The Fulani

There is an ethnic group in this part of the world called the Fulani. (What I am about to describe is based purely on asking questions and not on hard fact. If there are things that I get wrong, please forgive me.) They are a nomadic group of people that are all over this part of Africa. Fulani men are paid by rich people to herd cattle from one place to another. In Togo they normally walk from Burkina Faso (North of Togo) to Lomé (the capitol in the South) with herds of 15 – 20 skinny skinny cows.

For some reason Fulani all dress alike. The men wear baggy, loose fitting, solid color MC Hammer type pants with a very loose tunic type shirt (oftentimes the shirts will be second hand western women’s clothing like a blouse.) They ALWAYS have a walking stick in one hand, water bottle on a string draped over one arm, bag (most often women’s purse) draped over the other arm and a hat (usually straw but on occasion white lacey kind of hat little girls in the south wear to church). For some reason they also all wear solid colored plastic (gummy kind of) shoes.

I’m not sure I have ever seen a Fullani woman. I think I have. They usually have children in their arms, colorful beads in their hair, and a far away look to their eye. Their clothing is usually a deep red color.

Having lived here for a number of months and traveled a bit I have gotten used to seeing things that are foreign to me. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing the Fulani.

Two weeks ago I was in a car driving from a city in the south of the country to my home further north. We stopped next to a thriving market in the full swing of market day. The market looked like most other markets except for how many Fulani there were. Groups of two or three Fulani guys (probably 17 – 25 years old) were casually wandering around, not buying anything, just being seen. Imagine middle schoolers in the US going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon. Before going they put on their best shoes, do their hair just right, and hope to be seen. These guys had done the exact same thing… just Fulani style. Some of the guys wandering around had on makeup; some of it turning their face a clown like white. Others had painted white circles on their cheeks, white streaks under their eyes, and white on their lips. There were groups who had giant Afros (and the accompanying hair pick). Others had very nice purses and the white hats of the southern nine year old at her first communion.

Yesterday, I was leaving the market with arms full of black bags of veggies. As I loaded up my bike bags I looked up to see two Fullani guys staring at me and whispering to each other.

They were talking about me.

Between two guys who walk around carrying women’s purses and lace hats I was the foreign one. I was the alien. They belong to an ethnic group I understand about as well as the accordion, who know and think exactly the same about me. I didn’t need the makeup, purse, or walking stick. Instead I had my jeans, messenger bag and Trek bike.

And I was weird.

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Fula Man said...

Some of the information you post is wrong. Rich people do not pay us to herd cattle, we are by nature cattle herders. We herd our cattle to graze upon better land that is not dry. In doing so, the cattle can produce milk so that Fulani women can make butter, yogurt or just simply sell milk to the market. The more cattle a man has, the better. Fulani are same all throughout West Africa.

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