The Toucouleur People
of West Africa
The Toucouleur, a black West African people group, sub group of the Fulani people, live mostly in the Senegal River Valley in Northern Senegal and Southern Mauritania, although they are also found widely dispersed throughout other Western African countries.
Stretching from Senegal to Nigeria, 26 million Fula people speak 41 dialects of Pulaar such as Fuladou, Futa Toro, Fulacounda and Fulfuta etc. These speakers of Pulaar, or Haalpulaaren as they call themselves, are by and large Muslims and have been for centuries.
The Toucouleur and the Fulani (Peul in French) people are of one and the same ethnic group. They have the same language and often the same names, but there are never the less certain differences between the two groups.
In Cameroon, Guinea and Northern Nigeria the Fula form the ruling elite, however the majority are nomadic herdsmen wandering from place to place.
Only in Southern Mali, Nigeria and Benin have significant numbers of Fulani people come to believe in Jesus Christ. Smaller groups of believers also exist in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal. A significant turning to Christianity among the Fulani peoples of Africa would significantly affect other related peoples throughout the Sahel, the semi-desert area immediately south of the Sahara.
The Toucouleur population in Senegal numbers about 901,000 according to ’96 estimates, and worldwide the total population surpasses 1.7 million people. Unconfirmed reports estimate that as many as 20,000 Toucouleur could be living in Europe. Popular destinations include France, Spain, Germany and Italy.
When asked, the Toucouleur call themselves Haalpulaaren – literally meaning, "speakers of Pulaar". The origins of the Toucouleur are unclear. It is speculated that they are descendants from the rulers of the ancient Tekrour Empire. They are considered a cultural mix of the ethnic groups. Another popular explanation is that the Toucouleur are a cultural mix of the ethnic groups that used to inhabit the northern regions incorporated in the Tekrour Empire. Notably these ethnic influences include the Saragoele / Soninkes, the Maures and the Bedouins, Sereres and nomadic Fulani herders.
Traditionally sedentary farmers, the Toucouleur live in close-knit society groups and follow a patriarchal social structure. Community life is highly stratified into a hierarchy of Clans, 12 Casts and 3 social classes. The cast determines the ‘value’ of an individual in society. Toucouleur people mostly belong to the cast of religious leaders called the Tooroobe.
The ruling aristocratic, clerical class was in fact the first to embrace Islam in the 11th century. Now most Islamic learning and scholarship comes through this class. Toucouleur Marrabouts and ‘holy men’ are renowned throughout Western African. The middle class is composed of fishers, farmers, administrators and tradesmen. The lower middle class includes skilled craftsmen, storytellers and musicians etc. The lower class is made up of day labourers, servants and slaves, both free and bound.
The Toucouleur people are Muslims at heart, and are known as 'the defenders of the faith'. It was by ‘holy war’ that Toucouleur religious leaders exported Islam through most of West Africa. The tenets of Islam are an integral cultural value that permeates all aspects of Toucouleur society. It is also said with pride, that to be born Toucouleur, is to be born Muslim. However, Islamic practices are inextricably mixed with traditional animistic ideas and occult folk rituals. Divination, witchcraft and magic (often practised by the Islamic cleric - the midibbo) are widespread. Amulets and charms are made and sold by religious leaders. A belief in "baraga" (supernatural power) is common and religious leaders thought to possess it are sought after for the miracles they can work.
In Senegal, a secular country open to evangelism, Christians have been sharing their faith (as explained in the Bible) with the Toucouleur for at least 30 years. While there are already more than 50 Pulaar speaking Christians, only about 18 are Toucouleur. Unfortunately these believers are widely scattered, and growth in their faith is slow and uncertain. One could be a bad Muslim and never pray – that’s OK, but there is not yet an acceptance for Christians in Toucouleur society.
This site is dedicated to the glory of God with the firm
conviction of one day seeing the Great Commission
completed, and disciples from every tribe, tongue, and nation
worshipping God around His throne.
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