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The Torodbe Clerisy: A Social View

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

John Ralph Willis
Princeton University


It is a salient feature of the great jihāds of the western Sudan that the leadership for these wars of religious fervour should have sprung forth from a single source, the Torodbe clerisy. It was the Torodbe ʿulamā’ who sustained the jihāds in Futas Bundu, Toro and Jallon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and prefigured the jihāds of Usumān dan Fodio and al-Hājj ʿUmar b. Saʿīd, perhaps the most illustrious leaders thrown up by Torodbe Islam.

We have long viewed these Islamic revolutions as ‘Fulani jihads’—as consummate examples of the way in which ‘Fulani’ skilfully orchestrated the people in favour of their own views. But it would now appear that those Muslims we have been calling ‘Fulani’ deserved this designation in language and culture only—that they were drawn from diverse strains of Sūdānī society—that Turudiyya suggests a métier and not an ethnic category.

The Torodbe clerisy evolved out of that mass of rootless peoples who perceived in Islam a source of cultural identity. Bound in a new persuasion—linked by a common oppression—they shook the sense of ethnic difference and sought to stimulate a counter trend of a levelling nature. Yet, having habitually recruited from all levels, and most notably from the submerged levels of society, the Turudiyya became an increasingly closed world, discoloured of their levelling intentions. This tendency was manifest in Futas Toro and Bundu especially. In these new communities, the Turudiyya took shape as a hereditary ruling class—succession to the imāmiyya became the special preserve of a select few families. The position of slaves in the new order progressively hardened; the ranks of the Turudiyya remained closed to artisans who continued to pursue their traditional crafts.

The levelling tendency of the Turudiyya movement seems to have reached its apogee in the ʿUmarian Jamāʿa. Though it is said that al-Hājj ʿUmar b. Saʿid did not extend freedom to his slaves, the ties of Islam and the community of faith came to supplant the old threads of allegiance. Among believers, superiority in the faith or stricter observance of its precepts presented a new passport to honoured status.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1978

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1 To underscore the Torodbe clerisy as the dominant factor in the jihāds under discussion is not to deny or ignore the importance of other factors such as the Sunna (‘example’ or ‘action’) of the Prophet Muhammad himself (see this writer's ‘Jihād fi sabīl Allāh— Its Doctrinal Basis in Islam and Some Aspects of its Evolution in Nineteenth-Century West Africa’, J. Afr. Hist. viii, 1967, 395415)Google Scholar, or the influence of similar movements throughout the Muslim world.

2 Published accounts differ sharply on the Shehu's link with the Torodbe. The Shehu's line is on the one hand rather vaguely linked with the Sisibé or Sihsibé (sing. = Si or Sih, with a host of variants), and on the other with the Dembubé (sing. = Dem), two yettode (Fulfulde = ‘the name that honours’) commonly found among Torodbe Muslims. Last links the Shehu's line with the ‘Toronkawa’, whom he equates with Torodbe (and both of which he renders, ‘people of Futa Toro’). Gaden claims the Shehu's family carried the yettode Dem. Sisibé and Dembubé (pl. of ‘Dem’) were (at least initially) Mande-speaking peoples (Wa-kore or Wangara according to Barth and Bello). The Sisibé (‘cousins of the Fulani’) appear to have been absorbed into Fulbe groups (as slaves?) and dispersed with them throughout the western and central Sudan (in Hausa, they become the Sullebawa). Murray, Last, The Sokoto Caliphate (1967), lxxii f.Google Scholar; Gaden, Henri, Proverbes et Maximes Peuls et Toucouleurs (1931), 154Google Scholar; Barth, Henry, Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (5 vols., 18571858), iv, 144 f.Google Scholar; Bello, Muhammad, Infāq al-maisür (Arabic text edited by C. E. J. Whitting, 1957), 138.Google Scholar

3 Wane, Yaya, Les Toucouleurs du Fouta Toro (Sénégal). Stratification Sociale et Structure Familiale (1966), 55.Google Scholar

4 Gaden, , Proverbs et Maximes Peuls et Toucouleurs, 316.Google Scholar

5 Ibid. 317.

6 Ibid. 316.

7 Ibid. 317.

8 See also Süra xxiv, 33.Google Scholar

9 Arcin, A., Histoire de la Guinée Française, Rivières du Sud, Fouta-Dialo, Région Sud du Soudan (1911), 69.Google Scholar

10 Before the rise of Mālik Si, Bundu is said to have been inhabited by Fatūbé and Guirobé Fulbe, both of whom resided in what are described as ‘holes’, or ‘subterranean hollows’. Their nomadic existence was sustained by hunting, particularly of the wild boar (the eating of which was anathema to Muslims). According to tradition, Mālik Si became their shaykh on condition that they turn away from this practice and become fixed. (Cf. Brigaud, Felix, Histoire Traditionnelle du Sénégal [1962], 218Google Scholar; and Capt. Roux, , ‘Notice Historique sur le Boundou’, Journal Officiel du Sénégal, p. 286, 5 Aug. 1893Google Scholar; pp. 293–4, 12 Aug. 1893; Pp. 302–3, 19 Aug. 1893; and pp. 312–13, 26 Aug. 1893; see pp. 286 and 293). Mālik Si was the first Torodbe imām of Bundu.

11 Mūsā b. Ahmad al-Fūtī al-Mātamī al-Gūrīkī al-Gangilī al-Sa'dī Fādilī, Kitāb al-Hāajj ‘Umar bi dhikr ba'd manāqibihi wa karā-mātihi [hereafter called, Ta'rīkh], Fonds Shaykh Mousa Kamara, Fouta Toro (documents historiques), Cahier no. 9, JFAN Library, Dakar (fo. 11). See also, Gaden, , Proverbes et Maxima, 12.Google Scholar

12 Kamara, Mūsa, Ta'rīkh, no. IIGoogle Scholar. In yet another explanation of the term Torodbe—this time drawn from Songhay informants—Mūsā Kamara noted that in some areas (notably Songhay) the term ‘Toro’ (or Turu) carried the significance of al-şanam, which means ‘idol’ in Arabic. Hence, whoever embraced Islam and abandoned Toro or idol worship came to be called ‘Torodbe’ or Turudiyya. Indeed, it was perhaps in this way that the celebrated Askia al-Hājj Muhammad b. Abū Bakr acquired the added epithet, al-Turudī, ‘the Torodo’.

13 Willis, , ‘Jihād fi Sabīl Allah’, 405.Google Scholar

14 Brigaud, , Histoire Traditionnelle, 17.Google Scholar

15 Raffenel, A., Nouveau Voyage dans le Pays des Nègres, (2 vols, 1856), ii, 304.Google Scholar

16 Lasnet, et al. , Une Mission, 70Google Scholar. Cf. Reclus, É., Nouvelle Géographie Universelle: vol. xii, L'Afrique Occidentale (1887), 226Google Scholar. Both Lasnet and Reclus have followed L. Tautain in these opinions, though no specific work is mentioned.

17 According to Juynboll, T. W. (article, 'abd, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 3)Google Scholar, ‘a legal consequence of every liberation is the clientship or patronage (mala‘). The freed slave is the client of the liberator’. Similarly, upon becoming Muslims, non-Muslims were compelled to become mawālī of Arab groups. Such a relation was necessary, according to Watt, because non-Arab groups had made no treaty or confederacy with Muhammad (i.e. they had not become Muslims), nor had they sent a deputation to him. (Watt, W. Montgomery, Muhammad at Medina [1956], 247.)Google Scholar

18 'Arafat, W., article, ‘Bilāl b. Rabāh’, New Encyclopedia of Islam.Google Scholar

19 See Hava, J. G., Arabic-English Dictionary (1951), 157.Google Scholar

20 'Arafat, , ‘Bilāl’.Google Scholar

21 Watt, W. Montgomery, Muhammad at Mecca (1960), 88.Google Scholar

22 Goldziher, Ignaz, Muslim Studies, vol. i, edited by Stern, S. M. (1967), 132Google Scholar. Goldziher established that the term mawlā, in its earliest usage, signified ‘relative’ (‘without distinction of the nature of tribal association’), ibid. 101.

23 Arcin, , Histoire, 66 fGoogle Scholar. Neophytes embraced the generic, ‘Torodbe’, but in the second generation Arcin asserted that they assumed the further appellation, ‘Ba-la’, in order to indicate their submission to the Ba (ibid. 67).

24 A discussion of Bundu chronology appears in Curtin, P. D., ‘Jihad in West Africa: Early Phases and Inter-relations in Mauritania and Senegal’, J. Afr. Hist., xii (1971), 1124CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Curtin does not employ the term ‘Torodbe’. Rather he makes use of ‘Fulbe’ as a generic for the jihād leadership throughout the western Sudan. To view this leadership as ‘Fulbe’ and not ‘Torodbe’, however, is to lose sight of an extremely important social aspect of these jihāds.

25 Adam, M. G., Légendes Historiques du Pays de Nioro (Sahel) (1904), 49Google Scholar. Cf. Raffenel, A., Voyage dans l'Afrique Occidentale Française (1843–1844) (1846), 269.Google Scholar

26 Roux, , ‘Notice Historique’, 286, 293.Google Scholar

27 Brigaud, , Histoire Traditionnelle, 219.Google Scholar

28 Raffenel, , Voyage, 277.Google Scholar

29 Ibid. 278.

30 Gray, Major W. and DrDochard, , Travels in Western Africa in the Years 1818, 1819, 1820, and 1821 (1825), 185.Google Scholar

31 Raffenel, , Nouveau Voyage, ii, 347Google Scholar. According to Raffenel, the indigenous peoples did not employ it, but referred to themselves as ‘al poular’, or ‘Torodo’, synonymous with the people of Futa in the broadest sense. Usually, he claimed, they preferred to use their ‘caste’ name. Speaking of Futa Jallon, Vieillard noted that all the people employed the possessive: the ‘patrons’ say our ‘ourourbé’ [Ururbé], our ‘ferobbé’ [Ferobbé], our ‘leather-workers’, ‘religious guides’, etc.; while the ‘clients’ say our ‘sédiabé’ our ‘Fulbe’, ‘masters’, etc. The sédiabé [Seidiyabé-Sayyidi], ourourbé, and ferrobbé designate specific lineages of Futa Jallon. (See Vieillard, G., Notes sur les Coâtumes des Peuls au Fouta Djallon [1939], 9, 24Google Scholar.) Capt. Pietri, (Les Français au Nīger Voyages et Combats [1885], 15)Google Scholar, claimed that the ‘Toucouleurs’ called themselves ‘Phouls’ (i.e. Fulbe) because they spoke the language of their fathers, and it was from them that they received their identity.

32 Machat, J., Guinée Française: Les Rivières du Sud et le Fouta-Djallon (1906), 269.Google Scholar

34 Ibid. 276.

35 Ibid. 277. For a discussion of the chronology of the Sidiankè Jamā'a, see Curtin, (‘Jihad in West Africa’, 22)Google Scholar, who places its establishment during the 1770s and 1780s.

36 Machat, , Guinée Française (following Noirot), 296.Google Scholar

37 Machat, ibid., employs ‘balibé’, and Noirot, E. (A Travers le Fouta-Diallon et le Bambouc, 212)Google Scholar, a variation, ‘batébé’, which he says has the meaning ‘homme de‘ (‘man of: and in this instance, apparently, ‘man of the Ba’). Arcin, (Histoire, 67)Google Scholar and Saint-Père, M. (‘Creation du Royaume du Fouta Djallon’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F., xii, 1929, nos. 3 and 4, 484556; see pp. 485–8)Google Scholar employ ‘Ba-la’ and ‘Balla’. Saint-Père recounted how Tierno Saliou Ba (the famous Torodo shaykh of Koīne, Futa Jallon, and one of the leaders of the nine diwal which went to make up the Sidiankè Jamā'a) was descended from a pagan ‘Foula’, who settled at Koundiêya (southeast of Labé) with his flocks. This person was the ancestor of the two great families of the Koīne, the Kulunanké Balla and the Kulunanké Sempi. When Tierno Saliou Ba began to preach Islam, he settled momentarily in a region of the Dinguiray, renaming the inhabitants ‘Balla’. Many persons came to reside in the village of the same name, and were placed under his protection.

38 Machat, , Guinée Française, 296.Google Scholar

39 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 24.Google Scholar

40 Noirot, , Fouta-Diallon, 211.Google Scholar

41 Hecquart, H., Voyage sur la Côte et dans l'Intérieur de l'Afrique Occidentale (1853), 337.Google Scholar

42 Machat, , Guinée Française, 303Google Scholar. In an interesting aside, Machat hazards that this social custom might have stemmed from ancient Fulbe civilization and its attachment to ‘boolâtrie’ (‘cattle-worship’). Elsewhere (p. 260), he speculates that the ‘caste’ hierarchy, so prevalent among the Fulbe, might have developed from their several wars among the Mande-speaking peoples, and that slaves taken from these conflicts came to represent subordinate groups.

43 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 82.Google Scholar

44 Ibid. 107 f.

45 Ibid. 108.

46 Gaden, H., Proverbes et Maximes, 104Google Scholar, noted that the position of the rimaibe (servile or client peoples of the Fulbe) was equivalent to that of the harātīn among Berbers: when a Fulbe slave became a grandfather (resulting from his master having a child by the slave's daughter), he was declared dimado (sing.), and the future children were, like the slave, declared rimaibe (plural); the dimado took the yettode (‘name that honours’—clan name) of his master and observed the same taboos (woda). Yet he was not free, and he continued to work for his master if he continued to live with him, or paid a specified amount, if he lived in a village of rimaibe (which is precisely what the roudés were); again, he could not be sold, and both master and slave felt that some evil would befall them should they break relations. Gaden indicates that there were both free and captive groups of rimaibe among the Fulbe. What is important here is that it appears the Torodbe (‘pré'tendus peuls’) retained these and other Fulbe social customs, though they rejected the nomadic aspect.

47 Machat, , Guinée Française, 280.Google Scholar

48 Gaden, , Proverbes et Maxima, 107.Google Scholar

49 It would be interesting to discover how far this social scheme holds for the Muslim communities of Māssina and Sokoto. The leaders of the so-called ‘Fulani jihād’ in Sokoto were clearly Torodbe, and the Shehu himself descended from a line of rimaibe (with the yettode ‘Dem’). (See Gaden, , Proverbes et Maximes, 154Google Scholar, and Smith, M. G., ‘The Jihad of Shehu dan Fodio: Some Problems’, in Lewis, I. M., ed., Islam in Tropical Africa [1966], 408–25, at 409Google Scholar.) On the change of yettode in Māssina, see Gaden, loc. cit., especially for the transmission of the yettode Sissé or Cissé through the paternal line: cf. supra, note 2.

50 Lambert, L., ‘Voyage dans le Fouta-Djallon’, Revue Maritime et Coloniale, ii, 2, (1861), 151, at 48.Google Scholar

51 Hecquart, , Voyage, 521.Google Scholar

52 Flize, L., ‘Le Bondou’, Moniteur du Sénégal (Mardi, 9 Dec. 1856), no. 37, p. 2.Google Scholar

53 See, for example, Hecquart, , Voyage, 518Google Scholar; DrBayol, Jean, Voyage en Sénégambie, Haut-Niger, Bambouck, Fouta-Djallon et Grand-Bélédougou, 1880–1885 (1888), 99Google Scholar; Gray, and Dochard, , Travels, 183 f.Google Scholar; Park, Mungo, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa … in the Years 1795, 1796 and 1797 (sixth edition, 1810), 89Google Scholar; Raffenel, , Voyage, 275 f.Google Scholar

54 Cf. Raffenel, , Voyage, 149Google Scholar; Gray, and Dochard, , Travels, 182Google Scholar; Hecquart, , Voyage, 390, 517Google Scholar; Bayol, , Voyage, 105, 114.Google Scholar

55 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 79 f.Google Scholar

56 Vieillard, ibid., also notes that the Muslim jinn (‘airy or fiery bodies [ajsām], intelligent, imperceptible, capable of appearing under different forms and of carrying out heavy labours’: see MacDonald, D. B., ‘Djinn’, SH.E.I., 90–1, at 90)Google Scholar replace the pagan ‘life forces’ who control the reproductive elements of the soil.

57 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 79 f.Google Scholar

58 Geismar, L., Recueil des Coûtumes Civiles des Races au Sénégal (1933), especially chapter II, pp. 137–82Google Scholar; Gaden, H., ‘Du Régime des Terres de la Vallée du Fouta Antérieurement a l'Occupation Française’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F. xviii, no. 4 (1935), 403–15Google Scholar; Vidal, M., ‘Etude sur la Tenure des Terres Indigènes au Fouta’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F. xviii, no. 4 (1935), 415–49Google Scholar; Kane, Abdou Salam, ‘Du Régime des Terres Chez les Populations du Fouta Sénégalais’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F. xviii, no. 4, 449–62Google Scholar. A study by Guèye, Y., ‘Essai sur les Causes et les Consequences de la Micropropriété au Fouta Toro’, Bulletin de l'I.F.A.N. Série B, xix (1957), 2842Google Scholar, is also useful.

59 Vidal, , ‘Études sur la Tenure des Terres’, 425, 443Google Scholar; Gaden, , ‘Du Régime des Terres’, 413.Google Scholar

60 Vidal, , ‘Etudes sur la Tenure des Terres’, 426, 443.Google Scholar

61 Ibid. 427.

62 Ibid. 426, 443.

63 Raffenel, , Voyage, 271.Google Scholar

64 Diagne, Pathe, Pouvoir Politique Traditionnel en Afrique Occidental (1967), 220.Google Scholar

65 Ibid. 203.

66 Ibid. 217.

67 Ibid. 179.

68 Ibid. 215.

69 Hecquart, , Voyage, 328.Google Scholar

70 Machat, , Guinée Française, 297.Google Scholar

71 Hecquart, , Voyage, 329.Google Scholar

72 Bayol, , Voyage, 113.Google Scholar

73 Hecquart, , Voyage, 331.Google Scholar

74 Machat, , Guinée Française, 297.Google Scholar

75 Ibid. 296.

76 Ibid. 298.

77 Hecquart, , Voyage, 331Google Scholar; Machat, , Guinée Française, 294.Google Scholar

78 See Rodney, W., ‘Jihad and Social Revoultion in Futa Djalon in the Eighteenth Century’, J. Hist. Soc. of Nigeria, iv, 2 (1968), 269–85, at 282.Google Scholar

79 Perhaps the most notable of these slaves was the amīr, Muşţafa, who held the imārat (command) of Nioro, the most important in the Shaykh's gift. Other amīrs who were slaves include: Yogokballé (Bakūnū); Assamadi (or Assa-Mady) (Diombokho); Mudi Muhammad Jam (Dialafara); ‘Abd Allāh (Mūrgūla); Sulaymān Bāba Raki (Dialafara). A detailed discussion of the administration of these slaves will be given in the present writer's forthcoming 'Umarian Jamā'a.

80 Here one should mention Tafsīr ‘Alī Jam and Ahmad 'Alī Jāli (apparently of griot origin), both of whom were muqaddamī.

81 Cf. Kamara, Mūsā, Ta'rikh al-Hājj 'Umar, no. 94Google Scholar, and Cahier no. 18, Fonds Gaden, Fouta Toro (Documents historiques), fo. 2.

82 MS Arabe 5259, BNP, fo. 71.

83 MS Arabe 5716, BNP, fo. 38.

84 Ibid. fo. 37.

85 MS Arabe 5716, BNP, fo. 183.

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