Fouta Djallon

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Map of the Guinea Highlands. Guinea Highlands map.png
Map of the Guinea Highlands.

Fouta Djallon (Fula : 𞤊𞤵𞥅𞤼𞤢 𞤔𞤢𞤤𞤮𞥅, romanized: Fuuta Jaloo) is a highland region in the center of Guinea, roughly corresponding with Middle Guinea, in West Africa.



The Fulani migrants in the region called it the Pular language term Fuuta-Jaloo. [lower-alpha 1] The origin of the name is from the migrants' Fula word for a region inhabited by Fulɓe , plus the name of the original inhabitants, the Jalonke or Yalunka (French: Djallonké).


Fouta-Djallon consists mainly of rolling grasslands, at an average elevation of about 900 m (3,000 ft). The highest point, Mount Loura, rises to 1,515 m (4,970 ft). The plateau consists of thick sandstone formations that overlie granitic basement rock. Erosion by rain and rivers has carved deep jungle canyons and valleys into the sandstone.

Map of the Fouta Djallon with the major rivers. Fouta Djallon.png
Map of the Fouta Djallon with the major rivers.

It receives a great deal of rainfall, and is the headwaters of four major rivers and other medium ones:

It is, thus, sometimes called the watertower (chateau d'eau in French literature) of West Africa. Some authors also refer to Fouta Jallon as the "Switzerland of West Africa." This is a common expression whose origin may be unknown. [1]


The population consists predominantly of Fulɓe [sing. Pullo], also known as Fula or Fulani. In Fuuta-Jaloo their language is called Pular, or Pulaar. The broader language area bears the name Pular/Fulfulde and it is spoken in numerous countries in Africa including Nigeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sudan, Chad, Mauritania, etc. Fulani (Peul) population represents between 32.1% and 40% population in Guinea. [2]


Since the 17th century, the Fouta Djallon region has been a stronghold of Islam. Early revolutionaries led by Karamokho Alfa and Ibrahim Sori set up a federation divided into nine provinces. Several succession crises weakened the central power located in Timbo until 1896, when the last Almamy, Bubakar Biro, was defeated by the French army in the Battle of Porédaka. [3]

The Fulɓe of Fouta Djallonke spearheaded the expansion of Islam in the region. [4] Fulɓe Muslim scholars developed indigenous literature using the Arabic alphabet. [5] Known as Ajamiyya, this literary achievement is represented by such great poet-theologians as Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya  [ fr ], Tierno Saadu Dalen, Tierno Aliou Boubha Ndyan, Tierno Jaawo Pellel etc. [6] In its heyday, it was said that Fuuta-Jaloo was a magnet of learning, attracting students from Kankan to the Gambia, and featuring Jakhanke clerics at Tuba as well as Fulɓe teachers. It acted as the nerve centre for trading caravans heading in every direction. The more enterprising commercial lineages, of whatever ethnic origin, established colonies in the Futanke hills and along the principal routes. It served their interests to send their sons to Futanke schools, to support the graduates who came out to teach, and in general to extend the vast pattern of influence that radiated from Futa Jalon. [6]

Amadou Hampâté Bâ has called Fuuta-Jaloo "the Tibet of West Africa" in homage to the spiritual and mystic (Sufi) tradition of its clerics.

Children in the village of Doucky Guinee Fouta Djalon Doucky.jpg
Children in the village of Doucky


Mainly rural the economy covers animal husbandry (cattle, sheep, goats), agriculture, gathering, trading, and marginal tourism.

Rural economy

The Fulɓe practice a form of natural farming that can be recognized today as biointensive agriculture. The region's main cash crops are bananas and other fruits. The main field crop is fonio, although rice is grown in richer soils. Most soils degrade quickly and are highly acidic with aluminum toxicity, which limits the kind of crops that can be grown without significant soil management.

Biointensive agriculture

Suntuure Mindmap Sbp-tapade-mindmap.png
Suntuure Mindmap

Sometime in the late 18th century, the Fulɓe in Fouta Djallonke developed a type of biointensive agriculture, probably out of necessity, since the conquered indigenous women were taken into the households of their Islamic overlords whose livestock became their responsibility. Combining animal husbandry and sedentary agriculture into an efficient system of agropastoralism required a new way of organizing daily life. Livestock, which included horses and cattle, ate more and produced more waste than what the indigenous farmers were accustomed. Since the livestock had to be protected from wildlife at night, they were brought into the family compound, referred to by the French as a tapade, and locally as cuntuuje (sing. suntuure) in the Pular language. [4]

Today, livestock graze in open areas during the day but are sheltered in corrals during the night, except for goats, which are permitted to manage on their own within limits. A similar pattern must have developed by the latter part of the 18th into the 19th century. Nonetheless, the disposal of livestock waste, which became woman's work, required a systematic way of disposing of it. And, over time, the women worked out a method for doing so. In organic gardening, their solution is called sheet composting or mulching. Over time, the women mixed a variety of other organic matter with the manure (kitchen scraps, harvest residues, and vegetative materials from a living fence or hedgerow) and piled it each day on their garden beds and trees to decompose and become nutritious humus. In the 20th century, livestock among the Fulɓe shifted from large animals to smaller types. Horses, perhaps due to the tsetse fly decreased, while goats, sheep, pigs, and poultry increased, and n'dama cattle remain an integral asset.

Permaculture Zones Permaculture Zones.svg
Permaculture Zones

The tapade gardens of Fouta Djallon have been highly researched by international scholars from various disciplines. This research has revealed that the cuntuuje system has a higher soil nutrient level than any other soil in the region. Almost all labor, except for the initial preparation, is performed and managed by women and children, in the past and now, within each family group. The gardens are important for both food and cash crops for their families. PLEC, a project of the United Nations University, measured yields on 6.5 ha from tapade fields at Misiide Heyre, Fouta Djallon and found that maize yielded up to 7 t/ha, cassava 21 t/ha, sweet potatoes 19 t/ha, and groundnuts (peanuts) about 8 t/ha. [7]

Each suntuure is about 1-hectare (2.5 acres) on average, so referring to them as gardens is not accurate, neither for their size nor complexity. The cuntuuje represents a systems approach to food production, and is distinguished by their agrodiversity, as well as the way the people intensively use and maximize a limited amount of land. Today, the cuntuuje gardens continue to produce a significant quantity and variety of agricultural products. [8]

The living fences that surround each suntuure are not just a barrier to keep out people, wild animals, and domestic livestock. In the permaculture vocabulary, the fence is a vegetative berm, and is instrumental in the process of nutrient cycling and nutrient retention within the suntuure. In other words, the cuntuuje represent a sustainable biointensive polyculture farm system and landscape architecture, housing one or more microclimate ecosystems and are examples of what we know today to be a permaculture design. The graphic in this section is a mind map of the internal zones and sectors found typically in a suntuure environment.

The interior of the suntuure, Zones 1-3 (internal gate, entryway, privacy screen, and residence) are reserved primarily for family members. It is in Zones 4 and 5 (the hoggo[ check spelling ] and suntuure living fence) where most activities of daily life occur. Here, visitors are greeted at a secondary shelter or pavilion, work on gardens (hoggos) is organized, children spend the day in play and work if of age, and afternoon prayers, naps, conversations, and meals occur until dark. Zone 6 is the outside world.

In 2003, the cuntuuje of Fuuta-Jalon were recognized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. [9]


The largest town in the region is Labé.


Fuuta-Jalon has historically had a high degree of migration, usually short-term, and mainly to Senegal and Sierra Leone. Many Fulbe fled to Senegal after Sekou Toure became president of independent Guinea in 1959. Many settled in Leidi Ulu west of the Gambia River and began farming in addition to keeping cattle. They remembered Guinea as a land of fruit and honey where laborious agriculture was not necessary.


  1. The name in Pular, and in the Fula (macro)language of which it is a part, is also sometimes spelled Fuuta-Jalon. French is the official language of Guinea, and Fouta-Djallon or sometimes Foûta Djallon is the French spelling. Common English spellings include Futa Jallon and Futa Jalon

Related Research Articles

Fula people Ethnic group in Sahel and West Africa

The Fula,Fulani, or Fulɓe people are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel and West Africa, widely dispersed across the region. Inhabiting many countries, they live mainly in West Africa and northern parts of Central Africa but also in South Sudan, Darfur, Eritrea, and regions near the Red Sea coast. The approximate number of Fula people is unknown due to clashing definitions regarding Fula ethnicity; various estimates put the figure between 35 and 49.2 million worldwide.

Timbo Sub-prefecture and town in Mamou Region, Guinea

Timbo is a town and sub-prefecture in the Mamou Prefecture in the Mamou Region of Guinea. It is located in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea, lying north east of Mamou, in a part of the country mostly occupied by the Fula people. It is also known for its vernacular architecture, for the local mountains and for local chimpanzees.

Pulaar language

Pulaar is a Fula language spoken primarily as a first language by the Fula and Toucouleur peoples in the Senegal River valley area traditionally known as Futa Tooro and further south and east. Pulaar speakers, known as Haalpulaar'en live in Senegal, Mauritania, the Gambia, and western Mali. The two main speakers of Pulaar are the Toucouleur people and the Fulɓe. Pulaar is the second most spoken local language in Senegal, being a first language for around 22% of the population. This correlates with 23.7% of the country in which Pulaar is the population’s ethnicity. Pulaar is one of the national languages of Senegal alongside 13 others. It was admitted as an official language of Senegal by Presidential decree in 1971. There are around 28 known dialects of Pulaar, most of which are mutually intelligible with each other. The Pulaar dialects, as well as other West African languages, are usually referenced under the umbrella term ‘Fula’. Pulaar as a language, however, is not usually referenced as ‘Fula’.

Koubia Prefecture Prefecture in Labé Region, Guinea

Koubia is a prefecture located in the Labé Region of Guinea in the Fouta Djallon mountains. Fulas are the majority ethnic group in the region with Fula (Pular) as the primary language. The capital is Koubia. The prefecture covers an area of 2,800 km.² and has an estimated population of 114,000.

Kouroussa Sub-prefecture and town in Kankan Region, Guinea

Kouroussa or Kurussa is a town located in northeastern Guinea, and is the capital of Kouroussa Prefecture. As of 2014 it had a population of 39,611 people. A trade center and river port from at least the time of the Mali Empire, Kouroussa has long relied upon its position near the upstream limit of navigation of the Niger River to make it an important crossroads for people and goods moving between the Guinea coast and the states of the western Soudan and Niger River valley. The town and surrounding area is a center of Malinke culture, and is known for its Djembe drumming tradition.

Middle Guinea

Middle Guinea refers to a region in central Guinea, corresponding roughly with the plateau region known as Futa Jalon.

Pular language

Pular is a Fula language spoken primarily by the Fula people of Fouta Djallon, Guinea. It is also spoken in parts of Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. There are a small number of speakers in Mali. Pular is spoken by 8.5 million Guineans, about 55% of the national population. This makes Pular the most widely spoken indigenous language in the country. Substantial numbers of Pular speakers have migrated to other countries in West Africa, notably Senegal.

Imamate of Futa Toro

The Imamate of Futa Toro (1776-1861) was a West African theocratic state of the Fula-speaking people centered on the middle valley of the Senegal River. The region is known as Futa Toro.

Imamate of Futa Jallon State in West Africa from 1725 to 1912, in present-day Guinea

The Imamate of Futa Jallon or Jalon was a West African theocratic state based in the Fouta Djallon highlands of modern Guinea. The state was founded around 1727 by a Fulani jihad and became part of the French Third Republic's colonial empire in 1896.

Ahmadou, was one of the last Almamis of the Fula Imamate of Futa Jallon, in the Futa Jallon region of today's Guinea.

The Battle of Kansala or Final Battle or Siege of Kansala was a military engagement between forces of the Kaabu Empire and the Imamate of Futa Jallon. The battle ended Mandinka hegemony over Africa’s Atlantic coast begun by the Mali Empire.


Kouroukoro is a town located in northwestern Guinea, and the capital is Kouroussa. It has an estimated population of a few thousands. The town and surrounding area is a center of Malinke culture. Kouroukoro was a district in upper Guinea, Republic of Guinea, West Africa. From early 2021 Kouroukoro was upgraded by the government to the rank of Sub-Prefecture i.e. it now has other districts that are under it politically. They are Districts of Niemen, Saramadia, Kankaya and of course Kouroukoro. It is part of the Prefecture of Kouroussa Kouroukoro lies about 500 km from the capital Conakry, about 50 km from the prefecture of Dabola and about 95 km from the prefecture of Kouroussa

Karamokho Alfa

Karamokho Alfa was a Fula religious leader who led a jihad that created the Imamate of Futa Jallon in what is now Guinea. This was one of the first of the Fulbe jihads that established Muslim states in West Africa.

Talansan was the location of a battle in Futa Jallon, in what is now Guinea, in which Muslim forces were victorious. The battle was a key event in the jihad in which the Imamate of Futa Jallon was created.

Bokar Biro Barry was the last independent ruler of the Imamate of Futa Jallon in what is now Guinea. He died in the Battle of Porédaka, when his forces were destroyed by French artillery.

Thierno Diawo Pellel, was one of the great twentieth century poets of Fouta Djallon.

Aimé Olivier de Sanderval

Aimé Olivier de Sanderval, comte de Sanderval, was a French adventurer, explorer of West Africa, entrepreneur and author.

Thierno Abdourahmane Bah

Thierno Abdourahmane Bah was Guinean writer, poet, Muslim theologian and Fula political personality of Fouta Djallon. He is regarded as one of the most important representatives of Islamic science and Fula culture of Fouta Djallon.


Fuladu or Fuladugu is a historic region in the Upper Casamance, in the south of Senegal, including certain areas in The Gambia near the border with Guinea. It corresponds roughly to the modern Kolda Department.jaawopullo

Koumanthio Zeinab Diallo is a Guinean poet, novelist and playwright who writes in both French and Fulani.


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  2. Retrieved 2015-08-15
  3. Mamdani, Mahmood. "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror." Pantheon, 2004.
  4. 1 2 Mats Widgren, "Slaves: Inequality and sustainable agriculture in pre-colonial West Africa." In, Ecology and Power: Struggles over land and material resources in the past, present, and future. London: Routledge, 2012. pp. 97-107.
  5. Les Peuls − Land of Faith and Liberty. (video)
  6. 1 2 David Robinson. The Holy War of Umar Tal: the Western Sudan in the mid-nineteenth century. Clarendon Press. Oxford University Press, 1985.
  7. Boiro, Ibrahima; Barry, A. Karim; & and Diallo, Amadou. (2003). "Guinée." Chap. 5. In Harold Brookfield, Helen Parsons & Muriel Brookfield (eds.). Agrodiversity: Learning from farmers across the world. , pp. 110-133. Tokyo: United Nations University Press. Specific information cited from p. 116.
  8. Harold Brookfield, Exploring Agrodiversity, Chapter 5. New York: Columbia UP, 2001. pp. 80-99; Véronique André-Lamat, Gilles Pestaña, and Georges Rossi. "Foreign Representations and Local Realities: Agropastoralism and Environmental Issues in the Fouta Djalon Tablelands, Republic of Guinea." Mountain Research and Development, Vol. 23, No 2, May 2003:149-155; Carole LAUGA-SALLENAVE, "Le clos et l'ouvert Terre et territoire au Fouta-Djalon." In, Bonnemaison Joël (ed.), Cambrézy Luc (ed.), Quinty Bourgeois Laurence (ed.). Le territoire, lien ou frontière? : identités, conflits ethniques, enjeux et recompositions territoriales. Paris: ORSTOM, 1997, 10 p. (Colloques et Séminaires); Carole LAUGA-SALLENAVE, Terre et territoire au Fouta-Djalon (Guinée), GRET - University Paris X, 1999.
  9. Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS); "Tapade Cultivation System, Guinea," Archived 2014-08-19 at the Wayback Machine A project of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.


Further reading

Coordinates: 11°19′03″N12°17′23″W / 11.31750°N 12.28972°W / 11.31750; -12.28972