Fulani (fōläˈnē) [key], people of W Africa, numbering approximately 14 million. They are of mixed sub-Saharan African and Berber origin. First recorded as living in the Senegambia region, they are now scattered throughout the area of the Sudan from Senegal to Cameroon. Both as a sedentary and as a nomadic people, they have played an important part in the history of W Africa. A number of African states, including ancient Ghana and Senegal, had Fulani rulers. The Fulani became zealous Muslims (11th cent.), and from 1750 to 1900 they engaged in many holy wars in the name of Islam. During the first part of the 19th cent. the Fulani carved out two important empires. One, based on Massina, for a time controlled Timbuktu; the other, centered at Sokoto, included the Hausa States and parts of Bornu and W Cameroon. The Fulani emir of Sokoto continued to rule over part of N Nigeria until the British conquest in 1903. The Fulani of Massina were conquered (1861) by al-Hajj Umar, but their resistance ultimately resulted in his death.
See D. J. Stenning, Savannah Nomads (1959, repr. 1964); H. A. S. Johnston, The Fulani Empire of Sokoto (1967).