By Abdul Rahman Barrie
Please permit me space in your reputable newspaper to correct some factual errors made by Ebrima Manneh in his article titled “Principals to review book which ‘distorted’ Fula history”, which appeared in your 19 August 2022 edition. That article did not only misrepresent what I said about the origin of the Fula in my book (“Guide to Success in WASSCE History), but also what historians have said about the subject. The consensus among historians about the origin of the Fula is that they originated from Tekrur. Ebrimas article lacked objectivity and historical insight.
Journalism is a highly respected and cherished profession all over the world. It is referred to as the fourth estate after the legislature, executive and judiciary. Its functions of educating and informing the public can play a great role in the protection of fundamental human rights. By exposing cases of violation of fundamental human rights, corruption and misappropriation of public funds and the like, it can help to protect innocent victims and to keep the government on its toes. However, to do so journalists need to engage in thorough research and give objective and balanced reports.
For Manneh therefore to write about the current controversy about the origin of the Fula without reading the rich literature available on it is a violation of the ethics of investigative journalism. There is abundant and clear evidence that the Fula originated from the intermarriages of the olive-skinned Berbers from North Africa and the dark-sinned people of Tekrur i.e., the Sereres and the Wolofs. Dr Florence Mahoney’s Stories of the Senegambia, late Dawda Faal’s History of the Gambia, Patience Sonko-Godwin’s Ethnic Groups of the Senegambia, Omar Ndure and Momodou Camara’s Social and Environmental Studies Made interesting, Historical Dictionary of The Gambia etc. have made the same point. Some of these books have been approved and bankrolled by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE). Some of them like Stories of the Senegambia have been in the school system since the 1980s. It is thus a disgrace for the fourth estate that Manneh could write an article on the Fula without reading these books. Does Manneh even want the public to think that he was not taught about the origin of the Fula in his junior school?
Had Manneh read the books I have named above, he would not have made this blunder: “Guide to success in WASSCE history, claimed that the original home of the Fulas is Tekrur, and not Fouta as taught by many historians.” I challenge him to name some of the historians that have said so and their works. And he should know that there are three Futas – Futa Toro (the first one), Futa Bondu and Futa Jallon. Futa Toro was originally called Tekrur and that is the homeland of the Fula. So, what does he mean by saying that Fulas are not from Tekrur but from Fouta? Which of the Foutas is he referring to? He is confusing the public.
The origin of the Fula is no longer an issue of debate among historians. From the 1960s, when the first books on West African history were published by Africanist historians, the issue had been resolved. One of those textbooks which shed enough information on the subject is “A Thousand Years of West African History”, edited by Ian Espie and J.f. A. Ade-Ajayi. In many areas in the book, clear reference is made to the origin of the Fula. For instance, in page 21, J.O. Hunwick stated that “The Fulani trace their origin in West Africa back to Futa Toro in Senegal.”. In the same book Christopher Fyfe maintained that “Linguistic evidence shows that the Fulani came originally from the lower Senegal country. From there they moved up into Futa Jallon”. Dr Florence Mahoney and H.O. Idowu in the same book claimed that “Even Fula which used to be classified as of Hamitic origin, has been shown to belong to this group [Niger -Congo family]”, i.e., a West African language. Professor C.C. Ifemesia concludes the issue of the origin of the Fula in the following words:
“The Fulani, whose early home was in Tekrur and its neighbourhood, are a people about whose origins and activities in West Africa there has been a great deal of controversy. But in consequence of ethnographical, linguistic, serological and other evidence which has recently come to light, a large measure of agreement has now been achieved about the antecedents of these people. Actually, there is no great mystery about the origins of the Fulani who even now are known in Senegal as Tukulor (Tekrur).”
“It should become clear moreover that, except for the stimulation of further inquiry, apparently no purpose has been served by the century-old propagation of the ‘Hamitic’ hypothesis respecting the Fulani, the hypothesis which has striven to derive the origins of these people from places outside West Africa. Long before and since the first historical documents on the area were written over a thousand years ago the Fulani, like the majority of their immediate and distant neighbours, were an established feature of West Africa, part of its ecology, its sociology and its history.”
Furthermore, in an article on the origin of the Fula, Think Africa (https://thinkafrica.net) had this to say:
“Despite the speculations surrounding the origin of the Fulani people, current genetic evidence suggests an indigenous West African origin among the Peul. Historical records, as well as archaeological records have placed the origin of Peul speakers in western Africa from around the 5th century A.D “
Had Manneh read those books, he would not also have quoted what somebody masquerading as principal of a secondary school (Musa Bah) said: my book is “nonsense” and “There is no historical proof that the Fulas are from Tekrur. It is at variance with what we’ve been taught”. It is strange that a principal of a secondary school can be so ignorantly confident as to utter such misguided statements for public consumption. It is further strange that Manneh as a journalist cannot distinguish truth from falsehood; he writes what people tell him hook, line and sinker. This is a departure from the ethics of investigative journalism. Musa Bah looks, to me, like a fictional character created by Manneh to play the role of misinforming the public. Why did Manneh, in all his wisdom, have to go as far as Mbullum to look for somebody to interview on the matter when there are many historians and principals near to his office?
I know that CREDD and GAMCOP have well-educated personnel and so will not toe the line of imprudent people like Musa Bah and Ebrima Manneh. The remarks expressed by the Permanent Secretary of MOBSE and the Chairman of GAMCOP are well in place. That is what we expect of seasoned and open-minded administrators.
In conclusion, Manneh’s article is a betrayal of the fourth estate. It lacks objectivity and comprehensiveness. Anybody that is well-read will not deny what I have said about the origin of the Fula. My view is consistent with the available literature on the subject. Denying that is an exhibition of abysmal ignorance.