Greetings as we visit the Fulani people (also called Peul or Fulbe) from West Africa, the largest nomadic group in the world. The ethnic group is quite diverse, with people who were conquered and became a part of the Fulani through the spread of Islam. The Fulani people are scattered from Lake Chad in the east to the Atlantic coast. You will find them mainly in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. Their language, Fula, belongs to the Niger-Congo language family.

The origin of the people is disputed, it is believed they migrated from North Africa (because of the lighter skin and straighter hair) and Sub-Saharan Africa becoming the first people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars. They are primarily nomadic herders and traders.

A Fulani woman and her beauty piecing and paint. Photo: Flickr/ Ferdinand Reus

Cattle is a valuable asset among these people, and a sign of wealth, more-so around this livestock are different beliefs and taboos. Given their interest in cattle rearing, they often fight with local farmers after their cattle graze in their lands. The social structure of the Fulani is egalitarian. The influence of Islam on kinship is clear in the intra-lineage marriages. Most of the men are polygynous.

Affairs of West Africa by Edmund D. Morel are a photographic collection of traditions, culture, life, social systems and people in Africa of the 1900s. Courtesy: NYPL Digital Gallery

The Fulani regard beauty with high esteem. The women tattoo their mouths or paint it with a back colour as a sign of beauty. Tatoos can also be inscribed all over their bodies. One of the most interesting practises is called Sharo, this is however not practised by everyone. Sharo is a test of endurance; a youth is expected to undergo severe flogging in public without flinching. It is normally staged twice a year, during the dry-season guinea corn harvest and the Muslim festival of Id-el-kabir.

According to AFKinsider, when two young men want to marry the same woman, to compete for her hand, they beat one another up. The men must suppress signs of pain and the one who takes the beating without showing signs of pain can take the wife.