Toucouleur people

The Toucouleur Empire (also known as the Tijaniyya Jihad state or the Segu Tukulor) (1861-1890) was founded in the mid-nineteenth century by El Hadj Umar Tall of the Toucouleur people, in part of present-day Mali.

Toucouleur Empire
Tidjaniya Caliphate
the greatest extent of the Toucouleur Empire at the time of El Hadj Umar Tall’s death in 1864
Capital Segou
Languages Fula
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Monarchy
Caliph Umar Tall
 • Established 1848
 • Disestablished 1893

Preceded by

Succeeded by
Segu Empire
Massina Empire
Imamate of Futa Jallon
French West Africa

A contemporary German map showing states prior to the rise of Umar Tall, coloured to represent Umar’s empire in 1861. Conquered capitals in green, French forts in blue. The unoccupied region in the center is the waste of Hodh.

The Toucouleur people, also called Tukulor or Haalpulaar, are a West African ethnic group. They are found mostly in Futa Tooro region of Senegal, with some in Mali and Mauritania.[1] The Toucouleur have been Muslims who embraced Islam in the 11th century, their early and strong Islamic heritage is a matter of great pride for them.[1][2] They have been influential in the spread of Islam to West Africa in the medieval era, later founded the vast Toucouleur Empire in the 19th century under El Hadj Umar Tall that led a religious war against their neighboring ethnic groups and the French colonial forces.[2][3]

Toucouleur / Tukulor people
Boilat-20-Homme et femme toucoulaures.jpg

A Tukulor man and woman
(1853 David Boilat painting)
Total population
(1 million (2010)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Major:  Senegal,
Minor:  Mali Mauritania
Fulani language
Related ethnic groups
Serer peopleWolof peopleFulani people

They speak the Pulaar language, and are distinct from but related to the FulaWolof and Serer people.[2] The Toucouleur are traditionally sedentary, settled primarily in the Senegal River valley, with farming, fishing and raising cattle as their main activities. The Toucouleur society has been patrilineal, polygynous and with high social stratification that included slavery and caste system.[1][2][4] There are an estimated 1 million Toucouleur people in West Africa.[1]

Futa Tooro

Futa Toro and West African kingdoms, circa 18th century.

Futa Toro and neighbors, circa 19th century.

Futa Toro, also called Fouta-ToroFutaFouta Tooro or Fula:Fuuta Tooro, refers to a semidesert region around the middle run of the Senegal River. This region is along the border ofSenegal and Mauritania. It is well watered and fertile close to the river, but the interior parts of the region away from the river is porous, dry and infertile.[1] This region is historically significant for the Islamic theocracies, Fulani states, jihad armies and migrants for Fouta Djallon that emerged from here.[2][3]



The Futa Toro stretches for about 400 kilometers, but of a narrow width of up to 20 kilometers on either side of the Senegal River.[4] The western part is called Toro, the central and eastern parts called Futa. The central portion include Bosea, Yirlabe Hebbyabe, Law and Hailabe provinces. The eastern Futa includes Ngenar and Damga provinces. The region north and east to Futa Toro is barren Sahara. Historically, each of the Futa Toro geographical provinces were fertile pockets of land due to the waalo flood plains present, and the control of this resource was driven by kin-based families. The long stretch meant the whole region was divided among many families, and the succession property rights from one generation to next led to many family disputes, political crises and conflicts.[4]


The word Futa was a general name the Fulbe gave to any area they lived in, while Toro was the actual identity of the region for its inhabitants. The people of the kingdom spoke Pulaar, a dialect of the greater Fula languages spanning West Africa from Senegal to Cameroon. They identified themselves by the language giving rise to the name Haalpulaar’en meaning those who speak Pulaar. The Haalpulaar’en are also known as Toucouleurs (var. Tukolor), a name derived from the ancient state of Tekrur.

Islam arrived in the region in its early stages. The Toucouleur people of this region converted by the 11th century.[5] The region saw many Islamic powers thereafter. The state of Denanke(1495/1514-1776) saw the origin of the modern Tukolor people. Migrations of the Fulbe left states in Futa Toro and Futa Jallon to the south.

The army of Futa Toro in march (1820).

The rise of the Imamate of Futa Toro in 1776 sparked a series of Islamic reform movements and jihads.[6][2] Small clans of educated Fula Sufi Muslims (the Torodbe) seized power in states across West Africa.

In the 1780s Abdul Kader became almaami (religious leader or imam) but his forces were unable to spread revolution to the surrounding states.[7]

The Imamate of Futa Toro later became the inspiration and the prime recruiting ground for thejihads of Toucouleur conqueror al-Hajj Umar Tall and anti-colonial rebel al-Hajj Mahmadu Lamine. Despite resistance, the Futa Toro was firmly in the hands of French Colonial forces moving from modern Senegal by 1900. Upon independence, the region’s heart, the southern bank of the Senegal River was retained by Senegal. The north bank became part of Mauritania.

The great modern Senegalese musician and worldbeat star Baaba Maal comes from the town ofPodor in the Futa Toro.

Futa Toro is a strip of agricultural land along both sides of the Senegal River.[2][a] The people of the region speak Pulaar, a dialect of the greater Fula languages spanning West Africa fromSenegal to Cameroon. They identify themselves by the language, which gives rise to the nameHaalpulaar’en (those who speak Pulaar). The Haalpulaar’en are also known as Toucouleur people, a name derived from the ancient state of Takrur. From 1495 to 1776, the country was part of theDenanke Kingdom. The Denianke leaders were a clan of non-Muslim Fulbe who ruled over most of Senegal.[1]

A class of Muslim scholars called the Torodbe[b] seem to have originated in Futa Toro, later spreading throughout the Fulbe territories. Two of the Torodbe clans in Futa Toro claimed to be descended from a seventh-century relative of one of the companions of the prophet Muhammadwho was among a group of invaders of Futa Toro. The Torodbe may well have already been a distinct group when the Denianke conquered Futa Toro.[3]

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the Mauritanian Zawāyā reformer Nasir al-Dinlaunched a jihad to restore purity of religious observance in the Futa Toro. He gained support from the Torodbe clerical clan against the warriors, but by 1677 the movement had been defeated.[4] After this defeat, some of the Torodbe migrated south to Bundu and some continued on to the Futa Jallon.[5] The farmers of Futa Toro continued to suffer from attacks by nomads from Mauritania.[2] By the eighteenth century there was growing resentment among the largely Muslim lower class at lack of protection against these attacks.[1]


The Fulani Jihad States of West Africa, c. 1830

In 1726 or 1727 Karamokho Alfa led a jihad in Futa Jallon to the south, leading to formation of the Imamate of Futa Jallon. This was followed by a jihad in Futa Toro between 1769 and 1776 led by Sulaymān Baal.[6] In 1776 the Torodbe threw out the ruling Denianke Dynasty.[2] Sulayman died in 1776 and was succeeded by Abdul Kader (‘Abd al-Qadir), a learned teacher and judge who had studied in Cayor.[7]

Abdul Kader became the first almami[c] of the theocratic Imamate of Futa Toro.[2] He encouraged construction of mosques, and pursued an aggressive policy towards his neighbors.[7] The Torodbe prohibited the trade in slaves on the river. In 1785 they obtained an agreement from the French to stop trading in Muslim slaves and to pay customs duties to the state. Abdul Kader defeated the emirates of Trarza and Brakna to the north, but was defeated and captured when he attacked the Wolof states of Cayor and Waalo around 1797. After his release the jihad impetus had been lost. By the time of Abdul Kader’s death in 1806 the state was dominated by a few elite Torodbe families.[2]


The Imamate was ruled by an Almami elected from a group of eligible lineages who possessed the necessary credentials of learning by local chiefs called jaggorde or jaggorgal. There was an electoral council, which contained a fixed core and a fluctuating periphery of members. Two families were eligible for the post of Almami, the Lih of Jaaba in Hebbiyaabe province and the Wan of Mbummba in Laaw province.[1] Almamis continued to be appointed in Futa Toro throughout the nineteenth century, but the position had become ceremonial.[7]

The Almamate survived through the nineteenth century albeit in a much weaker state. The state was governed officially by the Almami, but effective control lay with regional chiefs of the central provinces who possessed considerable land, followers and slaves. The struggle of various coalitions of electors and eligibles further hastened the decline of the Imamate.[1] In the middle of the nineteenth century Toro was threatened by the French under the leadership of Governor Louis Faidherbe.[9] The Imamate at this time was divided into three parts. The Central region contained the seat of the elected Almani, subject to a council of 18 electors. The west, called the Toro region, was administered by the Lam-Toro. The east, called the Futa Damga was theoretically administered by a chief called El-Feki, but in practice he had only nominal authority.[10]


El Hadj Umar Tall, a native of Toro, launched a jihad in 1852. His forces succeeded in establishing several states in the Sudan to the east of Futa Toro, but the French under Major Louis Faidherbeprevented him from including Futa Toro into his empire.[2] To achieve his goals, Umar recruited heavily in Senegambia, especially in his native land. The recruitment process reached its culmination in a massive drive in 1858 and 1859. It had the effect of undermining the power of the Almaami even more.[1] The authority of the regional chiefs, and particularly that of the electors, was compromised much less than that of the Almaami. Some of these leaders became fully independent and fought off the French and Umar Tall on their own. As a result, the Almaami and the chiefs began to rely increasingly on French support.[1] ‘Umar was defeated by the French at Medine in 1857, losing access to Futa Toro.[11]

Futa Toro was annexed by France in 1859, although in practice it had long been within the French sphere of influence.[9] In 1860 Umar concluded a treaty with the French in which he recognized their supremacy in Futa Toro, while he was recognized in Kaarta and Ségou.[11] In the 1860s thealmami of Futa Toro was Abdul Boubakar,[d] but his power was nominal.[9] In June 1864 the Moors and the Booseya group of Fula collaborated in plundering trade barges that had become stranded near Saldé in the east, drawing savage French reprisals against both groups.[9]

The French generally encouraged strongmen such as Abdul Bokar Kan of Bossea, Ibra Wan of Law and Samba Umahani in Toro when they attacked caravans in the region, since they hoped that would discourage migration away from the region to Umar’s new state.[13] Fear of continuing Muslim migration, however, led the military authorities to attack France’s remaining clients in 1890. Abdul Bokar Kan fled but was murdered in August 1891 by the Berbers of Mauritania.[14]The French consolidated their complete control of the region.[1]


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