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The People
Pulaaku Ethics
Art & Culture
Fulani Pathways


Central to their life is their code of behavior called Pulaaku, which enables them to maintain their identity across boundaries and changes of life style. Pulaaku has been described as 'Fulaniness' , decorum, good manners, and pastoral chivalry. Pulaaku involves important virtues such as, munyal, which is patience, self control, mental discipline, prudence; semteende which is modesty and respect for others, even for enemies, and also hakkille, wisdom, forethought, prudence in managing his personal affairs and giving hospitality.

The Pullo, as the Fulani call themselves, is trained to be stoic, never to show his feelings. He is disciplined, thoughtful and proud but respectful. He also tends tohave a deep emotional attachment to cattle. It means that one is a better person if one is self-sufficient and relies on few personal possessions and comforts.

Pulaaku implies that one can manage onself well and also that one can manage one's herd well. The Pullo or Fulbe male sees his people as having a priestly role to maintain the triangular relationships of interdependence between himself, his wife and family, and his cattle. Indeed, many Fulani groups give to their cattle individual endearing names.His cattle give a man milk and prestige, and is treated like an extended family rather than just an economic asset.

In return he gives them pasture, water and protection. The wife contributes food preparation, dairy production and fertility. Therefore the man has both skill as a herder but also wisdom and character to fulfill his responsibility.

To appreciate the moral principles governing the Fulani life, one must have a deep understanding of the notion of Pulaaku or Fulaniness. Pulaaku along with their cattle, language and religion,  is the basis of their extreme pride or dimmaaku/dimaanku. As Riesman (1977:128) say, Pulaaku is an exact structural equivalent of the English word chivalry  and, like it, designates at once certain moral qualities and a group of men possessing these qualities. It is both the appropriate code of Fulve behavior and simultaneously refers to the group of men who embody it.

The dominant traits of Laawol Pulaaku or the Fulani way are munyal, hakkiilo, semteende, sagata  and an intimate understanding of both the Fulfulde language and people.
Munyal is a cross between strength and courage in adversity and a stoic acceptance or endurance of the supposedly pre-ordained vicissitudes of life. It is often translated as patience.
The word hakkiilo (hakkille) (intelligence or common sense) conveys a blending of prudence and shrewdness in livelihood management and face to face encounters.  Semteende (shame) is best described both as a lacking of restraint (gacce/yaage) and self-control in daily social interaction, and evidencing a weakness when facing adversity (Riesman 1974). It is most often translated as shame. The French term pudeur or informed sense of decency is closer to the mark. In essence it represents any revelation of weakness or non-conformity to the code of pulaaku. When someone acts shamefully Fulve say o sempti meaning they shamed themselves, or alternatively, o alaa semteende (o ala gacce) meaning they have no shame. In other words a pullo must know of the social constraints on behavior and be able to avoid contravening them in all situations, especially in front of his in-laws. But not having semteende a pullo would escape from social constraints. A true pullo is in total control of his emotions and impulses (Kirk-Green, 1986).

Semteende, is also a lack of pulaaku (or even a fear of lacking it) is the motivating force for the Fulani to behave as Fulani. Without cattle it is difficult to exhibit pulaaku and if one has no longer any cattle then one has probably not acted as a pullo. In pre-colonial times, loss of cattle was shameful. It implied that one was not man enough to defend his herd and by implication, not brave enough to get some back. These days the shame is attached to inadequate shepherding ability in the face of a degrading environment.
Sagata means brave in the senses of both courage of a warrior and hard work of any person. It is often used to congratulate someone for their valor and accomplishments.

More often, Pulaaku is characterized by the taste or ndaku for cows and an intimate knowledge of cattle husbandry, self-control over physical needs and impulses, and the choice of stimulation over comfort. One must not express any discomfort in public, whether it be a pain, physical or moral (such as grief), or a need (like hunger, thirst). Of course one does not enact pulaaku all day, but for limited periods of public interaction. Thus as Riesman (1975:45-47) maintains, there are formal and informal aspects of life and behavior  and these are not always easy to  differentiate.

Pulaaku, must be passed on by each generation as high moral values of Fulve otherwise it will disappear, which it seems to be when herds are lost and clans break up to seek for work in the settled society. It is taught by any Rimve relative, or perhaps by his parents and also by mawdo laawol pulaaku, a leader of his clan. To be a true Fulani, and described by terms such as O waadi, or banti, or teendru Pulaaku, means he not only speaks the language but knows how to live as a Fulani. 

The Fulani pathways (Laawol Fulve):

·         Munyal = patience, self control, discipline
·         Gacce/ Semteende = modesty, respect

·         Hakkille
= wisdom, forethought, managing it's own
·         Sagata /Tiinaade= courage, hard work

Adapted from : Weekley, Paul, University of Western Sydney
(...Among the Fulbe Jelgobe of Northern Burkina Faso, thesis)