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25th May 2018

Over 45 Million Fulanis in Africa and also World’s Largest Nomadic Tribe

By a press release (04/08/17)

Fulani is one of the largest tribes in Africa numbering more than 45 million and spread across the band of the Sahel from Senegal to Eritrea.


They most spread out and are the largest nomadic tribe in the world i.e. from the shores of Senegambia to the banks of the Nile and the Red Sea. (Pictured: Fulani children in other parts of Africa). They are called by different names depending on the language: Fulani, Fula, Peul, Pul, Fut, Fellata, Tekruri, Toucouleur, Peulh, Wasolonka, Kourte, etc. but they refer to themselves as Pullo (singular) and Fulbhe (plural). 

They are traditionally a nomadic people but after embracing Islam, they began living a more sedentary lifestyle. They are physically characterised by their lighter or reddish skin, thin nose and lips and usually have a tall and thin stature.

They founded several empires across much of West Africa including the ancient Tekrur and the vast Sokoto Empire that extended from Mali to Cameroon and included all of the northern part of Nigeria and Cameroon. 

In their quest for greener grass and for the purpose of spreading Islam, they conquered many smaller kingdoms on the ashes of which they founded many powerful but smaller states. The kingdom of Fuuta Jallon in Guinea is an example. Today, they live a more sedentary lifestyle and are involved in many other activities including trade and agriculture.

Their origins have been subject to much speculation but the most widely accepted source attributes their origins to ancient Egypt were they lived thousand years ago before migrating to West and South and then East Africa in search of greener pasture for their cattle.

Fulanis are the most widespread ethnic group in Africa and they can be seen in all major cities of Sub Saharan Africa and the Western world. They are excellent traders and business people.


ADLaM is the name of Fulfulde script that originated in the southern city of Guinea called N'Zerekore. It is in this city, that in 1889 Abdoulaye and Ibrahima created the 28 signs that make up the Pular or Fulfulde alphabet called ADLaM.

In those days, the Fulbhe who lived outside of their villages or towns were only able to communicate with their relatives or parents through letters carried by travellers. These letters were written in Pular using the Arabic script that the Fulbhe have used since embracing Islam. 

However, because of the lack of standardisation, people were free to write as they wanted. Therefore reading these letters could sometime be a very challenging exercise. In most cases reading turned into a guessing game since the Arabic alphabet did not contain all the Pular or Fulfulde sounds and some of the sounds for the letters used did not exist in Pular.

Reports say two brothers were in the habit of reading the letters that were sent to their Dad after he had finished reading them. They therefore experienced firsthand the challenges of reading these letters that they found amusing at the end. They got so good at reading them or more like guessing them that their Dad finally preferred to hand them the letters to read to him.

It was in this context that one day they asked their Dad if the Fulbhe had its own alphabet and he responded no. On that day they promised him that they will invent our Alphabet to make reading letters and communication much easier between the Fulbhe.

It is from then that the brothers started working on this alphabet. Every day after school they would hide in our room to form the letters using pencils and papers from their notebooks.

A few weeks later, they had 27 letters that allowed them to write most Pular words. They chose to write from right to left because of how important this is in the Fulbhe culture which is heavily influenced by the Islamic and Arabic culture. However, instead of diacritical marks as in Arabic they chose to have consonants and vowels as in French or English.

Today they have 28 letters including 5 vowels and they can write every word in Pular or Fulfulde and most Western African languages.

The ADLaM alphabet has become a cultural phenomenon in Guinea and many West African countries where it serves the purpose of educating and informing people. 

The alphabet is also viewed as a source of pride for the Fulbhe and Afro centrist and as an important tool for the preservation of the Pular or Fulfulde language and heritage as it faces growing challenges from French and English.

Copyright 2012 Winden Jangen ADLaM.  All rights reserved.


1958 -1980


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