States And Peoples Of Upper Guinea And Futa Jallon In The Nineteenth Century – Y. Person
The Gambia river, navigable over hundreds of kilometers, had for centuries provided the outlet to the sea for the gold mines in the Joola countries of the upper Senegal and upper Niger. Further south it was a different world, that of Upper Guinea, where decentralized farming peoples, speaking mostly West Atlantic languages, had long occupied the sea coast. From Monrovia to the Gambia, the Sudanic zone only began to have contacts with the sea coast in the eighteenth century. This region was also one of the earliest centres of European influence in Guinea-Bissau, home of Creole culture, and later Sierra Leone and Liberia. Like Senegambia, this region was important for the slave trade in the sixteenth century, though, in the eighteenth century, its role declined.
Outside the coastal area, the two most important peoples were the Mandinka and the Fulbe (Fulani, Peul). The Mandinka empire of Kaabu (Gabu) dated back to the thirteenth century and had been independent of old Mali since the sixteenth. The Fulbe had been in the area since at least the fifteenth century but had founded the Muslim state of Futa Jallon only after 1727. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Portuguese influence was in decline, but the clandestine slave trade was to continue for quite a time on both sides of the anti-slavery centre of Sierra Leone. Mandinka Kaabu had trouble maintaining its influence as far as the southern shores of the Gambia, and failed altogether with its former vassals the Ba’inuk, on the coast.
The Foa (Balanta), non-centralized peasants, destroyed the Ba’inuk capital in 1830, and most of the survivors joined the Mandinka or else the Joola (Dyula), the hardy ‘anarchic’ traditionalist rice-growers who occupied the whole coastal area to the north. In the east, the Fulbe of Futa Jallon dominated the Mandinka as far as the Gambia in Kantora. In Kaabu and its dependencies, a Fulbe minority was growing increasingly impatient with its subordinate position. At this period, the French set up trading posts in the Casamance, at Karabane in 1836 and then at Seeju (Sediou) in 1838.
The groundnut trade soon grew, with predictable economic and social consequences. But the overthrow of the old order began in 1859, when Futa Jallon, and in particular the great Alfa Mo Labe, Yaya Maudo, began a decisive struggle against Kaabu, whose king, Yargi Sayon, was killed. The old empire collapsed in 1867 with the fall of Kansala in what was to be Portuguese Guinea, the Almami Umaru of Timbo having come to reinforce Alfa Mo Labe. Among the Mandinka vassal kingdoms, Brasu soon succumbed at the hands of Alfa Moola, but Oio kept its freedom until the Portuguese conquest in 1905. The fall of Kaabu had major repercussions; the Fulbe rebelled against their Mandinka masters as far as the banks of the Gambia.
In 1869, Alfa Moolo, a person of obscure origins, organized the kingdom of Fuladugu, from Kolda to Velingara, upstream from Seeju. He vaguely recognized the authority of Timbo, and set in train a policy of systematic Fulanization of his subjects. Until his death in 1881, this neo-Muslim ruler was the scourge of the Mandinka. The Mandinka tried to rally near Seeju, under Sunkari Kamara, whose opposition to trade soon set the French against him. His revolt against French influence in 1873, since the Balanba and Musa Moola’s Fulbe joined against him, was doomed to failure. Sunkari had to submit but, in 1882, flung himself into a last vain revolt that marked the end of his career. The Mandinka on the banks of the Gambia regrouped more effectively around a religious leader of Jaxaanke (Dyakhanke) origin from the upper Senegal, the famous Fode Kaba Dumbuya. Starting in 1875, he turned himself into a war leader, to resist Alfa Moola, with the support of Maba’s people. Alfa Moola, however, drove him back westwards, and from 1878 onwards Fode Kaba maintained himself by dominating the Joola (Dyula) of Fonyi, whom he partly converted to Islam.
The resistance of the Mandinka in the Casamance, caught between the Fulbe and the French, was effective in the end, for they succeeded in preserving their nationality by turning en masse to Islam under the influence of Sunkari and Fode Kaba. But when Musa Moolo, son of Alfa Moolo, went over to the French side in 1883, this gave the Fulbe a certain advantage. Playing on Anglo-French rivalries, Fode Kaba managed to maintain his position on the frontier of the Gambia until he was eliminated in 1901. The armed resistance of’anarchists’ like the Joola was to continue until 1913, and even after the First World War. From the Gambia to Sierra Leone, the history of the whole area was dominated from the beginning of the eighteenth century on by the development of the great Fulbe state of Futa Jallon.
Thanks to it, long-distance trade carrying Sudanic influences found its way to the coast and there linked up with the Europeans. Until the beginning of the eighteenth century, trade had percolated through a world of decentralized societies only with difficulty. Now, regular caravan routes came down from the upper Niger across the High Plateau of the Futa to the Portuguese trading posts on the Rio Geba (Bissau and Buba), to the Rio Nunez and the Rio Pongos, where the French built Boke in 1866 and Boffa in 1867, and finally to Sierra Leone. There, too, groundnuts appeared, although at the limit of their natural habitat. This was the famous ‘Cote des Rivières’ of the nineteenth-century French travellers. The English called it ‘the northern rivers’ on account of its position relative to Sierra Leone. Because of its deep indentations and inaccessible anchorages it was also one of the regions where the clandestine slave trade continued until the middle of the century. This persistence is also explained by the proximity of Futa Jallon.
This great Fulbe state, very greedy for slaves, raided for them, and imported a large number from the hinterland or took them from among the coastal minority peoples. Some were then made available for export. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Fulbe society in Futa Jallon seemed relatively stable. The victors in the holy war had set up a new aristocracy, which had established itself at the head of an extremely rigid and hierarchical society. At the level both of the state, of the nine largely independent provinces (diwal) that composed it, and of the ‘parishes’ (missidi, each comprising a ‘noble’ village and many farming hamlets), a haughty, self-confident class was in command. The defeated subjects, especially former Jallonke (Yalunka), had been oppressed to the point of losing their language, and their ranks had been swollen by imported slaves. Making up at least three-quarters of the population, they were closely supervised and harshly exploited.
Between the strata of this harsh society, there were marginals, outcasts virtually without the law: in particular, poor Fulbe lineages that had not managed to seize estates during the war eked out their existence on meagre herds in the gaps between missidi. On the credit side, there was a remarkable spread of Islamic culture, accompanied by (as was rare in sub-Saharan Africa) frequent use of Fulfulde in written form. Though highly cultured, the aristocracy marked itself off by stockbreeding and warfare and also by certain forms of adventurous trade. The cultural tradition that underlay the political structure remained alive, and was localized in the diwal of Fugumba, whose marabouts decided political disputes by consecrating the almamis (‘imams’ – successive rulers of the state). But the Fulbe did not monopolize religion; they even entrusted a prestigious role to outsiders regarded as neutral. These were an ethnic minority with whom we are already familiar, namely the Jaxaanke (Dyakhanke), who had, since the sixteenth century, covered first the Gambia and then the Futa and the Rivers with their commercial ventures. These western Joola (Dyula) were first and foremost men of religion, and in principle non-violent.
In the Futa, in addition to long-distance trade, they had become the masters of religious culture since founding Tuba, near Labe, in about 1810. The aristocracy encouraged them because of their political neutrality, and their influence extended from Kankan in the upper Niger basin to the European trading posts of Sierra Leone. The only exception to this freezing of frontiers at the beginning of the nineteenth century was Labe, which at the beginning of the century did not extend northwards beyond the upper reaches of the Rio Grande. In 1810-20, however, it thrust beyond and soon reached the upper Gambia, where it dominated the Mandinka of Kantora. This expansion, which meant actual genocide for various traditionalist groups of people of the Tanda or Badiar family (Chapi, Pakesi and Bassari), was the work of the powerful Alfa Molabe, reinforced by the almamis themselves, who called the whole Futa to arms as for a crusade.
This was the case particularly with Umaru, the Soriya almami from 1840 until his death in 1869, who made up for his defeats at the hands of the Hubbu by wars in the north. We have seen that this expansion finally triumphed with the destruction in 1867 of the Mandinka empire of Kaabu and, at least temporarily, the adherence of Alfa Moolo’s new Fulbe state of Fuladugu. While Labe was developing in the north, the factional war around Timbo was only a sterile, bloody game for the first half of the century. The details are well known, and it is pointless to go over them again here. After the interminable war at the beginning of the century between Abdulay Babemba (Alfaya) and Abdul Gadiri (Soriya), Abdulay’s son, Bubakar Maudo, remained in power for twelve years (1827-39) in violation of the rule of rotation.
The civil war was in full swing in 1844 when al-Hadjdj ‘Umar, returning from his famous pilgrimage, came to live near Futa. From then on, the system was to work more or less properly, but this cannot be explained solely by the prestige of the Tijaniyya marabout, who in any case left the Futa in about 1847. The fact is that in the middle of the century, the Futa aristocracy put its quarrels aside, for it had to face a new danger: the revolt of the Hubbu. Hubbu rassul allah, those who love God, seems to have been a religious sect of extremist puritan members of the Kadiriyya who split off from the Fulbe aristocracy, which mainly joined the Tijaniyya under the influence of al-Hadjdj ‘Umar, though the Fulbe also feared TJmar’s radicalism and ordered him to leave the country.
This was certainly how the Hubbu founder, Modi Mamadu Jue (Dyue), a noted scholar who had studied in Mauritania under Shaykh Sidia, saw things. Although the basic research has not been done, the hypothesis can be put forward that this religious upsurge allowed outcasts from Fulbe society to organize their protests. The Hubbu seem to have comprised marginal Fulbe, excluded from the partition, and serfs of Jallonke origin or recently imported slaves. The movement broke out all over the Futa in 1849; but it was mostly suppressed.The rebels took refuge in the outlying areas, in the coastal zone or towards the upper Niger. They then entrenched themselves in Fitaba under the personal leadership of Jue and then of his son Abal and thenceforth constituted a serious threat which the almamis never succeeded in eliminating.
Despite their small numbers, they attracted marginal elements from all quarters and created in their fortress, Boketto, an atmosphere of feverish mysticism. They were formidable fighters, and must have aroused some response in the Fulbe conscience, for the almamis had difficulty in mobilizing forces against them. The Hubbu twice burnt Timbo and all attacks launched against Boketto failed. In 1871, the Alfaya almami, Ibrahim Sori Dara, met his death trying to take Boketto. Eventually the Fulbe had to appeal to Samori – whose march to the sea the Hubbu were obstructing – before this focus of opposition was crushed in 1884. The alliance with Samori, who arrived on their borders in 1879, was to prove profitable for the Fulbe of Futa, who sold him cattle in exchange for slaves. Even with the Hubbu threat diminished, this society could still only maintain its divided balance, and it offered but weak resistance to the colonial conquest.
By superseding a fragmented political structure, the formation of Futa Jallon had opened up a huge area for Sudanic trade to reach the sea coast, even though security remained only relative and the Fulbe aristocracy had odd ideas about the protection of caravans. René Caillé, who crossed the country from Boke to the Niger, bore witness to this in 1827. The opening up of the coast to Sudanic influences was radically to change the civilization of the lowland peoples, especially since many of them had to accept the political authority of Futa Jallon. To the north-west the Fulbe dominated much of what is now GuineaBissau, and this domain was further extended after the fall of Kansala (1867). Further south they controlled the upper navigable point on the Rio Nunez by imposing their sway on the Landuman of Boke through whom contact was made with the Europeans. Although they had massacred Fulbe traders in 1840, the Landuman were unable to free themselves, and fell into a long civil war from 1844 to 1849.
In 1856, Faidherbe brought them into the colonial era prematurely by building a fort. On the sea, the Beafade in Guinea-Bissau and the Nalu on the Rio Nunez escaped the authority of the Fulbe in their marshy lands, but hardly interfered with trade with the Europeans. The Nalu lineage of the Tawela claims Mandinka origin, although their culture shows nothing of Mandinka influence. They distinguished themselves by King Dina Salifu’s ambivalent resistance to French authority. Further south, on the Rio Pongos, among the Susu who bordered on Bona, the authority of Timbo was strongest. Close relations of the Mandinka, the Susu then had a culture strongly marked by the coastal and forest area influences, especially from the Baga, relatives of the Temne, whom they had assimilated. They had suffered heavily from the slave trade, and European influences show among them in many racially mixed families descended from American and British slave-traders. Thanks to them, the clandestine slave trade did not readily die out. Situated as they were at the border line from Futa Jallon, however, the Susu were infiltrated by Islam; and their culture was Sudanized at an increasing rate during the colonial period.
Those on the Rio Pongos constituted the kingdom of Tya, which was dominated by the Damba (Kati) clan. The ‘mulatto war’ that began in 1865 ended in the defeat of the pro-slavery, pro-Fulbe party: some Lightburn Timbo had just resigned themselves to this when the French occupation took place in 1868. Further south, the authority of the Futa did not extend as far as the sea, but Sudanic influence was nonetheless profound. Since the mid-eighteenth century, Morea (Melakori) had been dominated by a lineage of the Ture clan, which had come from Kankan as traders and been linguistically assimilated to the Susu whilst still remaining strictly Muslim. The almamis of this small state maintained their sway with the help of the Jallonke of Solimana.
From 1865 onwards, they were rent by interminable civil war between the pro-Islamic party of Altnatni Bokari and the ‘Maliguistes’ of Maliki Gheli. The establishment of the French not far away at Benty in 1869 did not improve the situation, for the conflict was to become a feature of Anglo-French frontier rivalry. It provoked the intervention of the Temne of Satan Lahay and the Susu of Karimu, chief of Tambaxa and a great enemy of the English. Samori himself joined in after 1884, and the matter was only settled after the Anglo-French boundary delimitation of 1889.
The case of Morea well illustrates the socio-cultural phenomenon that had been at work on the Rivers Coast since the eighteenth century. Peoples speaking various languages and living in coastal agricultural civilizations had in the sixteenth century been subjected to northern influence through the agency of the Somba invasion, but had absorbed it.
Thereafter, with the arrival of Sudanic traders on the coast, these old cultures were radically changed. Mandinka and Fulbe lineages settled everywhere, became politically dominant and introduced new ideas of politics. Egalitarian, relatively unstratified societies thus came to accept organization into warrior chiefdoms and semi-centralized states. These peoples nevertheless retained their cultural identities: the newcomers, few in number, were completely assimilated linguistically. This phenomenon covered essentially southern Susu country and the domains of the Limba, Loko, and Temne. It stopped short abruptly at Sierra Leone, that is, on the verge of the forest lands of the south, which had mainly stayed closed to the Sudanic trade routes. But major social effects extended well beyond that.
Thus, from the Temne to the Kpelle of Liberia social and political life was dominated by great initiation societies, the best known of which, that for men, was often called Poron (compare the Poro of the Senufo). Hence, this was a basic social phenomenon transcending the borders of the historical areas just defined. The Loko, the advance guard of the Mende, were isolated between the Temne and the Limba with their backs to the sea. They managed to survive under the rule of a lineage of Mandinka origin which gave them a great leader, Pa-Koba, ally of Samori. After 1787, the Temne, speaking a West Atlantic language close to Baga and Landuman, had to give up Sierra Leone to the British colony which served as base for the anti-slavery patrol and where the Creole (Krio) ethnicity soon came into being. Their main centre was Port Loko, terminus of the caravans from the Futa and upper Niger, where the Susu had taken power at the end of the eighteenth century.
In 1818, Islamized Temne drove out the Susu, and their leader, the alkali, in 1825, made an alliance with the British. The north of Temne country was dominated by Kambia, where the Satan Lahay family reigned; despite its complete assimilation it claimed descent from the Ture of Bate (Kankan). South of the Rokel, the Yoni, who formed the advance guard of the Temne, felt themselves isolated as the Freetown trade grew around them, while the expansion of the Kpa Mende closed the south to them. They flung themselves into long wars to free themselves, and the problem was resolved by the British army in 1886. South of the Rokel, however, we are in a different region, where the thickness of the forest had prevented the maintenance of links with the Sudan, though such links had been initiated in the sixteenth century.
The slave trade, on the other hand, had been keenly pursued on the coast and survived in its clandestine form until 1845 despite the proximity of Freetown and Monrovia. The history of the interior only becomes structured and clear to us in the middle of the century, when a trading network run by Sierra Leone Creoles made its way there and began to integrate the region into the world market: but the network did not link up with the termini of the tracks to the Sudan, as in the northern sector. This new field of force led to an increase in local conflicts, and gave them new directions. South of the Temne, the eighteenth century saw a great southern Mande people, the Mende, near kin of the Toma, strongly resume their expansion. They got closer to the sea by absorbing the Bulom, who were thus separated for good from the Kissi. The Mende formed great warrior chiefdoms, relatively centralized, and their women played an exceptional political role. Their advance guard, the Kpa Mende who, because of their war with the Yoni, went into alliance with the British, were governed about 1880 by the famous Madam Yoko.
In the extreme east of the Mende domain the great Luawa chiefdom was, at the end of the century, the domain of a powerful conqueror of Kissi origin, Kai-Lundu, whose army of mercenaries faced up to the advance guards of Samori and raided deep into Kpelle and Toma country in what is now Liberia. The advance of the Mende separated two closely related Mande peoples, the Kono, hemmed in in the then unprospected diamond-bearing mountains of the interior, and the Vai, established on the coast on what is now the Sierra Leone-Liberia border since the mid-fifteenth century at the latest. The latter maintained quite sizable chiefdoms derived from the Somba ’empire’ of the sixteenth century, and played an active part in the growth of the slave trade that characterized the area in the eighteenth century. It is therefore not surprising that they should have helped the clandestine slave trade, whose most prominent representative in their area was the Spaniard Pedro Blanco, until about 1845. These dubious relationships with the outside world caused the Vai culture to change considerably but they also brought out the Vai’s creative initiative. In about 1818, just how is not clear, they invented one of the few typically African scripts.
But since the eighteenth century, the Vai and their eastern neighbours, the De of Monrovia, who are Kru-speaking, had been bottled up on the coast by the extremely vigorous expansion of a people from the interior, the Gola, speakers of a West Atlantic language like the Kissi. Under pressure in the north from the Mende and their kinsmen, they left their homeland of Kongaba and fanned out towards the sea. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, their advance guard came into contact with the Kpelle and interposed themselves between the coastal peoples and the route to the Sudan. We have reached the line of the Saint-Paul river, which links the coast of Monrovia to the Konyan highlands and marks the boundary of the Sudanic world of the Mandinka of the region.
In general, the forest barrier was unbroken south of the Rokel (and the Futa Jallon link of the upper Niger to the coast at Sierra Leone), as far as the Bandama or even the Comoé river, much further east. Here at the Saint-Paul, however, we find an isolated opening between the savanna and the sea, which determined the location of the Vai and the subsequent siting of Monrovia. It was opened up by the great Somba invasion in the sixteenth century, but then fell into disuse. In the eighteenth century, when the slave trade finally developed from Sierra Leone to the Kru coast, this outlet for slaves from the interior saw renewed activity. Thus, at the end of the century, an influx of Mandinka coming down from Konyan gave rise to the warrior state of Kondo around the chiefdom of Bopolu. Determined to keep the route open, the Bopolu chiefs organized a confederacy of Toma (Loma), Kpelle (Guerze), Vai, De, and Gola chiefdoms on the lower Saint-Paul. Soon after 1820, Bopolu, became the capital of Sau Boso, the famous soldier of fortune, who, like the Vai, became an ally of the founders of Liberia. After 1830, however, his power was threatened by the Gola chief, Jenkins, and, after his death in 1836, the hegemony of Kondo collapsed.
The Liberians had to deal with the hostile but now dominant Gola, and it was this in particular that lay behind Anderson’s journey as far as Konyan in 1869. The Samorians stepped in to re-open the route after 1885, and it was not until 1898 that part of the Gola rallied to the Monrovia government.


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