The Mbororo ethnic group


The Mbororo ethnic group

The Mbororo are a subgroup of the Fulani, a large ethnic group living in West and Central Africa. Nowadays Mbororo are also to be found in countries in East Africa. The Mbororo, together with the Wodaabe of Niger, are the only Fulani that still (though partly) maintain their traditional way of livelihood through pastoral nomadism. This way of living causes conflicts with the sedentary farming peoples. More land is being used for agriculture as the farming population of West Africa is rapidly growing. This results in less grazing grounds for the cattle of the Mbororo, and thus more and often violent clashes with the sedentary population. The Mbororo’s attitude derived from the cultural notion of ‘pulaaku’ is to keep distance to others.

Another uneasy relationship is the one between the Mbororo and the Fulani in Cameroon. Although belonging to the same people, the Fulani, Fulbé or Peul, the historical paths the two sub groups followed turned them into opponents. The Mbororo are relatively newcomers while the Fulani from before the colonization period on belong to the administrative and religious authorities of the country. The latter are well schooled while the nomadic Mbororo are lacking modern and islamic religious education. They thus are considered to be backward and easy to force to pay tribute in the form of cattle and girls. Some of the wealthy Funali/Hausa elites oppress the Mbororo in their effort to use the latter as political and economic constituents. The Mbororo, since the early ’90s through the associations such as MBOSCUDA, struggle to gain recognition as an indigenous people and respect for their specific culture and knowledge.

Religion: The Mbororo practice Islam

Mbororo Culture

The basis of Mbororo cultural practices is Pulaaku, a way of behaviour and ethos believed by them to be peculiar to and distinctive of the pastoral Mbororo-Fulani. ‘Pulaaku’ provides both a moral framework and a code of conduct to the pastoral Mbororo- Fulani, and is also maintained by town Fulani. This code of conduct is intimately bound up with nomadic pastoralism and with good animal husbandry. It is also bound up with the fulfilment of duties to elders, wives and the lineage group, and the proper arrangement of marriages. The four dominant strands of ‘pulaaku’ have been identified as: fortitude in adversity and on ability to accept misfortune (munyal); sound common sense and manners (hakkiilo); reserve and modesty in personal relations (semteende); and dignity (neddaaku). For the Mbororo Fulani themselves, pulaaku makes them unique and different. It is about dignity and hiding problems.

Pulaaku functions as a means of maintaining an ethnic boundary around the Mbororo category, such that it describes an ideology of racial and cultural distinctiveness and superiority that ranks the Mbororo- Fulani above all other ethnic groups (Burnham, 1996:106). The Mbororo Fulani equate their distinctive pastoral way of life with their ethnic origin, to the extent that “there is a strong attachment to the idea of ethnic exclusiveness” (Steening 1959:388) as evidenced by the existence (and use) of disparaging fulfulde terms for sedentary farmers (e.g haabe). There is also a continued tendency to marry within migratory groups, often with close cousins, as a means of preserving ‘pulaaku’. Mbororo culture can therefore be seen as exclusivist in orientation, a factor that has sometimes exacerbated inter-ethnic tension between the Mbororo-Fulani and their farming neighbours. Thus cultural conflict is stereotypically expressed as such:

“The natives in town see the Mbororo Fulani as uneducated, primitive and having a wrong religion. The Mbororo-Fulani in the rural areas look down on the natives as haabe, mean people who are poor, feel racially superior even to a native who is rich”

As with all cultural codes, pulaaku is not interpreted uniformly amongst in the different ethnic groups, and more broadly remains subject to local interpretation and variations between different Fulani groups across West Africa (Azarya 1999: 6-10).

However, pulaaku provides a unifying factor across the Mbororo-Fulani of Cameroon  as between the Jafun’en,  Bodaabe and Aku’en.

Mbororo Langue: The Mbororo speak Fulfulde with different dialectical variations.