Skip to main content

The Torodbe Clerisy: A Social View

  • John Ralph Willis (a1)

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.

Hide All

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), 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.; Gaden, Henri, Proverbes et Maximes Peuls et Toucouleurs (1931), 154; Barth, Henry, Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (5 vols., 18571858), iv, 144 f.; Bello, Muhammad, Infāq al-maisür (Arabic text edited by C. E. J. Whitting, 1957), 138.

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

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

5 Ibid. 317.

6 Ibid. 316.

7 Ibid. 317.

8 See also Süra xxiv, 33.

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

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], 218; and Capt. Roux, , ‘Notice Historique sur le Boundou’, Journal Officiel du Sénégal, p. 286, 5 Aug. 1893; 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.

12 Kamara, Mūsa, Ta'rīkh, no. II. 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.

14 Brigaud, , Histoire Traditionnelle, 17.

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

16 Lasnet, et al. , Une Mission, 70. Cf. Reclus, É., Nouvelle Géographie Universelle: vol. xii, L'Afrique Occidentale (1887), 226. 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), ‘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.)

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

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

20 'Arafat, , ‘Bilāl’.

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

22 Goldziher, Ignaz, Muslim Studies, vol. i, edited by Stern, S. M. (1967), 132. 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 f. 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), 1124. 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), 49. Cf. Raffenel, A., Voyage dans l'Afrique Occidentale Française (1843–1844) (1846), 269.

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

27 Brigaud, , Histoire Traditionnelle, 219.

28 Raffenel, , Voyage, 277.

29 Ibid. 278.

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

31 Raffenel, , Nouveau Voyage, ii, 347. 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, 24.) Capt. Pietri, (Les Français au Nīger Voyages et Combats [1885], 15), 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.

34 Ibid. 276.

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

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

37 Machat, ibid., employs ‘balibé’, and Noirot, E. (A Travers le Fouta-Diallon et le Bambouc, 212), 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) 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) 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.

39 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 24.

40 Noirot, , Fouta-Diallon, 211.

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

42 Machat, , Guinée Française, 303. 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.

44 Ibid. 107 f.

45 Ibid. 108.

46 Gaden, H., Proverbes et Maximes, 104, 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.

48 Gaden, , Proverbes et Maxima, 107.

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, 154, 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 409.) 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.

51 Hecquart, , Voyage, 521.

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

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

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

55 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 79 f.

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) replace the pagan ‘life forces’ who control the reproductive elements of the soil.

57 Vieillard, , ‘Notes’, 79 f.

58 Geismar, L., Recueil des Coûtumes Civiles des Races au Sénégal (1933), especially chapter II, pp. 137–82; 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), 403–15; Vidal, M., ‘Etude sur la Tenure des Terres Indigènes au Fouta’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F. xviii, no. 4 (1935), 415–49; Kane, Abdou Salam, ‘Du Régime des Terres Chez les Populations du Fouta Sénégalais’, B.C.E.H.S.A.O.F. xviii, no. 4, 449–62. 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), 2842, is also useful.

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

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

61 Ibid. 427.

62 Ibid. 426, 443.

63 Raffenel, , Voyage, 271.

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

65 Ibid. 203.

66 Ibid. 217.

67 Ibid. 179.

68 Ibid. 215.

69 Hecquart, , Voyage, 328.

70 Machat, , Guinée Française, 297.

71 Hecquart, , Voyage, 329.

72 Bayol, , Voyage, 113.

73 Hecquart, , Voyage, 331.

74 Machat, , Guinée Française, 297.

75 Ibid. 296.

76 Ibid. 298.

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

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.

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. 94, 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.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-african-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *

Related content

Powered by UNSILO


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed