Discourse (111): Pulaaku
among the Fula
This is the second article on Fulani and their problems in Nigeria. We have sufficiently focussed on language in the previous article last week. Today, we will look at an attribute with which the Fulani are distinguished. It is a feature that is eroding in Nigeria, on one hand as fast as life is becoming difficult for its citizens, and on the other, as gradual as the ruler becomes encapsulated by the norms and adulterations of sedentary life.
will start with its meaning, then its examples, origins and benefits. Finally
we have offered a prescription on how it will be maintained among those who
still practice it sufficiently and how those who lost it could recover it.
single feature that cuts across the behaviour of the Fula
is what he and others call pulaaku.
It is the altruism ((Hausa: kara)
that makes him consider the interest of others first, before his. It is also
the shyness (Hausa: kunya) that
prevents him from enjoying what is lawful like gifts, or prevents him from
publicly showing his attachment and concern to a beloved one. It is also the
endurance (Hausa: juriya) that
enables him to withstand pains and difficulties silently, without complaining.
It is also the caution and pride that makes him to avoid anything ignoble and
from the above perspective, it is difficult to understand why some people
would like to see pulaaku as
limited to the Fulani. I will rather consider it as one of those traits common
to human cultures. All civilizations, if we have the freedom to discount
capitalism, consider self-sacrifice praiseworthy, and selfishness blameworthy.
All revealed religions preach pulaaku
in many of its forms.
one place, the Medinite companions of the Holy Prophet received the migrant
Meccans to their city after the Hijrah
with a selflessness that earned them a divine praise. God described them as
people who “prefer (the fugitives) above themselves though poverty become
their lot. And whoso is saved from his own avarice, such are they who are
successful.” (59:8). The Meccan migrants who were deprived of their
possessions, on the other hand, were praised with the pulaaku
of endurance when God said: “the unthinking man accounteth them wealthy
because of their restraint. Thou shalt know them by their mark: they do not
beg of men with importunity…” (2:273). The Holy Prophet, the epitome of
good conduct, shied from expressing his annoyance over the offensive conduct
of others towards him: “…Lo. That would cause annoyance to the Prophet,
and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but God is not shy of the
truth.” (22:53) In one of his traditions he was reported saying, “if it
does not make you ashamed, do whatever you like.” This tradition supports
our assertion that pulaaku, in
decrying the ignoble, is a universal human attribute.
established that pulaaku, in
many respects at least, is not is not restricted to the Fulani, I am now
comfortable to hold that the Fula
differ from others because he has taken pulaaku
a degree, or degrees as someone would claim, higher than how others did. It is
the medium of his conduct, and the substratum on which it is anchored. To the Fula,
absence of pulaaku defiles the
noble of his dignity and its presence could earn a slave the respect of his
in its simple form, expects a woman not to mention the name of her husband or
that of her first child. In case of the first son, both parents, but
especially the mother, are expected to ignore him throughout his life. In
extreme cases mothers shy from saving their children from risks, including
fire or drowning! (I won’t go that far). Parents with sufficient pulaaku
will find it difficult to side with their children or relations in case of
misunderstanding with others.
demands utmost privacy in habits of eating, drinking, sleeping and
intercourse. A friend from Dukku once told me how his grandfather used to eat
in hiding, so secretly that none of his wives ever saw him eating throughout
his life. A Gobir trader (bagobiri)
once rebuked me for refusing to be served with Coke outside his shop, along
Waff Road, Kaduna. He said: “Ku filani
kun ramma mutane”, meaning, “you Fulani have an inferior
impression about others.” I explained to him how I have always obeyed this
form of pulaaku, until when I
decided to break it one day in Abuja, thinking that I was away enough from
home. It was not long after I started taking a snack outside a restaurant that
I heard an approaching voice saluting me. I raised my head and found, to my
utmost shame, that it was a brother to my father in-law. The bagobiri
laughed, saying, “And so what if your in-law saw you eating?” He just
could not understand why.
Fula will abhor whatever is
discerned as shameful in the society. Lack of remorse is considered as
antithesis of pulaaku.
In times of deprivation, it is shameful to ask anyone, including his
relations. Begging is taboo. As one of his proverbs signifies: there is enough
shame when a request is granted; where it is not, the shame cannot be
described. If you would ask him, as a guest in your house: “Do you mind some
food?”, no matter his condition, he will certainly reply with a smile,
saying, “mi haari.” (I am
he will receive a gift (he does reluctantly and sometimes only to avoid
embarrassing the donor), he will add, “hai!
torra non?” (What! Why suffer so much?). Thereafter, even if he
is a child, he will hurriedly disappear, because he feels ashamed to receive
something from someone. He must be seen to be self-sufficient. That is why, a
child is stopped from visiting a house where he will be given gifts. He must
also not eat from another house. The adult would usually boycott, wherever
possible, people who offer him gifts. He concurs with al Motanabbi who held
that generosity buys the noble but encourages the poor-minded to rebel.
demands resilience. Enough of it is expressed in the annual festival that is
called sharo in Hausaland.
There, the Fula will bare his
chest to be beaten by any challenger in the crowd. As the fresh stick of the
attacker awfully tears his skin apart to expose his flesh before the viewing
public, he neutralises the sympathy of his spectators with beautiful smiles
and cheerful jubilation. Many times, hit on one side of the chest, he will
challenge his opponent further by turning the other side. He will retire from
the occasion to prepare for a hurtful revenge the following week.
some cultures celebrate the proof of their daughter’s virginity the morning
following her first intercourse as a bride, Pulaaku
demands that the Fula to conceal even her pregnancy, especially the
first one, until it is impossible to do so any longer. And when she comes to
deliver a child, she must do so quietly. Even a sick child should not complain
of pain by crying. This is where an Arab will shout, wa
musibataaaa, or wailiiii,
or yaa naass, yaa khooooy… and
the Hausa will cry, “wayyoooo Allah…”
There are no such words in fulfulde, at
dying should also bid farewell to the world quietly. The loss of anything, a
son or a property, should not warrant the slightest discomfiture. A mother is
denied the tears that would sooth her eyes from the pain caused by the death
of her child or husband, no matter the attachment she had for him. On such
occasion, the Persian will be piercing his head with a knife; and the Arab
will throw dust over his head and cry, “ya
think the point has sufficiently been made, given these illustrations, that
few cultures, if any, as we said before, will be ready to take their pulaaku
to this extent.
may be tempted to ascribe pulaaku
to religion, since all religions preach endurance, self-denial and so on. What
a convenience! If it were so, we will expect to find a strong correlation
between pulaaku and the religiosity of the individual Fula.
On the contrary, pulaaku is
also practiced impressively by those naturalis
who care very little about religion. It is therefore safer to see it as a
purely cultural trait among the Fula,
which Islam has in some instances condemned or tolerated, and encouraged in
most others. It is like the tradition of generosity among pre-Islamic Arabs,
which I remember the author of Meccan
Crucible was able to trace back to their Jahiliyya
will argue that pulaaku, to the
extent that the Fula practises
it, is a habit that was cultivated or rather derived from his nomadic life.
The features of pulaaku are the
most deficient properties in modern technological societies. Thus the more
traditional a society is, at least in the Powelian paradigm of social science,
the more will its culture be characterised by generosity, hospitality,
selflessness, and so on. Conversely, the more advanced a society is
technologically, the lesser will it be characterised by such traditional
argument is more plausible in capitalist societies due to the enormous social
pressures that their exploitative mode of production provokes. In traditional
societies however, the means of production and distribution are simple:
resources are readily supplied by nature and require little processing or
marketing before they are consumed.
nomadic state of the Fula, in
other words, is what generally granted him the liberty of selflessness. Their
farming system permits self-sufficiency, extensively using shifting
cultivation and mixed farming. Their close marital practice produce unified
communities whose members are closely related. Under such circumstance,
sacrifice becomes easier, if not natural.
is now easy to understand why the Fula,
over a long period, is stripped of his pulaaku
anytime he settles to face the harsh realities of urban life. If his abundance
remains, like where he maintains a large herd of cattle, the likelihood of his
pulaaku remaining is higher.
But if he has to capture his livelihood from amidst the thick air of
competition, like through contracts and marketing, then he will soon realize
that pulaaku will be a
detriment to his survival above the margin of poverty. He would also learn to
save his small hard-earned resources for himself because there is none who
will come to his aid, as any other person is trying to work out his own
survival arithmetic. In the absence of his cattle, farm, fruits, rivers and
space, over generations, preference to self becomes irresistible, if not
courage component of the Fula’s
pulaaku can easily be traced to
the necessity of self-defence in his nomadic state. This is a habit he shares
with other cultures that grew under conditions of seclusion. The Arabs were
equally courageous, until when they learnt how to enjoy the sanctuary of
sedentary life and to indulge in the luxuries of the nations they conquered.
Today, they cannot raise even a finger against Israel, in protest to the
atrocities it is committing against their Palestinian brothers.
a utilitarian perspective, what benefit has the Fula
derived from his Pulaaku? The
benefits, I believe, are many but we will restrict ourselves here to three.
One, internally, it ensures peaceful coexistence among members of the genus.
With pulaaku, there is a good
understanding among the members of the genus as to the standard pattern of
their behaviour. It is the normative law. Also, by restraining the self from
eyeing the property of others, pulaaku
has helped to demobilize the greatest precursor to quarrels – the struggle
to acquire what belongs to others.
externally, pulaaku has made it
easier for the Fula to be
accepted by other people. Without it, his nomadic life would have been
difficult. Here he differs from other nomads. The Jew, for example, is mainly
preoccupied with how to acquire what belongs to others. If he has ninety-nine
sheep, he will plan to snatch the only sheep belonging to his brother. Greed
is the hallmark of Jewish trade and a fundamental article of his association
with others. On the contrary, pulaaku
asserts self-sufficiency that is achieved and maintained through honourable
means. Where deprivation visits the Fula,
he is expected to overcome it without revealing his secrets to others. He
would rather die than beg. With this self-pride, others found him a guest
enough light to accommodate easily, and who does not pose much threat to their
possessions. Men will remain amiable, according to Machiavelli, so long as
they do not show interest in the wealth and women of others.
the Fula demesticus has found pulaaku
important in his leadership role. In the various parts he settled in West
Africa, apart from farming, he has also engaged in scholarship and
administration. Pulaaku is
necessary to both professions. To become a good leader, self-sacrifice and
trust are indispensable qualities. To be a formidable scholar, self-denial is
necessary. And pulaaku supplies
the Fula with both habits in
abundance. He thus finds the commandments of Islam regarding these matters
easy to follow. This might have contributed to the acceptance of Shehu
Danfodio in Hausaland. The caliphate that he established enjoyed the respect
of the people as long as the leadership was ready to live by those qualities.
How long they did so is a question that only historians can best answer.
this fundamental identity of the Fula,
much of which is praiseworthy, is fast becoming eroded in the genus. Among the
Fula domesticus, very little of
it is left; and even among the naturalis,
it is increasingly becoming difficult to sustain. The selflessness of Fula
leaders is falling far short of the measure of pulaaku.
They have put their interest and that of their children first, and failed to
attend to the problems of their subjects. They loot the treasury as much as
others do; the difference between them, except in few cases, is marginal. The
misconduct of some of their daughters, especially some of those brought up in
the GRAs and who have become bereft of shame and shyness, is enough to make
their grandparents in the villages faint or go berserk.
present habits of many naturalis
is not better than that of his doemesticus
brother. They are also finding it difficult to keep trust. Some of them run
away with cattle that others kept in their custody. Some are involved in petty
habits like theft. Worst is what we have been learning for the past five years
about their participation in armed robbery and banditry. Do not mention
alcohol and other vices. I remember a goge
artiste who used to perform in our village on market days. One of his songs
was: “Karyar wade-wade ta kare ga dan
Fulani na sai da giya”, meaning, “pulaaku is finished since we
have a Fulani selling alcohol.” I wonder what he would say today, were he
are the reasons why I strongly hold the view that pulaaku
is endangered. Its decline among the Fula
when the country needs it most to overcome predicaments triggered by avarice
is deeply lamentable.
is difficult to practice all the ramifications of pulaaku
in the present world of political boundaries – local and international –
that exacerbate poverty by limiting movement and restricting the economic
choices of the individual; of growing predominance of capitalism and its
values; and finally, of acculturation through western education. Fighting
against these factors is like standing in the way of a flood.
we must know that facing the flood is better and more honourable than drowning
in it. It will take the capitalist societies to nowhere. Such societies will
sooner or later revert or their civilization will perish, for no civilization
lasts by living on bizarre exploitation and unguarded avarice like theirs.
prescription is a simple pill. In a struggle between civilizations, like in
fighting against a flood, it is wiser to hold on to a firm support. I am
referring to systems that are more enduring, that are held at higher esteem
and that possess higher values than those of traditions inherited from
Islam comes handy, to the Fula
and the non-Fula alike.
Fortunately, the Fula have
accepted it very long ago. Therefore, it is unnecessary for them to return to
the old pulaaku that was passed
through ancestry. When they practice it under Islam, in obedience to God, they
will be executing His commandments for which they will be rewarded in this
world and in the Hereafter.
will delight many readers to note that Islam has made sufficient provisions
for all the praiseworthy
properties of pulaaku, and much
more. A devout Muslim will flout pulaaku
only in few respects, all of which are unnecessary. If he follows the
traditions of the prophet, he will be able to drop the terrible and the
tedious in his old definition to adopt simpler versions that will endure the
aggression of external values. By this, we are most assured that the values we
cherish in pulaaku will live to
be inherited by our distant progenies. God said: “Lo! this Quran guideth
unto that which is straightest..” (17:9) Regarding the traditions of the
Prophet, they have emanated from someone described by God in the best of
testimonies: “And Lo. You are of great conduct.” (68:4).
Readers, that was pulaaku. Those were the threats to its survival. And this is Islam; its best saviour against the formidable flood of urbanization and capitalism. No other system will offer the Fula a better alternative. With it, wherever we go, we do not believe that we have missed anything that is praiseworthy in our heritage. Neither will we lose touch with nature for Islam is built on nature. We feel at home.