A Narrative Investigation

DNA confirmation of Kanuri-Fulani relationship.  DNA RMI results and science journal provided by Genebase.

“A man in Sudan married two women.  The first woman gave birth to a son who fathered the Fulani and the second wife gave birth to the son that fathered the Kanuri.  The two mothers didn’t get along very well and so the boys were prone to fighting.  Some time after the husband died the first wife took her son and moved away, she went west.  The second wife and her son stayed in Chad.”

~a Nigerian Fulani narration

This narration may or may not be taken literally.  Its interpretation is left solely to the reader.  

Such stories would evolve among people who established a relationship via trade and intermarriage as a way of ‘explaining this relationship’ or ‘expressing these blood-ties.’  The storyteller would be forced to find some explanation for the language barrier.  For instance, in this particular story, the griot suggest the differences arose out of maternal influences which culminated in a cross country migration.

What’s interesting about this story is its emphasis on the maternal lineage amongst two ethnics who are patrilineal.  It is said to be custom for the groom to move in with the bride’s family or for the bride to be sent home to live with her family after she conceives in some Fulani and Kanuri groups, a practice that suggest an unilineal system rather than a patrilineal one.

Adamawa Fulani of Chad of the Barigami and Borgor regions.

“According to Dauda Bello (1984) the earliest record of contact between the Fulbe (Fulani) and the Kanuri Empire was with Mai Biri (1288-1308), who was said to have received a delegation of Fulbe (Fulani) from Mali during his reign. This is considered as the earliest traceable report of contact of the Fulbe (Fulani) with the Kanuri. After that, historical records have indicated that at various times Fulbe (Fulani) groups including pastoralist and scholars have been coming in and out of the Kanuri area known as Borno, to stay as in the case of scholars in search of knowledge or to proceed to a more suitable area in search of pasture for their cattle as in the case of the pastoralist. Similarly, Bala Usman and Nur Alkali (1983:65) have observed that the Fulbe (Fulani) made their appearance in Borno in the 16th century when pastoralism along the shores of Lake Chad was very competitive among the various groups who settled there. Again, Obaro Ikime (ed) (1980) also argued that, the Fulbe (Fulani) were among the first group to arrive the shores of Lake Chad. Some of these Fulbe (Fulani) are those that later founded the Adamawa emirate.”  

source: http://web.archive.org/web/20100310133907/http://www.kanuri.net/kanuri_and_their_neighbours2.php?aID=232

The Fulani speak Pulaar, a Niger-Congo language of the Atlantic branch while their Kanuri brethren speak Kanuri, Tedaga, and Dazaga, Nilo-Saharan languages of the Saharan branch.

The red dotted line represent the region in which the mother tongue of the Pulaar system developed.

There are many dialects of the Pulaar language, many of these dialects are said to be unintelligible to other Fulani speakers.  Pulaar belongs to the Niger-Congo language phylum which points to Central Africa as its origin.  Classifying the language as belonging to the Atlantic branch means there was a migration of, at least, a root system from Central Africa towards Atlantic ocean.  Here, ‘root system’ means ‘mother tongue/mother’s tongue.’  

The yellow areas represent the regions inhabited by Nilo-Saharan speakers.  According to this map, Nilo-Saharan speakers haven’t done much migrating, being confined to Sudan and Central Africa (also known as Central Sudan).  There is a little spread of Nilo speakers into West Africa.  These speakers are known as the Songhay.


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