Francis B Nyamnjoh. Africa Today. Volume 59, Issue 3. Spring 2013.
This paper draws on the experiences of Fulani of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon and on Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel Burning Grass to argue that most so-called simple African societies are cosmopolitan in composition and outlook. This reality is often muted by state and scholarly obsession with sameness and difference. The paper discusses how two competing elite associations condone and contest such obsession in a context of complex postcolonial politics of rights and entitlements, wherein juridico-political citizenship is often challenged at local and regional levels by claims of autochthony. Both elite associations find justification and legitimation in state politics and policies. There are no permanent winners or losers in the Cameroonian state, which simultaneously accommodates and alienates contested claims and practices of being Mbororo-Fulani. In this game of indigeneity and citizenship umpired by the state, ordinary Mbororo-Fulani quickly understand how to accommodate the political elite and especially how to play one political elite against the other in the interest of change and continuity or of mere survival.
In The Civilising Process, Norbert Elias (2000) uses the German concepts of Kultur and Zivilisation and the French concepts of courtoisie and civilité to discuss European ideas, understanding, and practices of well-mannered and expected behavior of individuals and communities in “civilised” society. He argues that through claims of civilization, individuals and cultures can legitimate the exercise of power over those they call uncivilized; it is in this way that states were or are formed and power monopolized within them. Such Western ideas justified the missions civilisatrices of the colonial encounter, and the hierarchies of humanity explicit or implicit in assumptions of civilization or the lack thereof were exported, externalized, and reproduced in the formation of colonial states (Comaroffand Comaroff1991, 1997; Ferguson 1999; Magubane 2004; Mamdani 1996; Piot 1999). The arbitrariness in which the label (un)civilized has tended to be attributed and internalized, locally and globally, limits understanding of the complexities of the individuals and societies whose realities the label overly simplifies and caricatures (Comaroffand Comaroff1993; Deutsch, Probst, and Schmidt 2002). The linearity and mimicry the label suggests do great disservice to the frontier realities of Africans and their societies epitomized by groups such as Fulani (Breedveld and de Bruijn 1996; de Bruijn and van Dijk 2003). In this regard, Igor Kopytoff (1987) suggests that it is more scientifically rewarding not to treat Africans and their communities as bounded and exclusive. He cautions against the overly simplistic binaries that feed into such stark oppositions as insiders and outsiders (or civilized and uncivilized, in the current case), where bona fide knowledge or cultural superiority purportedly lies with those firmly in the heartland of the group, or in our case, the civilization. To him, there is much analytical and intellectual value in being flexible, nuanced, and ethnographically and historically grounded. His idea of African frontier societies was inspired by his ethnographic fieldwork among the Aghem of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon, a region that Jean-Pierre Warnier has described as “anciently settled” for millennia, characterized by continuous human occupation and “a significant mixing of peoples” in many directions (Warnier 1984, 2012:16-17), including the arrival and integration of Fulani since the early 1900s (Davis 1995; Njeuma and Awasom 1988; Pelican 2006). Other anthropologists have argued similarly against scholarly obsession with defining a priori and then proceeding to observe (Gupta and Ferguson 1992, 1997; Keesing 1994). While such a manner of proceeding is a basic human instinct the world over, it by no means constitutes an acceptable basis for science, which should emphasize observation and privileging intimate interconnections between theory and practice, abstraction and substantiation, claim and evidence (Jacobson 1991). The obsession with thinking by analogy implicit in the elusive and often impatient quest for a Grand Civilization that unites all humanity regardless of unequal encounters and contextual variations places whole communities on a hierarchy informed by the whims and caprices of those with ambitions of dominance (Elias 2000).
Drawing on the experiences of Fulani of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon, a region whose civilization, history of peopling and population formations, and changing political and economic fortunes, though beyond the scope of this paper, are well documented (Chem-Langhee and Fanso 2011; Fowler 2011; Fowler and Zeitlyn 1996; Konings 2009; Nkwi and Warnier 1982; Warnier 2012), and particularly regarding Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel Burning Grass (1962), usefully complemented by the insider ethnographic autobiographical perspective of Henri Bocquené’s Memoirs of a Mbororo: The Life of Ndudi Umaru, Fulani Nomad of Cameroon (2002), I argue that most so-called simple, small-scale African societies prevalent in modernization and development discourses and most colonial anthropology are cosmopolitan in their composite, unbounded composition and “frontier” outlook (Kopytoff1987; Warnier 2007) and have, in the relations they forge and entertain, been at the forefront of many of the processes currently heralded by the “civilized world” via modernity, advanced information and communication technologies, and globalization (Reisman 1977). That Africans, including those in “remote” areas (Piot 1999), so nimbly adopt and adapt technologies such as the Internet and the cell phone speaks more of cultures, practices, and relationships already at play and historically situated than of a purported attempt to be civilized or to learn to cope with the material culture of other worlds. The technologies Africans creatively adopt are part and parcel of their worldview and ways of configuring and living out their relationships of conviviality, interconnection, and interdependence, whether or not they drive their current mass production and dissemination (de Bruijn, Nyamnjoh, and Brinkman 2009; Nkwi 2011a; Tazanu 2012).
This paper discusses how two competing elite associations draw variously on conflicting, sometimes complementary, and often contested notions of citizenship and belonging in a context of complex postcolonial politics of rights and entitlements, where juridico-political citizenship as articulated nationally is often challenged at local and regional levels by claims of autochthony and indigeneity, sometimes driven, sponsored, or supported by transnational nongovernmental human freedoms, rights, and protection organizations (Englund 2006; Hodgson 2009). The discussion reveals the extent to which there are no permanent winners or losers in the Cameroonian state, which simultaneously accommodates and alienates Cameroonians in its game of power without accountability and diffuses momentum and potential unity in diversity on the basis of common interests and aspirations (Nyamnjoh 1999), and it shows the extent to which both elite associations, seeking to access resources and opportunities within and beyond the state, find justification and legitimation in state politics and policies through contested claims and practices of being Mbororo-Fulani in the Western Grassfields. In this dangerous game of indigeneity and citizenship, umpired by the state and transnational advocates for recognition and representation for “indigenous” and other minorities, ordinary Mbororo-Fulani understand how to accommodate the political elite and especially how to play one political elite against the other in the interest of change and continuity or mere survival.
The ambiguity and ambivalence of the Cameroonian state and the place of transnational advocacy organizations therein are lost in scholarship of dichotomies or linearity, which tends to deny institutions and individuals any complexity in agency. A critical reading of the literature by local and transnational organizations militating for the recognition and protection of the rights and freedoms of Mbororo-Fulani in the Western Grassfields of Cameroon shows that much of it has tended to romanticize and celebrate Mbororo-Fulani, their internal and external diasporic credentials notwithstanding, as a bounded victim community with a legitimate case for purity and protection, one needing international advocacy organizations to fight off a predatory postcolonial state and its local lieutenants, epitomized by powerful individuals such as Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo-whose claims to Mbororo-Fulaniness are characterized as dubious and uncritically dismissed-and by administrative and security officials. Accounts steeped in binary oppositions and exclusionary identities gloss over state politics that champion divide and rule and investment in cultural identity and exclusion to the detriment of shared legal and political citizenship. They equally gloss over a history and socioanthropological reality of integration and accommodation (Pelican 2006; Warnier 2012) that contradicts state politics and the practice of keeping Cameroonians asunder under the delusion of maximizing opportunities at regional and national levels (Nyamnjoh 1999).
This paper draws on my personal experience with Mbororo-Fulani to demonstrate that much more goes on than merely a relationship of tension and conflict and that investing in a desperate quest for the “pure” Mbororo- Fulani is bound to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the exclusion and marginalization of Mbororo-Fulani. As recounted elsewhere (Nyamnjoh 2002), with an active relationship to four fathers from at least three recognized fondoms (kingdoms/chiefdoms), I straddle identity margins and confound attempts to confine my identity. My four fathers have all been closely associated with cattle and Mbororo-Fulani. One with whom I grew up in my primary school days was a butcher. He spoke Mbororo like a “native” speaker and depended on his rich relationships and networks with Mbororo-Fulani for word-of-mouth alerts on when and where to track down a cow or bull for sale. Through trade by barter, we exchanged cultivated food for milk and butter, which Mbororo-Fulani girls and women sold door to door as they went from village to village, and from such interactions we picked up an essential Mbororo-Fulani vocabulary, just as they did vital words in the Bum language. Another father of mine, Fon John Yai Kwanga, was the paramount fon (king/chief) of Bum. He owned oxen of his own, and five Mbororo-Fulani ardos (chiefs) paid tribute to him for residing in “his” territory. In my secondary-school days, I was a regular messenger or emissary to these ardos from the fon and could combine my little knowledge of Mbororo with pidgin English to communicate with them. Juli, the son of Ardo Bobo of Sawi, and I attended primary school together, and Ardo Sarli of Saaf is married to a daughter of the Fon of Bum. Other Bum women and Mbororo- Fulani men, especially in cosmopolitan settlements such as Konene and Misaje, intermingle and share marketplaces and spaces and have children together. Another father, Thomas Ndong, is one of the most prominent cattle owners in Wum and Bafmen, and another, Fon Angwafo III of Mankon, is a big urban cattle owner who employs Mbororo-Fulani herdsmen. I know many non-Mbororo-Fulani politicians, civil servants, and businessmen, some of whom own ranches and are branching into cattle rearing in a big way-not to mention people of Pinyin origin who are among the greatest cattle owners and dealers in the region. Similarly, Mbororo-Fulani have branched into farming in a significant way. And here I problematize the tendency to oversimplify Mbororo-Fulani relationships when their complex, flexible reality beckons for nuance. To make this case, this paper looks at: (1) competing and complementary ideologies of being civilized in circulation among Mbororo-Fulani and other groups in the Western Grassfields; (2) ideas of responsible and reckless mobility shared by Fulani within and beyond Cameroon, using Ekwensi’s Burning Grass as a meeting point between fiction and ethnography; (3) how the value of Pulaaku is produced, contested, accommodated, and instrumentalized by Mbororo-Fulani challenged by the imperatives of change and continuity; (4) how ordinary Mbororo-Fulani, through their tense relationship with two competing elite associations and with Danpullo, as well as with competing and contradictory ideas of what it means to be free, to be developed, and to belong, demonstrate that their future, like their present and their past, is seldom one of simple choices; and (5) how Mbororo-Fulani continue to employ flexible mobility in the twentyfirst century in their ongoing search for greener pastures.
Being (Un)Civilized in the Western Grassfields of Cameroon
Being civilized or uncivilized is a matter of perspective, depending much more on who has the power to define and confine than on any objective indicators (Elias 2000). As a young man growing up in and around the Western Grassfields of Cameroon, I was aware of my status as an uncivilized person from a remote part of the world (Nyamnjoh 2002, 2008). This self-image was inspired by the books I read and from what I was taught in primary, secondary, and high school. I was inspired as well by the stories recounted by travelers and those who had ventured into distant places as labor migrants, places such as the Cameroon Development Corporation plantations of the coastal regions (Konings 2011; Nkwi 2011a:139-171), which I would discover only much later as school and work took me places (Nyamnjoh 2008). Translated variously in the Western Grassfields to signify exposure to and internalization of worlds beyond the confines of frontiers informed especially by the ways of the white man and whiteman kontri (country of the white man), Kwang and Kfaang in Bum and Kom respectively (Nkwi 2011a; Nyamnjoh 2008), “being civilized” leftfew indifferent (Nyamnjoh and Page 2002). If I was in school at all, it was because my parents had embraced the idea that it was possible to become civilized by copying the ways of those who presented or imposed themselves as receptacles and vehicles of civilization. I thus found myself in the process of mimicking so as to add onto everything I was what others felt I needed to be. Life was an unending journey of becoming. The world seemed peopled by creatures restlessly impatient with me simply being who I was. The fact that they often succeeded in converting or imposing upon me or any of their other converts a chronic sense of inadequacy and an image of themselves as better, superior, and desirably different meant they had effective power to define and confine (Nyamnjoh 2012).
At fifty years old, I am still in the process of becoming, still “perpetually immature and unfinished” (Hoffer 1963:93). Even as a critical and reluctant convert, I must have internalized some of the habitus that I wittingly or unwittingly reproduce and seek to impose. It seems being civilized is a lifelong quest for something no one quite knows, pursued with the confidence of a “king in his new clothes” (Shah 1979:256). It is all a game of perception, power, and strategic positioning, in which what is real is not what is, but what we define and impose as real.
An early domestication and appropriation of land means that those who come later or those who have been around but simply failed to act quickly on what we rightly or wrongly impose as universal sedentary instincts, or which we simply impose as a superior state of being, shall have us to reckon with as bona fide sons and daughters (landlords) of the soil (de la Cadena and Starn 2007; Nyamnjoh 2007; Saugestad 2001). This position is reinforced by the resilience of the language and politics of absolutes or purity-dichotomy or binary opposition between “natives” and “strangers,” “citizens” and “subjects,” “farmers” and “herders” (Dafinger and Pelican 2006:132-133; Davis 1995:218; Duni et al. 2009; Landau 2011; Mamdani 1996, 2009; Neocosmos 2010; Pelican 2006:145-200), rural dwellers and urbanites. It does little justice, in our present case, to the complex reality of Mbororo-Fulani as nimble navigators and negotiators of various identity margins as indigenous and stranger, farmer and herdsman, bushman and townsman, citizen and subject, pure and impure, authentic and copy (Mouiche 2011; Pelican 2006:305-351), and as permanent work in progress.
Being civilized-or, rather, uncivilized-in the Western Grassfields and everywhere else can be compared to a Jacob’s ladder, lengthening into the infinite skies and bottomless earth. One’s relative position on the ladder dictates whom one shall look up to and down on, without necessarily having a clue in objective terms what, if at all, it means to consider those down to be less civilized than those up. So we grew up passing down the label uncivilized. At the bottom rungs of our Jacob’s ladder, we-the so-called bona fide sons and daughters of the Western Grassfields, the sedentary groupings, so to speak (Warnier 1984, 2012:15-23)-confined the Mbororo-Fulani, who number between 80,000 and 120,000, are often called nomadic or seminomadic (despite becoming more sedentary), are known to be “most resistant to change,” and have been in the region since the early 1900s (Davis 1995:217-218; Hickey 2002). To those of us who celebrated linear ideas of civilization, to consider as equals people who lived in the hills in huts, herded cattle, hardly farmed, depended on selling milk and butter for subsistence, seldom sent their children to school, and could hardly speak or understand pidgin English, the lingua franca, was tantamount to an unforgivable insult to civilization. If anything, they were the scum of the Western Grassfields earth: uncivilized and deserving to be looked down upon, notwithstanding their wealth in cattle and the fact that we sometimes looked to them for employment as herdboys and contract farmers.
We who, wrongly or rightly, felt relatively more civilized in local and colonial terms, and who defined ourselves in opposition to the Mbororo-Fulani, had an infinite repertoire of derogatory words for them and circulated stories portraying them as a catalogue of negativities that devalued their humanity in our eyes. Drawing on our perceived relative superiority in the civilizational hierarchy we subscribed to, we ridiculed them when they marveled (or at least we assumed they marveled) at electricity on public lampposts-“moon for stick.” When we ate salad, the conversation was on how Fulani dismiss “civilized food” with comments such as “Mbororo man say cow chop grass me chop grass?” These stereotypes have served to freeze relations between Fulani and the rest of us, who, despite our objective shortcomings and in spite of our commonalities with Mbororo-Fulani, can afford the last laugh with people we ordinarily should accept, respect, and accommodate as fellow sons and daughters of the native or national soil. The stereotypes trivialize, distort, and underrepresent other perceptions and relationships we have about them, such as our admiration for the elegance of their tall, handsome men, the beauty of their women, their fair skin, gracefulness, meticulous cleanliness, spectacular attention to order in how they arrange their utensils and other household effects, and so forth. We look forward to their milk, butter, cheese, and cattle for food. We admire as well the high rate of divorce among them, which is more an indication of their love for freedom and mobility than their distaste for marriage. And despite a history of decades of integration and accommodation (Pelican 2006:249-351, 2008a, 2009), we are envious that they are not as readily available to marry out of their comfort zones as we would like when we come seeking their hand in marriage. In fact, we should be dumbfounded to learn that they look down “with silent disdain” on us as farmers, using the word haabe (poor farmers) to keep their distance, even as they depend on our farm products for sustenance (Davis 1995:218). One person’s civilizational or cultural meat is indeed another’s poison. They may be in the bush, but it doesn’t appear the bush is inextricably in them (Dafinger and Pelican 2006; Murphy 1989; Pelican 2006:305-351, 2008a, 2008b, 2009; Pelican and Tatah 2009). In the context of the racial classifications championed by European colonialism, the physical features of Fulani qualified them as superior inferiors: inferior to whites, as everyone else was meant to be, but superior to the rest because physically they resembled Europeans the most. Additionally, together with Hausa, they enjoyed good relations with the British colonial administration, often raising suspicion among local fondoms about a Hausa-Fulani conspiracy with the administration to dispossess local populations of their land (Awasom 1984; Davis 1995:218; Njeuma and Awasom 1988:466).
Domesticated and Reckless Mobility among Fulani
There are striking similarities between the Fulani of the Western Grassfields and the Fulani of Cyprian Ekwensi’s Northern Nigeria. The Fulani of the Western Grassfields know themselves and are known as Mbororo (Davis 1995; Duni et al. 2009; Pelican 2006, 2008a). The Fulani are and have historically been at the forefront of coping with and harnessing nature and culture. The story of sophistication and history of navigation and negotiation of culture and nature, and of different identity margins, is exemplarily articulated by Ekwensi, who treats the Fulani cattlemen and women of Northern Nigeria as frontier people whose survival depends on flexible mobility and no permanent ties to place. The lives of Fulani are structured around and dictated by a permanent quest for greener pastures for their cattle and the reproduction of their way of life as crossers, contesters, and bridgers of borders and geographies of subsistence and sociality. They take luck seriously and clear away in great haste following a death, “For legend holds that the place where a man has died is bad luck” (1962:118). In the absence of death, they are loyal to place only to the extent that they have the freedom of seasonal mobility on which their survival as a people committed to cattle depends (Bocquené 2002; de Bruijn van Dijk and van Dijk 2001). One knows where to look for them, not by a permanent residential address in a particular locality, region, or country, but by what season-rainy or dry-it is. They are unlike other groups or members thereof that refuse to move, even when threatened by war, an epidemic, natural disaster, or the state. An example of such a person is Baba, father of Shehu, the notorious cattle thief and cruel owner of Fatimeh, the slave girl whom Mai Sunsaye brings into the family and after whose coming nothing is ever the same again. When Mai Sunsaye wanders into Old Chanka, a place abandoned because of the plague of tsetse flies, Baba, who has stubbornly refused to move with others to New Chanka, attacks him viciously, screaming: ” ‘Get back the way you came! … Go away now! I want no stranger in my kingdom!” (Ekwensi 1962:34). Baba boasts: ” ‘Yes, everybody has deserted. They are afraid of the sleeping sickness. But not me! The flies can suck my dry blood, and they shall die!’ ” (1962:34). Baba’s reason for staying on is the special autochthonous relationship he has with a place called home, common among those the Mbororo-Fulani encounter in their flexible mobility:
“You are in your own house, where you were born and your father before you. An officer of the Government comes and says it is not good for you. It is full of sickness. He burns or breaks down your house, and builds you another, far away, in another land. Tau!” (1962:35)
Burning Grass revolves around Sunsaye, father of three sons and one daughter. First published in 1962 as the second book in the Heinemann African Writers Series, the novel predates the information and communication technological revolutions of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s-including the spread of road networks, the motor car, the airplane, television, the computer, the Internet, and the cell phone-that have accelerated the mobility of people, ideas, and things to warrant globalization as a universal currency and a local reality. Even then, there was a sense of these revolutions to come, as indicated, for example, by the chance capture of a vulture in Rikku’s trap, with a message on a piece of paper within a ring attached to its leg:
It said that the vulture was released in a place in South America about six months earlier. Would the finder please send full information about the date of capture, the locality, his name and address. (1962:88)
Burning Grass shows how flexible mobility, assisted or not by the magic of technologies, has been part and parcel of what it means to be Fulani with cattle (de Bruijn van Dijk and van Dijk 2001; de Bruijn and van Dijk 2003). Just as hunger knows no bounds, a responsible Fulani herdsman or woman owes his or her cattle a duty to humble or domesticate borders in search of greener pastures, especially when the grass becomes sour in their current location (Ekwensi 1962:27). When “the rains are stopping” and “the grass is dying,” it is time to “move southwards to the land of the great river where the grass is young and sweet” (p. 106).
Jalla, Sunsaye’s eldest and most successful son, proud owner of thousands of cattle, best epitomizes this rhythmic seasonal mobility and is known far and wide for his predictable mobility: ” ‘he is always on the move. He comes, he goes with the seasons’ ” (Ekwensi 1962:60-61). Not even his planned marriage to Fiddiggo could delay a seasonal move: ” ‘Father, we are men of cattle. Our cattle come first, and since it is our wish to take them to better pastures, all else must succumb to that wish’ “(p. 76). If Fiddiggo is keen on the marriage, she would have to join them at “the banks of the River Changuwa near Malendo” (p. 75). Moving cattle “in search of new pastures” (p. 78) is no easy feat, but it is nonetheless something Fulani cattlemen and women embrace and look forward to. Other challenges include surprise attacks by cattle rustlers such as Shehu, Baba’s son, “said to be a swashbuckling ex-soldier discharged from the Cameroons campaign of 1914- 1918.” He “lived to fight,” and “like an elephant, once offended[,] he never forgot and never forgave” (pp. 2 and 14-15). Sometimes the thieves work in connivance with “the tax-gatherers,” who insist on counting the cattle (pp. 53-59). Over the years, Jalla and his brother Rikku learn to deal with thieves and tax-gatherers by recruiting additional herdsmen from among the non- Mbororo-Fulani, such as Belmuna, “a good man” and “a hunter with a stout heart, brave as the devil” (p. 53), and by training their cattle “to disperse in different directions but to reassemble in one spot” (p. 58).
Mobility for Fulani is centered on seeking the well-being of their cattle, not personal comfort. As Rikku, Sunsaye’s third son, puts it to a woman of the town seeking to indulge him with comfort in her “exquisitely furnished room” in a city dwelling: ” ‘For us the town life it not the life.’ … ‘I am used to discomfort. We live a simple life. The floor is our bed, and nature is always a companion. But above all, Allah drives the fly for the tail-less cow’ ” (Ekwensi 1962:86). Sunsaye, reflecting on his visit to New Chanka, where his second son, Hodio, runs a sugar mill, regrets that Fulani people “are drifting more and more away from the hard life to the softlife of the city” (p. 115). Competition with non-Fulani on how best to harness the land means mobility between places is not dictated exclusively by Fulani choices and needs. Not only is their livelihood threatened by the dryness of the harmattan, which diminishes the nutritive value of grass: it is threatened by hunters who burn the grass to hunt game. If they partake in burning the grass, it is “so that with the early rains the young sweet shoots of grass would push out and the cattle would graze with joy” (p. 114). The burning that comes with the harmattan imposes the need to move south in search of greener pastures. These “instincts of the nomad” have been cultivated “over a lifetime of exposure to danger from man, beast[,] and nature” (p. 14). The centrality of green grass and mobility in the lives of Fulani herdsmen and women is evidenced by the opening lines of the novel: “When they begin to burn the grass in Northern Nigeria, it is time for the herdsmen to be moving the cattle southwards to the banks of the great river” (p. 1).
If Fulani cattlemen and women are by habituation, activity, and necessity mobile, the central character, Sunsaye, is cursed by a magical illness, which carries mobility to reckless and unpredictable proportions. Struck by the Sokugo in the form of a “dove with a talisman attached to its foot” (Ekwensi 1962:12), he is like a man enchanted: he relentlessly pursues the dove, which takes him farther and farther away from home and the familiar. There is no turning back, despite the out-of-season and out-of-character nature of his mobility: “All he could feel now was an exhilaration of the spirit that gave a strange buoyancy to his whole bearing. He felt he could easily grow wings and overtake the dove” (p. 10). Lured by “the sweet, enticing … Kuku-roo-ku-doo!” (p. 10) of the dove, he could not be stopped: he ignored the voice inside him urging him to “Turn back now!” (p. 10).
The Sokugo is described as the “charm of the Fulani cattlemen; a magic that turned studious men into wanderers, that led husbands to desert their wives, chiefs their people[,] and sane men their reason” (Ekwensi 1962:10). It is widely believed that “a man could send his enemy wandering to his death by striking him with the Sokugo” (p. 12), and Sunsaye’s family members believe his unsuccessful rival for the position of chief (ardo) had cursed him with “the wandering disease” (p. 13) by sending a dove with a talisman tied to its foot to enchant him away from his home (p. 9). The Sokugo is known to “deprive men of their stable lives and [send] them stupidly wandering” (p. 13) until the magic spell cast on them is destroyed.
Not even fear of darkness and “encounter with the agents of swiftdeath” (p. 12) deters Sunsaye from his wanderings. He feels “no desire to go back home, only forward” (p. 21), and he wanders aimlessly until pursued and saved (p. 15). Even when he visits people and places in his wanderings, this is more by accident than intent. He goes to Jalla, his eldest son, and to Hodio, his second son. They are happy to see him, only to find out he cannot stay. As Jalla realizes his father’s visit is unplanned, he fears leaving him alone-” ‘Can I leave you with peace in my mind?’ ” (p. 23)-even after his father reassures him: ” ‘I go nowhere till I see you again’ ” (p. 25). He tells Jalla the reason for his wanderings is to look for Fatimeh, ” ‘the girl whom Rikku loves’ ” (p. 25). Looking for Fatimeh is reason to keep moving. ” ‘Tomorrow I must leave. I am in quest for something- … ‘A fair maiden. Indeed, as lovely a maiden as my son deserves’ ” (p. 37), he tells Baba, an acquaintance who refuses to move, even when his tsetse-fly-infested village has been decreed a no-go area. Everyone but Sunsaye seems conscious he has got “the winged disease of the Sokugo” (p. 25). His family must assume the responsibility of consulting a medicine man to cure him “from following this shadow of things that fly” (p. 29), to “break this spell and reunite the family” (p. 52). Repeatedly being told ” ‘it must be something more than just your son’s love for Fatimeh … a charm … Something they put over you while you slept’ ” (p. 62), Sunsaye begins to use the Sokugo as an excuse to move on: ” ‘They say I am smitten with the Sokugo, the wandering disease. Perhaps that is why I wander so, feeling restless all day.’ … ‘I have the wandering sickness. It has just struck again. I am like that. And when it strikes, I must either respond, or [die]’ ” (p. 63).
Acceptable mobility is responsible, purposeful, collective, or domesticated. Sunsaye’s wanderings take him away from and to family (pp. 63-70). He eventually catches up with Fatimeh: “Fatimeh, I have searched for you everywhere. I heard so many tales about you and your cattle … One night, I saw someone like you down south. I could not believe my eyes.’ ‘Lah!’ said Fatimeh. ‘Now Allah has united us’ ” (p. 100). “Sunsaye looked at her twinkling eyes, the happiness and cheer she radiated, and he was happy. His sacrifice had not been in vain. Now, at last he could take her back with him, and Rikku would never blame him again” (p. 101). No sooner does this reunion occur than the Sokugo-bearing dove appears, and Sunsaye is about to follow it flying south, but Fatimeh will not let him. She cures him of the Sokugo with a mixture of powders and cold milk, drawing on knowledge of herbs she learned from an old Fulani herdsman in the course of her travels (pp. 102-103).
When Sunsaye returns to his family, he proudly announces: ” ‘I met Fatimeh; and she cured me of the Sokugo. I shall wander no more, but return to my huts in Dokan Toro. That is my home. I am too old a cattleman to wander on the veld; like the young ones’ ” (p. 111). “To the Fulani herdsman who has spent most of his time on the move, home was a cluster of huts anywhere from which no more movement was contemplated. To Sunsaye[,] the place was Dokan Toro” (pp. 116-117). Back home, he regains his position as chief by chasing away the ardo who has cursed him. He is pleased to take up the threads of his old life, and is in his element once again (p. 118).
Burning Grass, although authored by a non-Mbororo-Fulani, offers a convincing account of the values and ways of life dear to Moboro-Fulani, and for an outsider account it is remarkable in what it has in common with the memoirs of Ndudi Umaru, a Mbororo-Fulani insider (Bocquené 1986; 2002). Its contribution notwithstanding, there is a tendency in it to dichotomize between Mbororo-Fulani as drawn to nature and as being too nomadic to have any lasting ties to places and spaces and others who are more cultured, live in towns, and frequent the bush only to harvest game or to farm for subsistence, yet as the example of Hodio shows, at a closer look, the reality of Mbororo-Fulani is much more nuanced and intricate than the novel suggests.
Pulaaku, or the Contested Art of Being Fulani
Over the fifty years since Burning Grass was published, it is fascinating to note how much and how little has changed. From their northern Nigerian base in Kano, driven by “a continuous search for new pastures,” Fulani migrated east and south to Cameroon in the first half of the twentieth century, finding favorable ecological and political conditions for themselves and their cattle in the Western Grassfields (Pelican 2011b:428); however, as states dramatize sovereignty through rigid policing of territorial borders, transnational migration in search of greener pastures of the type signified by Mai Sunsaye and his family is increasingly difficult, even as cattle-less Fulani youth increasingly migrate into cities and beyond, seeking greener pastures of another kind: education, employment, and opportunities to trade and imagine new futures.
Within countries, seasonal migration is limited by sedentarization and the often exclusionary claims of rights and entitlement over land by non- Fulani groups brandishing flags of indigeneity and “primary patriotism” in relation to places and spaces they claim as “bona fide sons and daughters of the soil” (Evans 2010; Geschiere and Gugler 1998; Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 1999, 2000; Mouiche 2011; Nkwi 2011b; Nyamnjoh and Rowlands 1998; Pelican 2009). An alternative, for some Fulani, especially those in regions where the harmattan is less harsh, has been to occupy vast amounts of nonfarm land up in the hills and mountains, near water sources. Those less fortunate find themselves at conflict with subsistence and cash crop farmers who, in addition to the land they already cultivate, seek better-yielding land in valleys frequented by foraging cattle. This in turn leads to the collision between the practice of extensive grazing and seasonal transhumance by Mbororo-Fulani herders and the shifting system of cultivation practiced by farmers in the Western Grassfields (Dafinger and Pelican 2006:132-136; Duni et al. 2009; Pelican 2006:201-241, 2008a:544;). The resilience of perceptions of Fulani as nomads means that non-Fulani groups can justify almost any claim to land where Fulani graze their cattle, regardless of how long they may have domesticated the land on their own terms (Dafinger and Pelican 2006; Davis 1995; Duni et al. 2009; Hickey 2002, 2004, 2007).
The mistaken impression is proliferated that Fulani are simple people with endangered simple ways of life that require salvation through the state and its exogenously induced “expectations of modernity” (Ferguson 1999), or salvaging by sympathetic transnational nongovernmental organizations crusading to protect the “first peoples” and “indigenous minorities” of the world from contamination by neoliberal modernity and the local agents of its civilizing mission (Hodgson 2009, 2011), but, as Ndudi Umaru reminds those who care to listen, Pulaaku is the Fulani equivalent of what it means to be civilized. It is a “code of life” or a “way of behaving,” which “belongs only to us, the people of the world of cows and the bush” and which “we knew … long before we knew the religion of Mohammed” (Bocquené 2002:219). It is a concept used by Fulani to distinguish themselves from non-Fulani others (haabe), as well as, or even more importantly, against Fulani perceived to be losing the art of being Fulani (Bocquené 2002:219-228; Breedveld and de Bruijn 1996; Reisman 1977; Virtanen 2003:25-47). For those who insist on looking down on Fulani, Pulaaku as an ideology is in turn used by Mbororo- Fulani to look down on such detractors. Mbororo-Fulani use Pulaaku to set themselves apart as racially superior and as a pretext for seeking to convert others culturally (Burnham 1996:96-116) while playing down the contradictions that make their relationships with others far more complex than the rhetoric of purity suggests. Like the concepts of Kultur and Zivilisation and courtoisie and civilité, which Elias (2000) uses as a lens for penetrating Western European ideas of good manners and acceptable behavior, Pulaaku is deployed to regulate behavior and as a measure of the appropriateness of social action, especially in public spaces, where Mbororo-Fulani are highly sensitive to shame and embarrassment. Eating in public, for instance, is considered beneath the dignity of Mbororo-Fulani, and those who violate this code of conduct are perceived as lacking in Pulaaku and likened to haabe. As Keja (2009:41) puts it, “To eat without holding back can be seen as to surrender oneself to the feeling of hunger, which can be seen as a weakness”-something beneath what it means to be Mbororo-Fulani. “The public display of weakness will inevitably lead to a feeling of shame, which is to be avoided in all circumstances.” The same applies to a catalogue of other prohibitions intended to keep Mbororo-Fulani “pure” and “together,” in contexts of increased interaction with others perceived to be racially and culturally different.
The literature on Pulaaku is wide and varied. Some accounts present it as the moral code of reciprocal obligations around which Mbororo-Fulani identity is imagined, configured, and practiced, the habitus that children are expected to acquire from birth and which they have a duty to reproduce, nurture, and defend (Bocquené 2002:219-228; Breedveld and de Bruijn 1996; Reisman 1977; Virtanen 2003:25-47). Depending on how successful the process of habituation is, people could come to think of Pulaaku as an essence: something in one’s blood that cannot be undone without dire consequences, something measurable in degrees and percentages. It might be dormant in some contexts, but it should spring to life when called upon-proof of which is especially required from youth in towns and cities during visits to relations in rural areas. Town and city Mbororo-Fulani are expected to demonstrate that the values and habitus of the state, its expectations of modernity, and its dangerous politics of civic citizenship have not cannibalized their Pulaaku. In the art of being Mbororo-Fulani, Pulaaku is an asset, a resource, and a source of pride, informed by a pervading sense of shame, honor, discretion, measure, and proportion (Bocquené 2002:219- 228; Breedveld and de Bruijn 1996; Reisman 1977; Virtanen 2003:25-47). Its constituent elements include resignation, intelligence, bravery, modesty, self-control, common sense, decorum, respect for elders, and uprightness (Burnham 1996:96-116; Davis 1995:218-221; Duni et al. 2005). To modern youth like Hodio, the epitome of the town Fulani of New Chanka in Burning Grass, who are ambivalent about its prescriptiveness, Pulaaku is sometimes perceived as reluctance or the evasive strategies employed by their parents to stay backward and susceptible to marginalization by others (Dafinger and Pelican 2006:144). In being Mbororo-Fulani, Pulaaku as habitus might be second nature, but it is far from being a birthmark, especially as Mbororo-Fulani are part and parcel of interconnecting local and global hierarchies of habituses that influence them and that they influence. Hence, Pulaaku is best understood as a dynamic part of Mbororo-Fulani, being subject to contextual and individual variations and to renegotiation with changing experiences and challenges. It is in the process of enactment and/ or engaging with Pulaaku that Pulaaku is renegotiated. As social actors are open to competing, conflicting, and complementary local and global hierarchies of humanity and its habituses, being Mbororo-Fulani is permanent work in progress (Bocquené 2002:219-228; Breedveld and de Bruijn 1996; de Bruijn and van Dijk 1995:201; Keja 2009; Pelican 2006, 2008a, 2009; Reisman 1977; Virtanen 2003:25-47).
Pulaaku is open to politicization, instrumentalization, and opportunism, just as it remains a useful indicator of the resilience of the core values of being Mbororo-Fulani. It stresses the art of being Fulani as much as it does the art of being something other than Fulani. It is as much about a future in tune with the past and the present as it is about a future uncompromised by the present and the past. As an idealized set of expectations, it is more honored in the breach than in the observance, especially by youth caught between village and city, grass and cash, cattle and car, nostalgia for greener pastures and dreams of greener pastures of a different kind. For some, Pulaaku suggests nostalgia for a golden age, especially among adults, strategically engineered associations such as the Mbororo-Fulani Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), and advocates and scholars of development and indigenous minority rights. If and when Pulaaku is instrumentalized or essentialized, there is need for scholarly interrogation on how, when, by whom, and for what purposes such assumptions of purity are strategically deployed. In a rapidly changing economic, political, and cultural landscape (Konings 2009, 2011, 2012), Mbororo-Fulani youth are under the enormous pressure of competing loyalties to conflicting and contradictory socializations into various worldviews and ideas of being. Understanding the complexity and dynamism of being Mbororo-Fulani by critically investigating the production and contestation of ideals and ideas around Pulaaku can provide insight into the challenges of producing, maintaining, and evolving traditions, modernities, and civilizations in a dynamic, interconnected, hierarchized world.
With increasing urbanization of the sort symbolized by New Chanka and the youthful Hodio, Mai Sunsaye’s second son, Mbororo-Fulani youth in the Western Grassfields are attracted to towns and cities. Some go to seek new ways of life through schooling, especially in a context of ever diminishing cattle wealth. Living in town or city with non-Mbororo-Fulani opens up opportunities for new forms of interaction, habits, and ways of doing that are simultaneously embraced, contested, and adapted. Acceptance, rejection, or indifference is different from practice, which is an open and dynamic process. For children born in town or city, memories of life with cattle either do not exist, or exist mostly as nostalgia transmitted by parents. Such town youth are more likely to position themselves between the cow and the car and to interact with children of other groups and backgrounds in schools where the majority of teachers as role models are non-Mbororo-Fulani and often non-Muslims. Exposure to and embracing other ways of thinking, seeing, and doing might suggest intergenerational tensions, but it is a lifeline to the ways of the past or present representations thereof. Better knowledge by children of how the modern world works is to some extent an insurance policy for lifelong customs, traditions, and heritage that make one feel, think, and act Fulani. Within this framework of change and continuity, cattle remain prominent, even in their absence. Parents continue to emphasize a life centered on cattle, even as they know a future with cattle of one’s own is increasingly unlikely. Many of the prominent leaders of MBOSCUDA live in the city, and some may not own cattle or personally take care of the cattle they own, but the significance of cattle remains a central element to the existence of the organization (Davis 1995:226). The symbolic value of cattle is important, and memory of the thing is just like the thing itself. In this reality of navigation and negotiation of different identity margins, the young are veritable frontier persons between Mbororo-Fulaniness and the outside world. As identity interpreters and translators, they are like customs-clearing officers and border police, who occupy the ambiguous position of negotiating intelligibility and inclusion. They are cosmopolitan par excellence (Werbner 2008). They walk the fine line or tension between facilitation and inhibition, interpretation and manipulation, inclusion and exclusion.
For most boys and girls who grow up in town and city, school is a priority, and being Mbororo-Fulani is not taken for granted. Their total enrolment in general and technical educational institutions from preschool through higher education in the North West Region in 2004-2005 was estimated at 12,751 (7,921 males and 4,830 females). In addition, about 889 Mbororo-Fulani were no longer schooling but were said to have at least a first schoolleaving certificate, indicating completion of at least six years of elementary education. Many parents sponsor their children through school, including in some cases boarding schools, which are usually more expensive. Although girls tend to marry earlier than boys, many in town strive to finish secondary and high school before marriage. Increasingly, Mbororo-Fulani boys and to some extent girls are graduating from a university in Cameroon and elsewhere. Beyond pursuing secondary and higher education, some young boys in town are interested in skills such as driving and in qualifying as car mechanics. Some work in the transport business as taxi or bus drivers, or as baggage loaders and motorboys at major travel agencies. Others are involved in petty trade, work as apprentices in tailoring workshops, sell “traditional medicine,” or work as night watchmen. Others work at cattle markets, where their skills as herdsmen are solicited by buyers and sellers alike. Some serve as middlemen or intermediaries, buying and reselling cattle. Because they hang around places where a lot of money is circulating, they are sometimes seen and treated as thieves. In town and city, they are likely to indulge in drinking alcohol and visiting nightspots, where disputes often degenerate into physical violence.
Aside from schooling, some young women are likely to embrace the habits of “the Kanuri woman” in Burning Grass, whose charms attract the likes of Shehu and Rikku, and who strategically exploit their beauty and sexuality to make ends meet or to turn the tables on men who believe themselves in charge. As a member of MBOSCUDA laments, “Girls used to cover their heads, but the veil is now giving way to the skirt” (Keja 2009:61). Some of the girls serve food in eating spots, where the vast majority of customers are Fulani. Those without jobs sleep late and wake late and are likely to be considered loose, frowned upon by other Fulani. Loose is not meant as a derogatory term, but it expresses the temporal detachment of these youngsters from a family setting and temporal attachments elsewhere. Being between husbands is a normal phase for Mbororo-Fulani women, among whom divorce is high. Remarriage is common, and some women between marriages stay with their families, in which their behavior is closely monitored. The multidimensionality of the mobility of modern day Mbororo-Fulani girls and women is yet to be understood; however, it has been shown that prescriptive behavior is more often purported than reinforced, as condemnation in principle does not amount to being condemned in reality (Keja 2009:50-52). It is in these various ways that the Fulani practice custom, negotiate custom in practice, and dialogue with the past and the present in forging a realistic future (Bocquené 2002; Burnham 1996; Pelican 2006; Virtanen 2003).
Being Fulani: A Future beyond Simple Choices
Mbororo-Fulani of the Western Grassfields, like their counterparts in Burning Grass or Ndudi Umaru in his memoirs (Bocquené 1986, 2002), do not believe their future lies in simple choices, even when they claim or are claimed to be simple people. Until the 1990s, they survived without “representatives of their own to speak for them on a regional or national level,” preferring instead “a pragmatic approach to both state and local politics basing their support on complex if distant reciprocal relationships” (Davis 1995:220). Increasingly, however, the complex dynamics of local and state politics in an ever increasingly internationally scrutinized multiparty game of interests, together with the dwindling wealth and power of the Mbororo- Fulani, have imposed a new consciousness and need for strategic positioning aimed at maximizing their interests locally and internationally. Fast losing their cattle, they understand the importance of not keeping one’s eggs in a single “political” or “elite development association” basket (Mouiche 2011:81-90; Nyamnjoh and Rowlands 1998), just like MBOSCUDA, which has “adopted a strategy of seeking inclusion while mounting resistance based on a struggle for rights” (Hickey 2011:39-42). Like their fellow Fulani in Burning Grass, thinking in dichotomies or in black and white would mean making sharp categorical choices between Old and New Chanka, between Hodio and his sugar mill on the one hand and Shehu and his cattle rustling on the other. They are sophisticated in harnessing the contradictions in themselves as individuals and communities and in their relationships with their environment and others toward a negotiated future, where there are no final winners and no final losers.
It is thus significant that two conflictual organizations claiming to promote development and the best interest of Mbororo-Fulani operate within and draw support from the state and the wider Mbororo-Fulani community, which is occasionally critical of the leadership of both. Mbororo-Fulani are just as distrustful toward each other as they are toward non-Mbororo and the state, and signing a blank check for any one elite organization is far from popular, though losing cattle wealth and livelihood makes them more vulnerable to manipulation (Davis 1995:219-223) by local, national, and international forces and interest groups. What reason do they have to put their trust in one basket when repeated experiences in the various patron-client relationships that have characterized their encounters with others, and even with one another, have ended in disappointment? As Pelican (2008a) remarks, many Mbororo-Fulani have spent considerable wealth on administrative and judicial procedures in ways that have benefited state agents, rather than producing lasting solutions to their conflicts with others and one another. As the politically marginalized and economically exploited minority that they are, they are unconvinced that anyone deserves the monopoly of making political or economic capital of them, and this they demonstrate in their attitudes toward state officials and rival elite organizations competing for their attention. Each organization claims to represent their best interest vis-à-vis resources, opportunities, recognition, and protection. Even the competing elite behave no differently vis-à-vis the state, as both are keen to capitalize on patrons and agents at the heart of national power in Yaounde for access to the ears and eyes of the omnipotent, long-staying President Paul Biya.
One such elite organization, MBOSCUDA, promises representation only for agropastoral Mbororo-Fulani, as it distances itself from sedentary town Fulani, even if it is headquartered in town. It aims to “enhance the protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Mbororo-Fulani” through core programs that include women’s empowerment, adult literacy, microcredits, agropastoral development, access to justice, and capacity building. It is an initiative led by young Fulani with one foot in the modern world and one foot in the traditional world, adept at using new information and communication technologies, such as faxes, Internet, cell phones, and social networking tools, to foster their aims with the influential donor community. It has links with local and international development agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and sympathetic scholars (including European-based anthropologists) and is in tune with UNESCO and international discourses on human rights and the rights of cultural minorities and indigenous peoples. It advertises itself and the community it purports to represent in brochures and on its website in the language of essentialism dear to transnational NGOs seeking recognition, representation, and protection for indigenous minorities, referring to the “nomadic and pastoralist way of life” and the Pulaaku code of behavior and the “emotional attachment to cattle” of Mbororo-Fulani, whom it portrays as “victims of a lifestyle and culture and refugees of context”-a situation “further complicated by illiteracy, ignorance, [and] lack of foresight and cooperation.” Its youthful, welleducated leadership regularly attends seminars and workshops nationally and internationally, campaigning for support, especially in their fight against Danpullo, represented as actively working against the interests of Mbororo- Fulani, and as a real force of evil (Davis 1995; Duni et al 2009; Hickey 2002, 2004, 2007, 2011; Keja 2009; Pelican 2006:145-148, 2008a, 2011a, 2011b). Although MBOSCUDA enjoys much support among Mbororo-Fulani in and beyond the Western Grassfields (Hickey 2011:36-43), it is criticized for being overly politicized and for the misappropriation of funds. Mentioned often are trips to Europe and the United States taken by key staffmembers to participate in training and attend workshops. These trips might be necessary, but they are not always perceived as such (Hickey 2002; Keja 2009; Pelican 2008a, 2009), and to some they stand out like Shehus and Danpullos in the making.
Danpullo is known not to be a real Mbororo but a descendant of a haabe, or even a slave like Fatimeh of Burning Grass, by those who feel more entitled to Mbororoness (Davis 1995:226). He is portrayed as a corrupt, ruthless, modern Shehu, who owes his wealth to manipulation and fraudulent appropriation of cattle, grazing land, and women of bona fide Mbororo-Fulani, turned into laborers on his ranches and tea plantations. He is a well-known cattle rancher and businessman with an international network stretching as far as South Africa, and he has been a member of the central committee of the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) since the 1990s (Konings 2011:152). He is powerful and well connected to local and national political authorities and security forces, on whom he draws to good effect to safeguard his business interests and to discipline and punish his workers and detractors (Konings 2011:153-169). In the October 2011 presidential elections, won again by Paul Biya, his personal friend, with 77.98 percent of the vote, he is listed to have contributed 100 million FCFA to the campaign, of a total of 550 million FCFA donated by the elite of the North West Region.
There is hardly a conversation in the Mbororo-Fulani settlement of Sabga and its environs that does not allude to Danpullo, often in extremely negative terms. He is presented as someone who always gets his way, and woe betide whoever dare challenge him; hence the need for a strong cultural and development organization, such as MBOSCUDA, to defend the “pure” Mbororo-Fulani against his machinations. MBOSCUDA has been constructed mainly around the myth and reality of Danpullo. He is readily identified as having contributed immensely to the weakening of Pulaaku in the village of Sabga and among Mbororo-Fulani in general-and as the bearer of the wrong civilization and ways that jeopardize Mbororo-Fulani heritage and values, he must be destroyed if Pulaaku and a Mbororo-Fulani sense of community are to be reestablished.
To understand in a nuanced manner the rhetoric and reality around Danpullo and Pulaaku, therefore, it is important to negotiate with care how and where one enters the Danpullo-MBOSCUDA nexus. It is important as well to substantiate the extent to which both Pulaaku and Danpullo are as much a reality as an invention. It thus becomes important to establish the circumstances that militate for the production and reproduction of certain types of discourses and representations of the one and/or the other. The widespread image of Danpullo as an essentially destructive force does not stand up to serious scrutiny, especially with those who know him or who care to observe him at close range. He is as much a man of peace as he is ruthless. To the outside world, he shows an image of himself as a peace-loving benefactor, but to his workers and to especially those who question his authority, integrity, and wealth, he can be a cruel, vicious, megalomaniac tyrant. Faced with opposition, he is as creative as he is ruthless: he may offer a bribe, call in gendarmes, or threaten enlisting the help of the administration and security forces. With him, the carrot and the stick are both options and never far away from each other (Davis 1995:222-227; de Bruijn 2008; Hickey 2002; Keja 2009:63-67; Konings 2011:147-171; Manyong 2008:158-170; Pelican 2006:145-248).
Danpullo is said to have been born in 1947 to a northern Nigerian Hausa-Fulani father and a Cameroonian mother from the palace of the Fon of Kom. His father was a cattleherder from Kano who migrated and settled around Kom in the first half of the twentieth century. The Fon of Kom allocated to him land at Ndawara and a wife-Ngoin Felai-who became the mother of Danpullo. His father died in 1963, and in 1985, his son, Danpullo, opened the Elba Ranch in Ndawara. Danpullo’s interest was not limited to cattle. He became a truck driver, and after driving for a Nigerian businessman, he started his own transport business and opened a bread factory. He started many enterprises and became a successful businessman with interests in Cameroon, South Africa, and beyond (Keja 2009:63-67; Manyong 2008:158-170). Following pressure on government to privatize the state-owned Cameroon Development Corporation, he bought the tea estates of Tole in the South West Region, Ndu in the North West Region, and Djutitsa in the West Region for 1.5 billion FCFA. He established an additional tea estate in Ndawara, the biggest of the four tea estates, to which he has attached a modern tea factory (Konings 2011:147-171; Manyong 2008:162-168;). Next to the cattle and the tea factory, he has built a hotel, a hospital, a school, houses for his employees, a mosque, and shops. There is allegedly a prison on his land as well.
Although Danpullo’s ambitions as cattle owner and businessman have affected many groups of people, Mbororo-Fulani have, spearheaded by MBOSCUDA, been more successful than others in mobilizing themselves as victims of Danpullo’s megalomania. His wrongdoings, known as a campaign of terror against Mbororo-Fulani, are well documented by MBOSCUDA. Some international organizations, NGOs (the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Survival International, and the Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples), and social scientists have given credence to some of the accusations by MBOSCUDA. According to Hickey (2002:848), Danpullo started in 1986 to evict farmers and Mbororo-Fulani offtheir land and to use their cattle to establish a personal ranch, which Dervla Murphy (1989), the travel writer, describes as the forbidden ranch. Danpullo has been accused of the seizure of grazing lands and livestock, the destruction of houses, and arrest and torture of persons who refuse to yield to his powers in Ndawara, Sabga, and beyond (Davis 1995; Duni et al. 2009; Hickey 2002, 2004, 2007; Manyong 2008:158-170; Pelican 2008a, 2009).
Stories of how Danpullo came by his wealth are reminiscent of stories about Shehu the cattle rustler in Burning Grass. They range from outright extortion and illegal importation of cattle in the 1970s to dispossessing Mbororo-Fulani of grazing land with impunity since the 1980s. He strategically draws on political capital accumulated as a rich and powerful member of the ruling party. He is known to boast to anyone who challenges him, ” ‘Ahidjo I knew. Biya I know. Who are you?’ ” (Manyong 2008:158-170). One of his tactics, it is alleged, has been to lure Mbororo-Fulani herdsmen to graze their cattle alongside his on the same land, since his Ndawara land is so vast. If they yielded to his request, he would, after some time of grazing together, decide to move his cattle elsewhere, taking their cattle along without their permission. Stories abound of Mbororo-Fulani families who lived and grazed their cattle around Ndawara who were ordered to leave or work on the tea plantation, and with some luck, with modest compensation. Those who resisted faced the destruction of their houses and even imprisonment, especially as the gendarmes and administrative officials were often said to work in collusion with Danpullo (Hickey 2002, 2004, 2007; Pelican 2006, 2008a, 2009). If Danpullo was seeking a patron-client relation, it was not something Mbororo-Fulani were unused to. To cope with repeatedly being classified and perceived as temporary residents or strangers by both state and other communities, which qualified them as neither citizens nor subjects in Mamdani terms (1996), Mbororo-Fulani have since colonial times resorted to paying tribute to local landowners for grazing rights and cultivating patron-client relationships with the Fons and local state officials of the Western Grassfields (Awasom 1984; Davis 1995; Duni et al. 2009; Hickey 2004, 2007; Pelican 2006, 2008a). If such relationships are exploitative of the Mbororo-Fulani, they are equally exploitative of the Fon and Fondom, as with the payment and reception of tributes come opportunities gained and lost to all involved, directly and indirectly (Mouiche 2011:81-92).
The second organization, named Société de Développement d’Élevage et du Commerce (SODELCO) to emphasize its nationwide inclusivity, was created in 1993 by Danpullo in opposition to MBOSCUDA, which seemed determined to deny him his Mbororo-Fulaniness, by packaging and presenting Mbororo-Fulani as an endangered species that needed their purity and essence protected (Pelican 2008a, 2009)-from him in particular. Danpullo, the evil monster that justified the creation and to a large extent the existence of MBOSCUDA, created SODELCO with the aim of taking attention away from those who wanted to take attention away from his contributions to the community. The stated objective of SODELCO is to “improve the wellbeing and living standards of Mbororo/Fulani and Hausa.” It tasks itself with promoting income-generating activities, mostly sewing and petty trading; vocational training and education of youths; sensitization about the HIV/ AIDS pandemic; and livestock production and development. It is significant that Danpullo engineered the creation of the North West Ardos Union of chiefs of Mbororo-Fulani to “unite the community and have a common development platform.” Both these organizations are housed in the same building, and both contest MBOSCUDA’s claim to be the sole representative of Mbororo-Fulani in the North West Region of Cameroon. According to Keja (2009:67), the accountant of the organization, whom she interviewed, claimed that Mbororo-Fulani do not understand how they can become civilized, so they have to be led toward light by an association like SODELCO or a person like Danpullo. He is presented by the association as being above the petty politicking and diversionary tactics of MBOSCUDA members and others who fail to see the urgent imperatives of development. As the wealthy cattle owner he is, he has provided much employment to Mbororo-Fulani and thousands of other workers. His accountant explains that he might have his weaknesses, “but his good outweighs the bad.”
The inclusivity of SODELCO speaks to the flexible, frontier identity of the Fulani, and especially of Danpullo himself, as the product, negotiator, and navigator of various identity margins: northern Nigerian Hausa-Fulani father and northwest Cameroonian Western Grassfields mother from Kom. As a veritable frontier person who straddles the world of the Mbororo-Fulani and that of the haabe or surrounding Fondoms, he can reach out for cultural, social, and political capital from the Fons. Hence, on 4 October 2008, at a ceremony on his ranch attended by the political elite of the North West Region-including John Fru Ndi, national chairman of the leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front-he was honored by the North West Fons Union for his contribution to development. Addressing a crowd of nearly two thousand people, Fon Mbinglo of Nso reassured him:
On behalf of our ancestors and the over 200 Fons here present, together with those who are not here, we swear before God and man to protect you at all times in whatever circumstances, against evil forces. Let it be clear to everyone who seeks to destroy you that we would prefer to let him destroy us first. We stand solidly behind you.
Danpullo, with his phenomenal power, influence, and global and local networks, gives the impression he is never the one who starts a conflict: he talks a language of unification and makes it seem as if he only pragmatically mediates in relation to problems created by others; he presents himself as an asset, rather than as a problem-and all this in a context informed by interconnecting hierarchies and politics of patronage at the helm of which are the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) and the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, known in the region as the Fon of Fons. Danpullo, as a middle-level patron in this national hierarchy, is in a great position to disseminate the image of himself as a trusted ally of the system in place, in collaboration with the local media, which are in tune with the status quo and, even when appearing to be critical, often at the beck and call of the highest bidder (Nyamnjoh 2005). His image is constructed and disseminated via Danpullo Broadcasting System TV, set up in 2009 in Douala, which declares itself apolitical. It broadcasts across Cameroon and other African countries in a number of languages and is modeled on the South African private broadcaster e.tv, launched in 1998, with which it partners.
MBOSCUDA is keen to subscribe to human-rights discourses on indigeneity and the need to protect endangered indigenous peoples that put Mbororo-Fulani on the same pedestal as the Bushmen/Basarwa of southern Africa, the pygmies of the rainforest of the central African region, and the Maasai of Kenya (de la Cadena and Starn 2007; Hodgson 2009, 2011; Pelican 2009; Saugestad 2001). Their patrons in Yaounde, who in 2002 included Peter Abety, Minister for Special Duties, and Manu Jaji Gidado, chargé de mission at the presidency (Hickey 2004; Mouiche 2011:92; Pelican 2008a), ensure that during new-year ceremonies, a delegation of Mbororo-Fulani men, women, and children is received by Mrs Chantal Biya-at the same time that her husband the president is receiving the likes of Danpullo as member of the central committee of his party, the CPDM-alongside a delegation of pygmies as endangered indigenous minorities. This move demonstrates how the presidency is the center of state power and that opportunities are just as accessible to them as they are to their powerful enemy, Danpullo.
SODELCO is keener on Mbororo-Fulani as part of a nationwide project to build inclusive identities that pay closer attention to the messiness of the real-life situations of Cameroonians as products, negotiators, and navigators of myriads of margins that enrich their identification spectrum, rather than defining them. It is this more encompassing citizenship which MBOSCUDA, wittingly or unwittingly, endorsed when it encouraged Mbororo-Fulani to register for new computerized national identity cards in 2002. The card recognized for the first time the actual birthplaces of Mbororo-Fulani, therefore qualifying them as “citizens with claims and rights to natural resources and political representation in their home area” and not defining them as “ethnic strangers” from Northern Cameroon, as used to be the practice with the old card (Pelican 2008b:549-550). There is a remarkable tension in MBOSCUDA between seeking rights and recognition as an autochthonous or indigenous minority in the Western Grassfields and inclusion in tune with the logic of an unbounded national citizenship informed by a common juridico-political identity (Hickey 2011). Indeed, the negotiated, nuanced, and complex reality of Mbororo-Fulani is at odds with the rhetoric of purity articulated by MBOSCUDA. As Michaela Pelican notes, the experience of different ecological zones and cohabitation with other groups has not leftMbororo-Fulani untouched: rather, they have borrowed cultural, economic, and political practices in ways that make it impossible to articulate Mbororo- Fulaniness abstractly or as a purity beyond contamination; they have influenced and been influenced in turn by other cattle-breeding and farming cultures, practices in land ownership, and use of language and other forms of communication (Pelican 2011b:428-433).
This flexible thinking is more in tune with what Danpullo and SODELCO represent than with MBOSCUDA and its narrow focus on Mbororo- Fulani purity (which excludes both town Fulani and haabes), yet in real terms, even Danpullo is not necessarily more adept at living in tune with the cosmopolitan possibilities of flexible belonging, flexible citizenship, and flexible mobility than are the leaders of MBOSCUDA, who happen to be mostly educated Mbororo-Fulani elites who regularly benefit from travel and networking opportunities offered by international development and human-rights organizations to garner support for their political and legal entitlements as indigenous people and Cameroonian citizens (Duni et al. 2009; Pelican 2011b:434-435). Paradoxically, however, like Danpullo, they subscribe to multiple identities that are simultaneously exclusive and inclusive and that seek a reconciliation that allows them to be both citizens and subjects, even if their rhetoric continues to celebrate purity and victimhood. If Danpullo is self-seeking, it would appear that the elite leaders of MBOSCUDA are no different, for the recognition as an indigenous people they seek “is accessible only to the educated elite, whereas the majority lack a clear understanding of this novel identity, and continue to understand themselves as cattle pastoralists” (Pelican 2011b:435).
Notwithstanding the fact that Danpullo might be driven by ulterior motives and self-interest, it cannot be ignored that his open-ended idea of what it means to be Mbororo-Fulani resonates more with the ethnographic reality of those who would like to claim Mbororo-Fulaniness. The support he enjoys from ardos through their association cannot simply be dismissed as the result of manipulation of hapless Mbororo-Fulani leaders by a ruthlessly powerful individual. Thus, MBOSCUDA, in denying Danpullo his Mbororo-Fulaniness, recognizes that he is debunking their rhetoric of purity. Meanwhile, he enhances his Mbororo-Fulaniness by accumulating cattle and cultivating relationships with Mbororo-Fulani women and ardos. By employing Mbororo-Fulani to work for him, he is in a way questioning their label of him as a haabe and earning his Pulaakuness. Mbororo-Fulani learn the advantages of flexible loyalties and the dangers of permanent friends and permanent enemies in ever evolving situations (Mouiche 2011). It is in this sense that one understands why meetings organized by MBOSCUDA and SODELCO or Danpullo himself are always so well attended, and often by the same people. Ordinary Mbororo-Fulani are in no hurry to sign blank checks for extravagant visions of who they are or are not.
The Complex Nimbleness of Being Fulani
Mbororo-Fulani are caught betwixt and between: on the one hand, they are invited by the state to embrace national development and inclusive citizenship, even at the risk of opportunism, manipulation, and exploitation by the likes of Danpullo and his SODELCO; on the other hand, transnational NGOs working through local bodies such as MBOSCUDA insist on preserving their so-called endangered traditional lifestyles and identities. Neither the state nor the NGOs and their elite collaborators are patient with what or how ordinary Mbororo-Fulani are seeking to navigate and negotiate these contradictions. In the face of the challenges and predicament of uncertainty, mobility beckons. For young Mbororo-Fulani without a future in cattle, moving to Bamenda or other cities or towns in Cameroon is hardly enough. If mobility in the past was pastoral and seasonal (de Bruijn van Dijk and van Dijk 2001), mobility today is driven by the need for greener pastures of another kind (Pelican 2008b, 2011b; Pelican and Tatah 2009).
Without cattle to determine their rhythm of life, mobility for Mbororo- Fulani is more like that of the Sokugo-stricken Sunsaye of Burning Grass. It is mobility provoked by an elusive quest for places and spaces with promises of survival and sustenance-places and spaces of hope in a context where things are rapidly falling apart and life configured and articulated around cattle no longer holds the sway it used to hold. Being a member of MBOSCUDA, or even SODELCO, is increasingly a means of exposure to Islamic networks, NGO resources, and opportunities that range from education and employment locally to migration and a future outside as a way of coping with the hardships and challenges of the region and country. A new form of migration, known locally as bushfalling (Nyamnjoh 2011), takes the mobile Mbororo-Fulani youth not to the traditional bush and pastureland sought after by Sunsaye, Jalla, and Rikku in their worlds and ways of old, but rather, like Hodio in New Chanka, in search of new kinds of greener pastures. Mbororo-Fulani youth are increasingly bushfalling to neighboring countries such as Nigeria and Gabon, and especially to distant destinations such as South Africa and the Near and Far East. For many, religion is a significant determining factor for bushfalling to Arab and Muslim countries, with some using the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca as a stepping-stone or a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Others take advantage of bursaries for further education made available to Muslim Cameroonian students by Saudi and other Gulf state governments. In their quest for bushfalling, national and international Islamic networks, such as the Association Culturelle Islamique du Cameroun and the World Assembly of Muslim Youths, are instrumental in application procedures and subsequent preparations for the journey. Equally instrumental in the planning and execution of the journey and in providing additional or initial financial support are family relations of the bushfaller student. For those whose primary purpose is not education but trade or employment, the United Arab Emirates is a popular destination, with the commercial city of Dubai as the favorite hub for connecting with and seeking support from fellow African bushfallers. These are costly ventures for youth negotiating their betwixt-and-between realities (Pelican 2008b, 2011b; Pelican and Tatah 2009).
Unlike Sunsaye’s Sokugo, with which reconnection with family was possible only physically, the Sokugo of today’s Mbororo-Fulani youth is simultaneously facilitated and mitigated by new information and communications technologies. Mbororo-Fulani youth can tame the recklessness and nostalgia of their mobility by staying in touch through such technologies of virtual proximity as the cell phone, the Internet, video, and digital cameras. Michaela Pelican, a Swiss anthropologist who has followed Mbororo-Fulani bushfallers from the Western Grassfields to Yaounde as far afield as Gabon, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates, has produced a documentary (Pelican 2008b) that demonstrates how these technologies serve to keep them in touch with families in the Western Grassfields. As part of her research, she facilitates communication between migrants and their relatives back home through the exchange of video messages, which she helps record. These messages reconnected and reassured migrants and their relatives alike, especially in cases where contact had been lost for years and people were yearning for reconnection with one another. The messages explained silences, especially by migrants who had failed to realize their dreams and/or fulfil obligations and promises of investments back home. As Pelican notes, “the longer migrants stay away, the more difficult it becomes for both sides to assess each other’s situation, as individual experiences and expectations may gradually change” (Pelican 2008b, 2011b:170). To match or counter Danpullo and SODELCO media power, the MBOSCUDA elite leadership is harnessing new technologies, such as the Internet, for networking with migrants and the international organizations supporting its struggles. MBOSCUDA elite regularly run Internet discussion groups with bushfallers to exchange news about developments at home and abroad, just as they regularly update their website with the latest news (Pelican 2011b:435-438). These ways of staying in touch and abreast of developments draw attention to perceived predicaments and opportunities at home and abroad in a fast-moving Sokugo-driven world and offer insight into the complex nimbleness of being Mbororo-Fulani.