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Pulaaku: How rustling is crippling this beautiful idea of the Fulbe

The nomad is usually quiet, but today many of them have become quieter than normal. But the issue before the nomad is a huge one…

The nomad is usually quiet, but today many of them have become quieter than normal. But the issue before the nomad is a huge one and this explains the silence. He has wives and children to feed, and there are a number of duties to be attended to every day. Yet, the cows which constitute the wealth of his household have been stolen by cattle rustlers, and he has no other occupation, and no additional skills to  rely on. For him, there are no options outside herding which he was born into. The cows come first, but now they have all been taken by the armed rustlers. Life always follows a simple pattern among the nomads: He looks out for the cows, checks that they are in good health, after which he turns to see if his children are alright. This is how it has always been among pastoral folk. The cows come first. The children are not neglected, but they come second. Now, the cows have vanished, and the nomad is alone in his kraal. The children make baby talk nearby. He has also been labeled by a society and a system, which is impatient with him, and cynical of his way of life and his style. But rustling is poised to cripple much more than the nomads immediate economy. It will weaken and paralyse his spirit. Then it will rise and begin to chew at those values that are dear to him. This moment really hurts among a people  where the cows no longer come first, and the herder has become either a farmer, a trader, a security man, or a maker of ropes. It is an odd reversal of roles. This radical shift is captured in the words of Hassan Ciroma, Extension Agent with the National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE)in Birnin Gwari. He said: “Cattle rustling is making Fulani youths  to turn to crime. If their animals are stolen, they may have no other option, but to steal.”
Abubakar Suleiman, Sarkin Zango, Ajaokuta, further analysed this trend, saying: “Drinking and the smoking of Indian hemp is widespread amongst  Fulani youths today. They no longer obey their parents, and when they drink, they cannot go and pray.”
‘It means you are shy’
Rustling is already eroding some values which are dear to the nomad, for it has started to challenge Pulaaku, one of the key elements of Fulani life. But what is Pulaaku, which is spoken of fondly by both Fulani and non Fulani alike? Khadijah Ardido of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), explained: “Pulaaku means to be shy. When I say you have Pulaaku, it means you are shy, and that shyness is in you. Wherever you go, Pulaaku should radiate out of you. Today, it is still possible to find Fulbe who embody Pulaaku. If you don’t observe Pulaaku in a Fulani, it means he or she may be of mixed blood. So, marriage among the Fulani is a way of preserving this concept among the group. When they marry within themselves, it preserves Pulaaku.”
Turn your backs
Dr. Nafissatu D. Mohammed, former Executive Secretary, National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE) added: “There is certain social behaviour of the Fulani which is largely dictated by Pulaaku. For example, when we were growing up, even among the Hausa community, it is not always that you will see a Fulani person eating in public. If they are pushed, and they have to eat in public, they would always turn their backs.

“You know they are very shy people. This is also part of Pulaaku. People call it timid. It depends on how you want to interprete it. Shyness may become timidity. They are generally shy and quiet. They train the girls to be seen, and not to be heard. Its all again tied to the fact that you are not supposed to bring shame. They don’t want anything that is going to be shameful, or bring shame to the family.”
She also speaks on what she calls ‘name avoidance’ among the Fulani, which is part of the concept of Pulaaku. Her words: “For instance, you don’t call the name of your father in-law, mother in law, your parents names, or your elder sister’s name. There is always a nickname you should use. You don’t call them directly. But the language allows you not to be too expressive.” This also extends to the first child. She says that the Fulani will not call their first child by his or her name. Speaking on marriage, she said: “Your first marriage is your first contact with the opposite sex. This is the first time you are married, and this first husband is usually revered. He becomes very important in your life. You don’t mention his name, and you are shy in openly talking about him within that environment.” Pulaaku is also expressed during pregnancy,as it is in many aspects of life. “People are very shy. They can hardly talk about pregnancy until you see it.It is not something that you just talk about all over the place. They bring some dignity and ennoblement to life. The upbringing is such that you are always conscious of your behaviour. I think such values should be upheld, whether you are Fulani or not.”
Pulaaku is everything
Dr. Ibrahim Abdullahi of the CDC, said: “Pulaaku is a long held traditional value or attribute of a Fulani. It means that the Fulani should not engage in anything that will reduce his status, that will bring shame on you, or your family. It states that the Fulani should be simple in whatever he does. He should avoid arrogance and all other negative attitudes.”
Saleh Momale, Acting Executive Director, The Pastoral Resolve, describes Pulaaku  as a “universal term that embodies the code of conduct of the Fulbe people,” adding: “Some of the things that the word covers include shyness (Semteende), patience (Munyal), self esteem, and self respect (Dowtaare). It embodies bravery  (Elewre), deep empathy or love (Enndam), wisdom (Anndal) and hardwork (Tiidal). It is a very broad term, and every Pullo is expected to live by the tenets of Pulaku.”
Your mother will cry
He  expands on the sanctions the society imposes on a member who violates Pulaaku. His words: “Every Pullo is expected to understand and live  by the tenets of Pulaaku throughout his life. In most societies, people are taught and groomed to live with these tenets, and because of the fear of  being disgraced, almost everybody tries to live by them. If you fight with somebody, which shows that you don’t have empathy or love, when you get back home, your mother will be crying, your sisters will be crying. Your wives may leave your house with all their children to her parents house. She will just leave the house for a period. Your brothers and their wives may not be speaking to you, until you go to the family, and apologise  for hurting their son.It is when the entire community accepts your apology, then people will start interacting with you.Its not a matter of a punishment, but the societal isolation of you, when you break any of the taboos.”
But  events in Nigeria have weakened the influence of Pulaaku in Fulbe society over the years. One of such events was the outbreak of Rinderpest in the 80s, when nomads lost 25 million cows and no compensation was extended to them. Saleh Momale said: “The adherence to the tenets of Pulaaku began to weaken from the time of the Rinderpest outbreak in the 80s. This was a time when many pastoralists lost their cows, and had to abandon pastoralism to live in towns. This was followed by violence across Nigeria, the blocking of stock routes and the encroachment upon grazing land. All these events had implications  for the adherence to  Pulaaku by the Fulani. In many instances, they began to fight back.”

Dr. Abdullahi said: “Today, Pulaaku has reduced, but you still find it among some Fulani. Economic factors have affected it, and people find themselves in a situation where they can no longer live a normal life.”  
Baba Othman Ngelzarma, National Secretary General MACBAN, sheds light on the way modernity has affected Pulaaku. He said: “Modernisation has affected the concept. It is no longer there as it was  before. Now, with a little provocation, a huge  fight emerges. Things have really changed.

“Because of modernisation, an average Fulani man has come to interact with youths in the city, and this exposes him to the culture of drinking, drugs and smoking. This is affecting our youths gravely. Apart from the absence of the culture of Pulaaku, he is often drunk or smoking Indian hemp.” It is difficult for the Fulani to exhibit self control under the influence of all these drinks and substances. In this sense, too, Pulaaku, which emphasises self control and decorous conduct, is affected.
Fulfude promotes Pulaaku
He describes a specific  expression of Pulaaku among the nomads, saying “he (nomad) doesn’t want himself or his children to be kept in a police cell, because that would be a very shameful thing,  for him to allow himself or his children to be kept in a police cell,” adding:  “That is why if you arrest their children, they will spend any amount to free their children from the cell. This is part of the Fulani culture of shyness, which we call Pulaaku.”
Dr. Nafissatu D. Mohammed added: “If you are talking about changes in the Fulani way of life, you are automatically talking about Pulaaku. The exposure to education, exposure to other modern facilities, has tinkered with the Pulaaku.”
On marriage, she said: “There are problems with the cross cultural marriages, especially with the girls, it’s  like taking the wealth out. If they remain within the family,  the wealth is kept and culture is promoted. If you speak the same language, definitely your children would also pick up the language. The language is a carrier, a medium for carrying these values which are grouped together, and collectively called Pulaaku. But the promotion of Pulaaku cannot happen in cross cultural marriages.”
Saleh Momale now looks at events within Nigeria, which have impacted on Pulaaku. He said: “It is not only cattle rustling that has affected Pulaaku, but the deterioration of the pastoral resources  in general, which include the deterioration of grazing land, encroachment on stock routes and the  displacement of communities. It is cattle rustling and the general decline in the productivity of livestock which have had a negative effect on Pulaaku.”
He highlights the impact  of migrations on Pulaaku, saying: “Many young men do not live with their parents to learn Pulaaku. This is because they have to migrate to distant areas with their animals in search of pasture. On another level, when these young men marry, they migrate with their young wives, and these young lady’s do not live with their elders to  learn the tenets of Pulaaku, to pass to their children. Additionally, the pastoralists today, rarely live as large communities but, instead, live as isolated individual  households because of the pressure over land. The communal structure of maintaining Pulaaku is no longer there.”
He turns to the impact of urbanisation on Pulaaku and said: “The growth of urban centres, where people come and live the way they like, has also encouraged the deterioration of Pulaaku. Young people come to town, behave the way they like, and they go away. Nobody will see them and nobody controls them.”
Poverty has also contributed to the deterioration of the concept, he said. “If you have lost your livestock, that situation creates poverty which translates into a fragmentation of values. Cattle rustling and  diseases of livestock can lead to a fragmentation of families and loss of control by the parents. This will also contribute to the erosion of the culture of Pulaaku.”
Herculean task
On whether the decline could be reversed, he said: “Reversing the trend will be a herculean task. It will be a very difficult task and will require interventions at different levels, which is quite difficult to achieve in a country like Nigeria because of sentiments, low level of understanding of the relevance of culture among Nigerian intellectuals, policy makers and implementing agencies.”
Role of NGOs
But he argues that the situation is different in some West African countries. “In other countries with good social order, like Niger Republic, Cameroon, Mali and Senegal, the values of Pulaaku are  retained and reinforced by the governments of those nations.” He thinks civil society organisations can play a role in reviving Pulaaku, however, saying: “In my view civil society organisations have a role to play in sensitising the Nigerian public, and government on the  relevance of culture and the need  to strengthen good cultural practices of all communities.”

Dr. Nafissatu D. Mohammed speaks on the place of Tabital Pulaaku in reviving the value among the Fulani. She said: “There is an NGO across the region, named Tabital Pulaaku, which emerged as a result of the awareness of how these values have lost their place among the Fulani, and they are trying to restore them, and encourage parents to go back to it, and return their children to the tenets of Pulaaku. If this happens it will reduce a lot of these social issues in Nigeria today. I believe the women have the biggest responsibility in this regard.”
Work for women
Saleh Momale agrees that women could play a role in reviving Pulaaku. According to him: “Women are the custodians of Pulaaku, and they are highly respected in traditional pastoral societies. In a Fulani adage, a woman is presented as a mighty tree, around which many forms circle. These forms or groups that circle around the tree, include the men, the strong, the weak, the wealth and the cattle. They say that the tree is the source of wisdom, and it is the custodian of the wealth. This is why, culturally, in pastoral society, the men are selective in marrying women, because they know that the woman is the home. If you marry a wife that has no wisdom, and cannot take custody of the wealth,the family will disintegrate, and its wealth will disappear.”
He said that women and children in most Fulani communities hardly cry over pain. “It’s part of the upbringing culturally. We have a saying that pain comes and goes, but shame lasts forever. The people are not scared of pain. It is an orientation from childhood.”
He illustrates this point by saying: “Pregnant women from pastoral society’s have medicinal plants which they prepare and drink  which make for an easy delivery. So, they wont cry during childbirth. The young men, who are whipped by their opponents during the Sharo, do not cry.”
According to him, this “reluctance to cry is in keeping with the true spirit of Pulaaku.”

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