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Cousinhood : Relationship between Last Names

An interesting custom in the Fuuta is sanakuyaagal (Dendiraagal) or joking between clans. Here's how it works: the Diallos tease the Baldes or Bahs and the Sows joke with the Barrys. For example, a Barry might call a Sow a thief (gujjo) or a Donkey (Mbaba) and otherwise ridicule their character and lineage, all in good fun. The cross-cousins don't have to know each other well to start play-insulting each other.

Family terminology

The words brother, father, mother, uncle, etc. are applied loosely in Fulani e society. Someone's brother may in fact be his half-brother, cousin, a distant relative, someone from the same village, or just a good buddy. Father can mean uncle or grandfather; my child could be my son, daughter, nephew, grandchild, etc.

If you want to establish the exact genealogical relationship, you need to ask specific questions: Do you have the same mother? Is he your mother's older brother?

Family Relations

The principles for organizing family relationships are quite different from that of the Western countries. However, there are a few general principles which will help you understand how families are arranged.

In the first place, family relationships are arranged according to classificatory lines, rather than simply biological lines. This means that there is an entire group or class of people who can fill any relationship slot. For example, one does not say baaba (father) only to one's biological father. All of the father's brothers are also called baaba, and they have special privileges and responsibilities visa vis their neices and nephews. This title of baaba may furthermore be extended to include all of the father's cousins, and then all of his age-mates!

One says neene (mother) to one's biological mother and all of her sisters. If it is important to distinguish the biological parents, you can say Baaba am tigi (My real father), etc.

Secondly, relationships are distinguished between the mother's side of the family and the father's side.

Importance of Names

Names are more than what goes into an Identity card. Names are given to strengthen family, friendship and community. Naming practices also reflect the sense in which each person is understood, at a fundamental level, to be a living manifestation of the cumulative force of his paternal descent. Men's and women's names consist of their given names followed by their father's last name Yettoode. This is usually the extent to which a name is given for social or legal purposes. But a person's full name is understood to go on and on, from father to father ad infinitum.

In West-Africa communities, such as the Fulani, people often ask foreigners to choose a local name by which they will be called. It is very important to people that they be able to remember and use your name.

This helps strengthen the friendship between the foreigner and the local population.

The importance of names and naming shows up in several ways. The first event in a child's life is his or her naming ceremony. This occurs on the seventh day after a child's birth. Children are named after the parents' brothers, sisters , mother, father, or in honor of someone else. Both mother and father choose a first name to give to the child. However, in the patrilineal society, the last name is that of the father. For example for a boy, the mother can choose Demba, and the father Yero. The mother's side of the family and her friends will call the child Demba, on the other hand, the father and his family and friends will call him Yero. The person from whom the name is chosen and all the persons of the same first name are the child's tokora, or namesake. A tokora is responsible for buying certain gifts on the day of the naming ceremony, as well as for fulfilling certain duties throughout the life of the child. Sharing a common name creates a special bond.

The family name of an individual will often tell you which ethnic group he is from. A sample of Fulani names is: Jallo (or Kah), Soh, Bah (or Balde), Ban, Sih, Dem, Kaan, Njaay, Sekk, Caam, An, Jaaw, etc. One manner of showing respect for another person is to call out his family name as a greeting when you meet and as a good-bye as you are leaving. For examples of Fulani first names click here.



We are related, you and I

When you meet someone, after the preliminary greetings, you will be asked your last name and your village of origin. The main reason for that is to identify a potential relationship or lineage between people. Genealogy is a highly valued tool for this kind of exchange. In the olden days people knew their genealogy very well and could identify quickly relationship between families. However, this is now a dying art.

Sending kids
on errands

In most African cultures, an adult can ask any child to run an errand for them, regardless of whether or not the child is related to them, or whether they know the child at all. Child in this context means anyone younger and/or clearly lower in status than oneself. In the absence of telephones, faxes, vehicles, etc. this is often the most effective way to send a message, obtain candles or sugar at the last minute, transport heavy objects, etc. A reward of some sort may be appropriate but is not obligatory.

Visiting the sick

The Fulani, like most people, like to be visited when they are sick. It is nice to bring food or other gifts. In case of an extended illness involving a hospital stay and/or the purchase of medicine, a gift of money is appropriate.

Are you better?

When you tell someone you're sick, they will ask you: Are you feeling better? If you answer that, no, you're not better at all yet, they will respond: OK. But are you feeling better? The correct answer is Yes,

regardless of how you feel.

They are wishing you well, not really inquiring as to your health. By saying Yes you are really saying If God wills it I will soon be better.