girl: not only the parallelisms indicated by the italics, but also the s- and saa- alliteration in line 2, the use in line 10 of the diminutive singular form ngel, with its affectionate overtones, in reference to her lover, and the chiasmus in the parallelism -ii-mi, -oo-mi, -oo-mi, -ii-mi in lines 9-10:

To inna danyim-mi, baaba rabbim-mi, If Mother bore me, and Father reared me,
Saarooɓe sey munyonoo yam saa'i am saaloo. May my parents bear with me till my adolescence is past [and my moods are over].
Amaara njahay-mi, Wuro Deewa kootay-mi, I will go away from it all) To Amaara will I go, to Wuro Deewa will I return;
Wuro Deewa juggi biraaɗam, beeli kaynaaɗam. [At] Wuro Deewa are streams of milk, pools of fresh milk.
Mi yoolake maayo, ginnaji ɓoslay yam, [But alas, if] I plunge into the river, djinns will torment me,
Mi sookake ladde, pobbi nyaamay yam, [If] I go to the bush, hyenas will devour me,
Mi maggake lekki, ginnaaj! kalkay yam, [If] I climb a tree, djinns will destroy me;
Shin to mi maayii, yenaande wolway naa? [I must tell of my love, for] If I die, will the tomb speak?
To Alla torii-mi, yaa Rabbi jaaboo-mi, If to Allah I pray, O Lord answer me,
Jaaboroo-mi ngel njororii-mi, ngel sappo maayanta. In answer, give me my dear one on whom I rely, for whom ten [others] die [of love].

We may also note the rhythmic parallelism in lines 5 and 7 :

•—••—•, — — • — — —

although close rhythmic regularity is uncharacteristic of Fulani songs, just as there is no regularity in the length of “verse”, or indeed of individual “lines” within the verse.
Like the herdsmen of ancient Greece and Rome, Fulani youths often while away their herding days with tunes played on a simple pipe, or songs which they sing to themselves or to their cattle. One such song in praise of cattle, from Guinea 8, is marked by the same striking parallelisms, rhythmic patterns, and exploitation of the language's morphological resources as in the two song just cited — in spite of the 2,000 miles separating their origins:

Immii dilli, dillini leydi, My cattle arose and stirred*, they made the earth tremble*,
Dillini leɗɗe, dillini canɗi, They shook* the trees, diverted* the streams,
Loopini paraaji, laɓɓini buruure. Muddied the pools, and cleared the thicket,
Iidaango na'i am iidi, edi giiri. My cattle bellowed, the antelopes fled.
Ildaango na'i am iidi, giirini ndunsi. My cattle bellowed, it put the buffaloes to flight.
Iidaango na'i am iidi, aatini gooki, My cattle bellowed, it set the baboons barking.
Martini kulle, pottini baasal. It turned the deer away, and brought good fortune near.
Seere waasaa gooki, mi waasaa na'i. The rocky heights have baboons, I have cattle.
Pelle waasaa ɓulli, mi waasaa na'i… The mountains have springs, I have cattle…
Canɗi waasaa liƴƴi, mi waasaa na'i. The streams have fish, I have cattle.
Maaje waasaa ndiyam, mi waasaa na'i… etc. The rivers have water, I have cattle.. etc.)

There is here a play on various shades of meaning of dilli which are indicated in the translation above by an asterisk (*). “My cattle bellowed” conceals a pleonastic expression “the bellowing of my cattle bellowed” in the original, while the frequently repeated word waasaa, translated as “have”, has the literal meaning “do not lack”. Apart from the more obvious parallelisms, and the echoes in giiri … giirini, candi… candi, gooki … gooki, there is a parallelistic use of the causative infix -in- and a play on the two homophonous -i suffixes (non-personal plural nouns and past tense active).
The imaginative way in which in this song the natural features of the environment are introduced to highlight the characteristics and the supremacy of the cattle finds a parallel in a song collected in Masina (Mali) by the late Gilbert Vieillard (an administrative officer steeped in Fulani lore and language) 9, in which one singer lauds the virtues of water —that commodity so vital to a pastoral people— while the other counters by listing the many practical uses of the doum-palm which is such a typical feature of the landscape where the Niger runs close to the Sahara desert. The Fulani preoccupation with cattle is also reflected in their many spells and incantations 10, while traces of their pre Islamic religion survive in initiatory recitations and the like.
An outstanding example of such a survival is Kaidara, with its sequel Laaytere koodal (The brightness of the Great Star), and Lootori (Ritual bathing). Originally prose recitations which formed part of traditional Fulani religious education, they have been published in a versified form which owes much to the poetic genius of Amadou-Hampaté Ba 11.

Kaidara, a poem of 2,452 lines, is an allegorical representation of the process of initiation with its 12 stages. It tells of the descent into a magic underworld of three men —a freeman and two serfs— and the adventures and vicissitudes they encounter on their journey to “the country of dwarf spirits, the mystic land of Kaidara”, the supreme spirit. They encounter successively a dozen creatures or natural phenomena which are symbols with mystical significance :
a chameleon, a bat, a scorpion, a pool guarded by twin serpents, two fountains, and so forth.
The whole tale is presented dramatically and with imaginative and highly developed descriptions which from the literary point of view are the highlights of the poem-poetic descriptions of the dawn, and vivid and artistic accounts of a forest fire, a tornado and a tropical storm, of which the following verses are typical 12:

Nde Baylal-kammu kem-noo ɗoo, e mbayla, When the Great Forger of the skies reached his forge,
yani ana wifa bifirɗi fa mbayla jaaɓa. he plied his bellows till the forge came alight.
Nde ka hoondoy wulaare wadoy e leydi, When it glowed, heat came to the earth
teddi e mayri faa kala warƴi, haƴƴi. and was heavy on it, till everyone sweltered and suffocated.
Yimɓe e daabe nguli mum annii yaara Men and beasts sweated in its heat.
Keddii duule kaadime njaa na ngarta The servitor-clouds were coming and going,
ana taƴa mbeeyu ana njaha weendu kammu cutting across the firmament, going to the pool of heaven,
ɗe ƴoogoya ɗoon ndiyam njara faa ɗe mbiya pett! drawing water there, and drinking their fill.
Yo ɗee maa duule cinyruɗe yarde diƴƴe These are the clouds, pregnant with the waters they have drunk,
ngoni a bawloyde, tuutude jukka leydi that then relieve themselves, and spit out stabbing the earth,
hono faa enta kala kala boofi suuɗii. as though to purge every man of his every hidden sin.
Baylal-kammu annii golle hiinnii; The Forger of the skies now sets to work:
mo tappan Boolde dow taaneere nyaara He hammers the mass on his anvil till it glows
pette na njalta, ngona maje leydi njottoo. and the sparks fly and come to earth as lightning flashes.
Hammadi taykiti sifa majje jeegom Hammadi could discern six various kinds
ɗe laaytal mum majoy fade kammu toɓde. whose brightness flashed before the heavens rained down.
Yogaaje wulaam tan tan nii rufoyta. Most merely poured down fire.
Mo yii yoga majje saltini yeru no kahi nii, He saw some forked like a kahi-tree,
caɓe mum mawɗe telloo faa a leydi. its great branches descending right to the ground.
Mo labbini laayte deen kaa yeru mo dammbaa He noticed some flashes as it were fettered together
hakkunde duule ɗiɗi cukkaa yo buurti between two clouds, close together like two cattle-tracks,
ɗiɗi nyonngaaɗi ana leldii a boowal. separate but bunched together, in a clearing.
Hammadi yiiti yoga majje gaɗɗe gabbe Hammadi saw others like little grains
Delmita seyna ede ngay hono no nyaango dazzling wonderfully like a magic jewel
ngo siire waɗaa e muuɗum semmbe toyyaa imbued with a mystic force, striking sparks
leydi e kammu hakkunde mum waɗoyta. between earth and sky.

And there are many sensitive little touches such as the picture of a dying flame 13:

Mo sooynii fooyre ana maja fooyre fitila. He saw a flickering lamp-flame.
Liccere mum yarii timmii nebam mum. Its wick had drunk up all its oil.
Fooyre na fooɗa ɗemngal saa e saanga, And the flame from time to time threw forth its tongue,
ana mettoo ko heddii ko suuwi-noo e mum. Licking up the last liquid drop.

Where large-scale communities of mainly settled Fulani have been established under influential leaders, court singers have flourished under a system of patronage, similar to that of the neighbouring Mandinka, Bambara or Hausa. Their praise-songs often celebrated and glamourized the achievements of the chief and his predecessors, or recounted the deeds of ancient heroes. An outstanding example of such a poem is the traditional epic of Silaamaka and Puloori, as sung to his three-stringed lute by the famous “griot” (professional praise-singer) Boubacar Tinguidji (born 1910). This has been translated and edited, with an excellent introduction to the cultural background and the caste system to which the singer belongs, by Christiane Seydou under the title Silaamaka et Pouloori.

Different in kind, though performed in a similar context, are the rhythmic declamations delivered at break-neck speed by a professional reciter from Mali calling himself Girrewel Banu Kajja (born c. 1910) who toured parts of Mali and Upper Volta in the 1950's. These varied from alliterative tours-de-force consisting of lists of trees or place-names or things familiar in everyday life to an ode to the moon. The former may be illustrated by the following extract:

Geddal, gertoode, yim geene, Sing of disobedience, hens and grass!
gerre, Alla, mi wanaa joppoowo, Bushfowl, by God, I'm not one to omit,
Doɓi, donndooji, yim doombi, Sing of leopards, jackals and rats!
mi yoppataa donyorɗi lillaahi. I will not omit lizards, by God.
Pobbi e pooli e foroobe so nyaama, Hyenas and doves, and those that hunt to eat,
mi yoppataa fay Foolo Bakkande. I will not omit even Foolo Bakkande [place name].
Jale e jammbe, ngimaa jammbuure, Hoes and axes, sing-you fish-hook,
jaangol dabbunde duu mi yoppaani. The cold of the dry-season too I've not omitted.

Embedded within this doggerel, and in striking contrast to it, came this touching ode to the moon:

Naange nyalawma, lewru non jamma As the sun by day, so the moon by night
fuɗan jalbitoo, jaɓa jawle men oora. Breaks forth and gleams, lets our herds go to pasture.
De jaangol wonnoo fuu yo woɗɗiima. Where once it was cold, the chill's now departed.
yeew ko leeɓata tan e lewru. See —is there aught as bright as the moon?
moynharel, ana mooyi dow kammu. Gentle one gliding aloft in the heavens.
tiiɗaa innde, tifaare rimo nanndi. Not hard to describe—like a flufflet of cotton.
sheeko e duule, senho e dow kammu. Break from the clouds, set thyself in the sky.
Alla dunhanii ɗum yaade, duroyde. 'Twas Allah appointed thy journey, thy grazing.
leydi fuu ana anndi ɗum goonga. All the world knows it's the truth I am telling.
moyŋarel, ana mooyna henndu. Gentle one gliding along on the breeze, in all the wide world none with thee can compare.

Here again there is frequent alliteration, but in neither poem is there close rhythmic regularity, although in the actual performance there was a noticeable pattern of three or four accented syllables to a line.

We may turn now to “formal” poetry-the main type of written literature, although even this is as often read or sung aloud as it is read silently. The circumstances that led to its emergence are most clearly seen in what is now northern Nigeria, where the Moslem reformer Shehu Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) or as he is known in Fula, Usmaanu ɓii Fooduye, instituted his jihad (holy war) at the beginning of the 19th century. At this time many poems came to be composed in the vernacular as a means of teaching the ordinary Fulani the tenets of the Faith and correct behaviour. Many poems still extant are attributed to the Shehu himself, while others are attributed to his daughter Asmaa'u, his brother Abdullaahi (1763?-1829) and his son Muhammad Bello (died 1827) and other contemporaries such as Muhammad Tukur and Moodibbo Mo Ililal. Based initially on Arabic originals and written down in modified Arabic script, these poems are in many cases very well known, transmitted from generation to generation in collections of manuscripts in the possession of private individuals and families, or of religious leaders, copied by students from texts lent by their religious teachers, and recited or chanted in class, or chanted by blind or crippled mendicants.
Due to the widespread hegemony of the Fulani after the jihad, these poems became disseminated through much of what is now northern Nigeria, eastwards into what is now Cameroon, and westwards to Upper Volta and beyond, and they are still highly regarded today. Contemporaneously with Shehu Usman, or even earlier, poems were being composed in Fula by Muhammadu Samba of Mombeya (1765?-1852) in Fuuta Jaloo in Guinea. Here too the purpose was to interest the Fulani in religious learning, and there must presumably have been a link between these two simultaneous developments, geographically so far apart, to be explained in terms of the religious and political history of the times.
The authors of these early poems were all well versed in Arabic and Islamic religious learning, and the poems were very largely based on, or even translated from, Arabic originals; and they covered the various traditional Arabic categories :

In form too they followed Arabic patterns, being composed in Arabic-type metres, in regular stanzas of 2 or 5 lines with end-rhyme. The combinations of closed and open syllables and long — and short vowels of Fula words lend themselves readily to the quantitative metres of Arabic poetry, with their varying combinations of long and short syllables in dimeter, trimeter or tetrameter form. Of the 16 traditional Arabic metres, seven are used with fair frequency:

and others rather less often:

Poems in 2-line and 5-line (quintain) stanzas, and the much rarer 4-line quatrains, have running rhyme, the rhyme pattern recurring at the end of each stanza; and in the quintains and quatrains there is a separate internal rhyme covering the first four lines of each stanza. For an example of internal rhyme, see excerpt XIII. The normal rhyme-pattern is thus:

But the Arabic qasida-type opening is often adopted, by which the running rhyme is established by its use in each line of the first stanza, giving zz, az, bz, cz, etc., zzzzz, aaaaz, bbbbz, ccccz, etc. The rhyming pattern of couplets may be illustrated by the following excerpt from the beginning of the poem by Isa ɓii Usmaanu (1817-?) from which excerpt IX is also taken; the poem is in waafir metre, and has -ma rhyme in both lines of the first couplet and in the last line of succeeding couplets:

Kulen Allaahu Mawɗo nyalooma jemma, Let us fear Allah the Great day and night,
Mbaɗen ka salaatu, hooti mbaɗen salaama let us continually invoke blessing and peace
He dow Ɓurnaaɗo tagle he Aalo'en fuu, Upon the best of creatures and all his kinsfolk,
Sahaabo'en he taabi'i, yimɓe himma. his companions and followers, men of zeal.
Nufaare nde am mi yusboya giffidi, anndee, Know ye, my intention is to compose verses
mi woyra di Naana; bernde fu firgitaama and with them to lament for Naana; every heart is startled
He yawtuki makko, koowa he anndi juulɓe At her passing, everyone knows that the Moslems
mbaɗii hasar haqiiqa, cunninaama. have suffered loss indeed, and have been saddened.

The Arabic convention of having an internal rhyme only instead of a running rhyme (i.e. aa, bb, cc, dd … ) for couplets in rajaz metre is also frequently followed, this convention being most often used in involved didactic verse, especially legal, astrological and similar texts, where the difficulties of maintaining a running rhyme are greater.
The rhyme is typically syllable-based, being carried by the last consonant+vowel sequence of the line (rather than the vowel-initial pattern normal in English), e.g. -ma (as above), -na, -ji, -wu, -tee etc. But quite often it is extended backwards to cover the preceding (long or short) vowel as well, e.g. -aama (as in excerpt IX below); and occasionally it is carried by the last consonant alone (as quite often in Arabic) —see excerpt XIV below. Not infrequently the running rhyme covers a whole word or phrase associated with the theme of the poem, as in the poem “Juulen e Muhammadu”, (Let us pray for Muhammad), in A. I. Sow's collection La femme, la vache, la foi, where the name Muhammadu comes in both lines of the first couplet and the last line of all the remaining 54 couplets.
Initially the poems were almost entirely of a religious nature, but there is extant an early example of a lament (already quoted from), a touching poem in which Shehu Usman's son Isa laments the death of his sister Asmaa'u.

Balaa'u waɗii he sooytuki makko hakkan, A calamity has indeed befallen with her passing;
o joom yiɗayeeji ɗuuɗɗi, o joom karaama, much loved she was, and full of cheerful kindness,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
O booɗuɗo gikku hanko, o giɗɗo yimɓe, Noble she was in character, and a friend to all,
o shaaho, o muyɗo yimɓe he dow dawaama. generous and ever patient in all her dealings.
Sifaaji ɗi makko njawtii limtoyaago Her qualities are beyond counting,
mi meemu ɗi seɗɗa ngam ɗi lollinaama. I have touched but a few, for they are well known.

While much of the earliest verse adhered fairly closely to the themes and patterns of Arabic originals, one often finds, even in those poems which obviously owe much to Arabic sources, some passages where the author is clearly making his own application of Islamic principles to the circumstances of his day ; as, for instance, where in “Yimre findingo juulɓe” (Hymn to arouse the faithful) Shehu Usman condemns the practice of soro (the Fulani custom of flagellation by which young men proved their prowess). And the following verses in “Musiɓɓe janngee nanon” (Brothers, read and hear) by Cerno Saadu Dalen (floruit c. 1800), one of the early Fuuta-Jaloo writers, seem to reflect the pastoral life of the Fulani in the savannah country of West Africa 14:

Si o laati mo anndaa finnde mu'un, If it so be that he does not know his religion,
ko wa ngayna o soxlirnoo e demal. He will be like a herdsman who loses his way among farms.
Wata toonyu melew; wata wallu e toonye Do not commit or abet injustice
Wata won e misal bono buuto nyaɓii; Be not like the hyena, the leopard or the lion,
wota won maɓdalde rawaundu dutal. Be not like a dog surprising a vulture.
Bono jonngay, buuto re'ay ko tawaa; The hyena chokes, the leopard claws what it finds,
nyaɓu jawlora semmbe, jiloo maɓudal. The lion seizes it by force, or by lying in wait takes it unawares.
Bare raddana; wurtu ndu, weeya dutal The dog rushes at its prey; call it back, that the vulture may fly away
ngayu ngal yi'u jiibe to yilmani ngal. To where the maggot-ridden carrion awaits it.

In the last 150 years the example of the early versifiers has been followed by many others, at first by religious leaders, but later by others; and nowadays the composition of verse is quite a widespread practice, even by those whose education is limited to schools for the reading of the Koran. In many cases the themes are similar to those described above, tawhid and wa'z. But as time passed poems came to be written on an increasingly wider range of themes. The developments have been mainly in two directions.
On the one hand there are the socially-oriented poems, which develop the traditional wa'z, condemning present-day morals and sometimes harking back nostalgically to the good old days; these are exemplified by three modern poems by unknown Fuuta-Jaloo authors:

On the other hand there are the eulogies, praise poems of the Prophet having led quite early in the 19th century to praise of the founders and leaders of particular sects; more recently, poems were composed in praise of local chiefs and headmen, and modern political figures such as that in praise of Almami Ibrahima Dara II, “king” of Fuuta-Jaloo 16 or the remarkable 409-couplet poem by Tierno Jaawo Pellel (born c, 1900) 17 which contains a historical catalogue of local chiefs, imams, religious scholars and other local worthies; the long eulogy of their spiritual and temporal merits is incorporated in what is otherwise a wa'z poem urging men to be humble and studious and obey God's law —the great men being presented as illustrious examples to be emulated.
An outstanding example of later 19th-century verse is the poem of 1189 couplets edited and translated by the ex-Governor Henri Gaden under the title La vie d'El-Hadj Omar. This is a historical narrative celebrating the life of the renowned leader of the 19th-century Tukulor empire, covering his pilgrimage to Mecca and his subsequent campaigns and victories. It was composed, in kaamil trimeter and with -taa rhyme, by Mohammadou Aliou Tyam (c. 1830-1911), of Fuuta-Tooro, and includes the following lyrical panegyric on his hero 18:

Ko naarge hono fennyaange, lewru ndu niɓɓataa, He is a sun as it were at its zenith, a moon that never dims,
hono jemma badru e lewlewal ngal jillataa. as in a night of full moon with bright moonlight never drowned.
Ko faqru, toowal, nyabru nder anyBe kadi, He is a glory, an elevation, or again a leopard among his enemies,
ko faabo yaawngo, o maayo luggo ngo yoolataa. he is a speedy succour, he is a deep river.
Huunde teelɗunde lesɗe men hiirnaange, He is a great one, unique in all our lands of the west,
ko njuumri winndere, nguura mum ɗum rappataa. he is the honey of creation, its vital force that never decays.

Another type, which could in some cases also be regarded as a development of the praise poem, is the topical poem, either in praise of modern days and modern developments (contrasting with the condemnation of modernity sometimes expressed) or simply describing recent events. From Fuuta-Jaloo Sow 19 reproduces two such poems by Abdurrahman Ba (born 1917?):

It first expresses gratitude to God for victory in the Second World War —the defeat of Itleer [Hitler] and his henchman Mareshal Peten [Marshal Pétain] of Wishfi [Vichy] and Mongomerii's [Montgomery's] victory over Romel [Rommell —and finishes with an ode to Fuuta Jaloo — itsrivers (with their echoing rapids and water cool as ice, pure and sweet to drink,and their rocks polished like cement) and the beauty of its valleys and everlasting mountains.
And a modern poem from Nigeria, composed by a local Adult Literacy Organizer in Dukku, expresses thanks to friends and neighbours who helped him with gifts of corn when he returned from a journey to find his own stock depleted.
The stylistic devices which we have noted in songs are also employed by the more sophisticated and more masterly composers
of this « formal » poetry, as can clearly be seen in the two following extracts:

Ko O wawruɗo bawɗe, O muuyiri muyɗe, He is mighty with might, with His will He wills,
O anndiri anndal makko genal. He knows with His knowledge eternal.
Ko O wurduɗo ngurndam ɗan re'ataa; He lives with Life that never ends;
ko O nanruɗo nanɗe ga fetti kuvol. He hears with His hearing the snap of a blade of grass.

Ko Baytallaahu fewtoytee, To the House of God men turn,
ko Baytallaahu juuloytee, To the House of God men pray,
ko Baytallaahu wanngoytee, To the House of God men walk,
Ɓe juula ɓe naata aljanna. And pray to enter Paradise.
Ko Baytallaahu rewroytee, By the House of God men pass,
ko Baytallaahu hormintee, 'Tis the House of God men revere,
ko Baytallaahu mawnintee, 'Tis the House of God men glorify
ko ɗon woni suudu aljanna. Here is the pavilion of Paradise.

Here Baytallaahu is a straight loan from Arabic, and the parallelism is completed with various verbal forms, each consisting of a verbal root with the infix -oy- or -in- followed by the passive suffix -tee.
A development which may be regarded as combining features of the oral and the more formal traditions is exemplified in the collection of verse edited and translated by the late P.-F Lacroix under the title Poésie peule de l'Adamawa.
Unlike the authors of the formal poetry, the composers and singers of these verses were professional singers, dependent for their livelihood on gifts and rewards from the public, and therefore in some respects closer to the traditional “griots”. Moreover their compositions were essentially composed orally and preserved in memory rather than in writing. And yet, of the 62 poems in this collection, all but a very few ate composed in regular metres which are identical with or very similar to the traditional Arabic metres. The themes too conform to the modern developments in formal poetry, as described above. There are a number of topical poems, either in praise of modern days and modern developments, such as Hamaseyo Giire's (born 1905?) well-known rajaz-metre poem on the marvels of European inventions, such as the bicycle, the telegraph, railways and aeroplanes — “marvels which God has revealed in these times”--and Moodi Yawa's (born 1925?) tawiil poem telling of a visit to Ngaoundere for a meeting. But the majority are praise poems —praise songs in metre — ranging from Moodi Yawa's poem on the chiefs of Garoua and Ngaoundere and Bello dou Keerol's on the new rulers in general and President Ahijo of Cameroon in particular, to Buuba mai Jariida's (born 1924?) more mundane poems in praise of local celebrities and patrons —a local merchant, a local butcher, a chauffeur, and ladies of beauty and local renown. The charms of these ladies are described in similes and metaphors, some of which may well have come down from Arabic sources, while others are surely original. Thus the teeth are variously likened to lightning, to gold, to blades of a knife, and to little grains of rice; the eyes are said to gleam like fresh milk, or to resemble the morning star, or a piece of silver; the neck is compared to a gazelle's, and its “ripples” to pieces of silver; the fingers, in their slenderness and/or suppleness, are likened variously to palm leaflets, to silken threads or melted wax, or leathern thongs steeped in water, even to pens; and a woman's walk is compared to that of a dove, with its little steps.
Reference must finally be made to a new and more sophisticated form of free verse that has developed recently in Senegal-Mauritania —short epigrams, with a flavour of Martial about them, composed by Oumar Ba. These are pithy, satirical comments on local life, ranging from marriage and social customs to national characteristics and current politics. Two short examples will suffice 22.
In the first, the recurrent use of the diminutive suffix -el or -ngel suggest the town Fulani's contempt of the nomad herdsman, while the reply is a satirical comment on the alleged meanness of the people of the locality mentioned:

Q. Holi ngel Pulel Q. What is this puny Fulani
baɗɗiingel pucel, mounted on a puny horse,
Ina fali fetelet, carrying a puny gun,
kangel, hoto ngel dawani? he, where is he off to so early?
A. Maataw ko Hoore Peegye A. Perhaps to Hoore Peeyge,
ndaw kolɗe e kooyhe for there's beggarly poverty and hunger
e Hoore Peegye. at Hoore Peeyge.

The second is self-explanatory:

Kurka baasɗo ina aanni rewɓe: An indigent young man is a problem to women:
rewɓe na njiiɗi cukaagu ngu, they like his youthfulness,
Be njiɗaa baasal ngal. they dislike his indigence.
Mawɗo galo; A wealthy old man:
be njiiɗi ngalu ngu, they like his wealth,
Be njiɗaa manngu ngu, they dislike his age,
Mawɗo baasɗo aannaani ɓe An indigent old man is no problem to them.
kurka galo aannaani ɓe. A wealthy young man is no problem to them.

From these examples it can be seen that, although far removed from the other kinds of literature discussed above, and probably owing something to French influence, they nevertheless display the same imagination and the same feeling for the flexibility and the rich resources of the language.

1. See, for instance, Christiane Seydou's Contes et fables des veillées.
2. See A. I. Sow, Chroniques et Récits du Fouta-Djalon, the collections published by the Centre Régional de Recherche et de Documentation pour la Tradition Orale at Niamey, and In Abbia published in Yaoundé and R. M. East's Stories of old Adamawa.
3. E.g. Henri Gaden, Proverbes et maximes peuls et toucouleurs.
4. See M. Dupire and Marquis de Tressan, “Devinettes peules at bororo” and J-R Lebeuf and P.-F. Lacroix, Devinettes peules,
5. See D. W. Arnott, “Proverbial lore and word-play of the Fulani”.
6. E. Mohamadou and H. Mayssal, Contes et poèmes foulbé de La Bénoué.
7. This actually refers to the angle between the stalk of guinea corn, millet etc. and the leaf, where water collects during a storm.
8. A. I. Sow, La femme, La vache, La foi.
9. G. Vieillard, “Le chant de l'eau et du palmier doum”.
10. See, for instance, A. I. Sow, La femme, La vache, La foi, pp. 302-325.
11. Ba, Amadou-Hampaté and Lilyan Kesteloot (ed.), Kaidara and Ba, Amadou-Hampaté et al., L'éclat de La grande étoile, suivi du Bain rituel.
12. Ba, Amadou-Hampaté and Lilyan Kesteloot (ed.), Kaidara, lines 1246-1271.
13. Ibid., lines 1544-1547.
14. A. I, Sow, La femme, La vache, La foi.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Tyam, M. A., “La vie d'El Hadj Omar”, couplets 23-25.
19. Sow, A. L, La femme, La vache, La foi.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Oumar Ba, “Dix-huit poèmes peul modernes”.

Biographical notes


Note that the inversion in the order of names customary in Europe is extended here to Fulani authors, since some of them use the European system. In the Biographical Notes, however, the traditional order of names is maintained and readers should make the necessary mental adjustments.