Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Nomadic Fulani and the Rest of Us (2)

The Nomadic Fulani and the Rest of Us (2)

So, to the first question raised last week: is the Fulani inherently wicked to people other than his own? Is the Fulani simply a trouble maker who goes around, in racial arrogance, causing crises all over the place? In the light of what is generally held about them as a people, it is probably helpful to take a peep into the sociological make up of the Fulani and see if any meaningful deduction can emerge.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, discussing the many feuds between many families around the Appalachians in the United States of America in the 1800s, notes that “when one family fights with another, it’s a feud. When lots of families fight one another in identical little towns up and down the same mountain range, it’s a pattern”. We have seen a clear pattern in the manner in which clashes involving the Fulani across Nigeria have manifested. One finds Gladwell’s argument quite fascinating in locating a trend and a metaphor in this Fulani quagmire of ours.
For almost a hundred years, the 19th century saw a lot of killings in that mountainous area between families: the Howards versus the Turners in the Harlan County; Hartfield versus McCoy on the West Virginia-Kentucky border, which stretched over twenty years; the French-Eversole feud in Perry County, Kentucky; the Martin-Tolliver feud in Rowan County, Kentucky; the Baker-Howard feud in Clay County, Kentucky. These were just to mention a few of the many known ones.
Gladwell further indicated that of the many potential explanations to this pattern debated, there was a consensus on what sociologists consider a particularly virulent strain called the “culture of honour”. Such cultures tended to take roots in marginally fertile areas like Sicily, the Basque regions of Spain and the northern counties of England and Ulster in Northern Ireland. Because of the low arability of such areas due to their rocky nature, the peoples tended to be herdsmen. They were very spartan. They were constantly under threat not just by the elements but also by other people like them, not to mention the wild animals. In contrast to the settled farming populations whose crops cannot be easily stolen wholesale, the livestock of the herdsmen can easily be totally plundered. Therefore, as a means of survival, they had to be aggressive; they had to make it clear that they were not weak. They saw any challenge as a threat to their personal reputation. It becomes, for such persons, a matter of honour.
The inhabitants of the Appalachian mountain areas emigrated originally from historically the world’s most ferocious cultures of honour. They were Scotch Irish: the lowlands of Scotland, the earlier mentioned northern counties of England, and Ulster in Northern Ireland. These borderland regions were known to be lawless territories, fought over for hundreds of years. They replicated their livelihood and lifestyle in the new world around the Appalachians.
Herdsmen are very clannish, “responding to the harshness and turmoil of their environment”, as Gladwell puts it, “by forming tight family bonds placing loyalty to blood above all else”. Being herdsmen also, it is easy to locate the Fulani in the above context. They are very clannish with very high loyalty to family bonds. Infact because of their quest to keep the family intact, it is common practice amongst them for first cousins to marry each other, which many other Nigerian communities find rather strange. The extent of their familial bonds sometimes leads them to treat children amongst them who have one of the parents coming from another tribe other than theirs with some reservation. To demonstrate honour and bravery in the typical Fulani society, a young man seeking the hand of a maiden in marriage will have to subject himself to the gory and sometimes life-threatening Sharo contest with other suitors, in which they subject themselves to vicious lashes – or thuds? – of each other’s herdsman staff. The last man standing wins the bride, having proved his capacity and capability to fend for and defend his family.
It is also, therefore, easy to see why any feud with one of them anywhere, as is commonly held, is a war with his family everywhere, no matter how seemingly remote the tie is: from Senegal to Mali, Gambia to Cameroun, Guinea to Chad, Niger Republic and Burkinafaso. It would not matter the enemy’s religion, tribe (including theirs) or the length of time, they would seem to visit with vendetta, regardless of frontier. Any wonder then why some of them caught during some of these attacks we see today don’t appear Nigerian? Again, once an older member of the family declares such battle, no matter how unjustifiable younger persons in the family construe such, it would take the former’s peers or seniors to stand them down.
This discourse is not an attempt to explain away the irascibility in question or vilify the Fulani, but to begin to suggest context for policy formulation toward permanently addressing the problem.

(Published on BLUEPRINT Newspaper, Thursday Jan 16, 2014)

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