Imamate of Futa Djallon
Flag of Futa Jallon
Flag used after the establishment of the French Protectorate
Map of the Imamate of Futa Jallon and its tributaries at its height
Map of the Imamate of Futa Jallon and its tributaries at its height
StatusProtectorate of France
Common languages
Sunni Islam
• 1725–1777
Alfa Ibrahim
• 1906–1912
Boubacar IV (last)
• Established
• French protectorate
November 18th 1896
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
French West Africa
Portuguese Guinea
Today part of

The Imamate of Futa Jallon or Jalon (Arabic: إمامة فوتة جالون; Pular: Fuuta Jaloo or Fuuta Jalon فُوتَ جَلࣾو‎, 𞤊𞤵𞥅𞤼𞤢 𞤔𞤢𞤤𞤮𞥅),[1] sometimes referred to as the Emirate of Timbo,[2]: 50  was a West African Islamic State based in the Fouta Djallon highlands of modern Guinea. The state was founded in 1725 by a Fulani jihad and became part of French West Africa in 1896.



Semi-nomadic Fulɓe first came to the Fouta Djallon over successive generations between the 15th and 16th centuries. Initially, they followed a traditional African religion and coexited peacefully with the native Yalunka people. In the 18th century an influx of Muslim Fulɓe from Macina, Mali changed the fabric of Fula society.[3]: 85  By 1700, wealthy Muslim Fulanis resented the high taxes and demanded the right to build mosques and Islamic madrasas.[3]: 88 

In the 1720's a revolt of Muslim Fula and Malinke broke out under the leadership of the Torodbe cleric Alfa Ba, who declared himself amir al-muminim, or “commander of the faithful.” He was killed in 1725, but his son Ibrahim Sambegu took over and defeated the animists at the decisive battle of Talansan in 1727.[4][3]: 85, 88  Ibrahim, taking the name Karamokh Alfa, was named the first almamy.[3]: 85 

Regional Power

Karamokho Alfa died in 1751 and was succeeded by Emir Ibrahim Sori, who consolidated the power of the Islamic state.[3]: 85 [5] Beginning in the 1770s, the revolution in Futa Jallon inspired a similar movement in Futa Toro, where the Torodbe cleric Sulayman Bal overthrew the Denianke dynasty in 1776.[6]: 441  Sori's death in 1791 led to a series of succession disputes between the leading Soriya and Alfaya families. Things improved after 1845, when they agreed to alternate the imamate between them every two years.[5][7]: 256 

West Africa circa 1875

At its height, the Imamate of Futa Jallon was one of the most powerful states in West Africa, backed by powerful free and slave armies. The Fulɓe of Futa Jallon both were able to take advantage of the thriving Atlantic slave trade with the European trading factories on the coast, particularly the French and Portuguese. The Fula states also supplied grain, cattle and other goods to their European neighbors.[citation needed] The first attempts at economically penetrating the interior were made by the British from Sierra Leone in 1794 in an effort to secure trading privileges.[7]: 245 

Throughout the 19th century, the ruling class lived increasingly lavish lifestyles, with the population bearing a heavy tax burden. A resistance movement known as Hubbu, meaning 'those who refuse', broke out, led by a pious Fulbe named Alfa Mamadu Dyuhe. His army, consisting of the oppressed herder class and runaway slaves, waged decades of war against the state, at one point even capturing Timbo before forces from the other provinces united to defeat them.[2]: 54 

In 1865, at the climax of a long period of on-and-off conflict, Futa Jallon invaded the Mandinka kingdom of Kaabu in support of a revolut by Alpha Molo [fr].[8] At the decisive Battle of Kansala in 1867 Kaabu's capital was destroyed and the Imamate extended its control into Fuladu in the Casamance basin. In 1879, the Almamy Ibrahima Sory Dara secured an alliance with Samori Ture, whose Wassoulou Empire was rising to the east and needed secure access to European arms traders on the coast.[9]: 54  For the Fulas, this alliance served a double purpose, enlisting the Malinke ruler to put down the remnants of the Hubbu, who raided trade caravans, and act as a counterweight to growing French power in the region.[7]: 247 

Bokar Biro and the French

Since the mid-1800s the French, and particularly governor Louis Faidherbe, had envisioned Futa Jallon as an integral part of France's imperial project in West Africa.[7]: 245  In 1881, spurred by tentative British moves, the French negotiated a treaty with the Futa Jallon leadership that they believed established a French protectorate. The Arabic version, however, contained no such clauses. Nevertheles by 1889 other international powers had accepted Futa Jallon as falling within the French sphere of influence, even after another treaty in 1893 validated the Fulani interpretation.[7]: 246 

In 1890 Bokar Biro murdered his older brother as part of a successful bid for control of the Soriya political faction. Although the French were determined to avoid a bloody war of conquest, they were putting increasing pressure on the Imamate.[7]: 252  This left Biro in a difficult diplomatic situation. The Fula leadership held out the spectre of closer relations with the British in Sierra Leone as a threat against the French, having established a trading relationship before 1881. The British, however, had no intention of intervening after recognizing French claims in 1889, and terminated the trade relationship entirely in 1895.[7]: 248–9  The Almanis also played the separate French colonial administrations against each other, until the 1895 creation of a coordinated French West African colonial authority.[7]: 250  Finally they leveraged the complicated structure of the Imamate's government, with the alternating control of the central government and provinces between the two factions, as a pretext to delay concessions with further consultation.[7]: 251 

Bokar Biro moved to strengthen central control, and provincial leaders resisted led by Alfa Yaya of Labé. On 13 December 1895 they defeated Biro at Bantignel, but he escaped and returned to power with French help in early 1896.[10][7]: 254  The French conditioned their support on a new treaty, but found upon translation that Biro, rather than signing, had written bismillah.[7]: 252 

At the same time that the French definitively lost faith in Bokar Biro,[11] the internal stability of the state was fracturing. The provincial heads whose rebellion had been defeated looked to the French for support. Dissenting factions within the Soriya, who had not forgiven the murder of Biro's brother, did the same. Endemic raiding and oppressive taxation seemingly had the people ready to support a change as well.[7]: 258  To make matters even more critical, the Alfaya almamy Hamadu, died, and the leading candidate to replace him, and thus to alternate rule with Biro, was the pro-French Omaru Bademba. Biro tried to assassinate him, and when that failed he propped up two Alfaya rivals. Bademba crushed them, then attacked Bokar Biro himself, but was defeated and fled to the French.[7]: 257 

In November 1896, citing Bokar Biro's violation of his constitutional term as a pretext, the French intervened to depose him. They marched into Timbo without resistance on the 3rd. On the 14th a small detachment of better-armed French soldiers routed Biro's army at the Battle of Porédaka, where he was killed. The French installed Bokar's cousin, Sori El Eli, and Bademba as Soriya and Alfaya Almamis, now serving as French clients rather than as independent rulers.[7]: 259–60 [12]


In 1897, the French granted independence to Alfa Yaya. By 1904, however, jurisdictional and land disputes led to a planned revolt. The French preempted this by exiling Yaya to Dahomey.[13]


The Imamate of Futa Jallon was governed under a strict interpretation of Sharia with a central ruler in the city of Timbo, near present-day Mamou. The Imamate was a federation of nine provinces called diwe, which all enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy.[3]: 85  These diwe were: Timbo, Timbi, Labè, Koîn, Kolladhè, Fugumba, Kèbaly, Fodé Hadji and Bhouria. The council of elders also had considerable power to advise or remove the Almamy.[7]: 251 

The Muslims of Futa Jallon became divided into factions. The clerical faction took the name of the Alfaya out of respect to the legacy of Karamokho Alfa, while the secular faction called themselves the Soriya after his successor Ibrahima Sori.[citation needed] The rulers of the two cities of Timbo and Fugumba were descended from the same original family, and later all competition for the position of almami was between these two cities.[14] In 1845 the two factions came to an agreement that power should alternate between leaders of the two factions,[15] with each faction's chosen almami serving in alternating two-year terms. This was well-respected up until the Bokar Biro's attempt to hold onto power in 1896, which precipitated the fall of the Imamate.[7]: 256 

Economy and Culture

The Imamate enslaved non-Muslim people both inside and outside its border, selling the slaves to European trading houses on the coast, or settling the slaves (hubbu) in agricultural colonies called runde.[5] In 1785 a major slave revolt broke out but was suppressed, although many survivors fled.[6]: 393  By the mid-19th century, slaves did most if not all of the agricultural work.[6]: 463 

The Imamate was a major center of Islamic education and art.[3]: 85  Fulfulde was in Futa Djallon a vernacular language written using Arabic script. Fula poets composed epic poetry in Fulfulde in the 19th century about faith, law, and morality, and many women could read the Quran.[6]: 461 

See also




  1. ^ Office for Subject Cataloging Policy 1992, p. 1775.
  2. ^ a b de Bruijn, Mirjam; van Dijk, Han (2003). "Resistance to Fulbe Hegemony in nineteenth-century West Africa". In Abbink, Jon; van Walraven, Klaas; de Bruijn, Mirjam (eds.). Rethinking resistance : revolt and violence in African history. Brill. pp. 43–68. Retrieved 9 January 2024.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Page, Willie F. (2005). Davis, R. Hunt (ed.). Encyclopedia of African History and Culture. Vol. III (Illustrated, revised ed.). Facts On File.
  4. ^ Ogot, Bethwell Allan (1992). Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. UNESCO. p. 292. ISBN 978-92-3-101711-7. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  5. ^ a b c Loimeier 2013, p. 115.
  6. ^ a b c d Green, Toby (2020). A Fistful of Shells. UK: Penguin Books.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p McGowan, Winston (1981). "Fula Resistance to French Expansion into Futa Jallon 1889-1896". The Journal of African History. 22 (2): 245–261. doi:10.1017/S0021853700019435. S2CID 154547617.
  8. ^ WESTERN AFRICA TO c1860 A.D. A PROVISIONAL HISTORICAL SCHEMA BASED ON CLIMATE PERIODS by George E. Brooks, Indiana University African Studies Program, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, August, 1985.[1]
  9. ^ Fofana, Khalil (1998). L' Almami Samori Touré Empereur. Paris: Présence Africaine. ISBN 9782708706781. Retrieved 30 September 2023.
  10. ^ Barry 1997, p. 165.
  11. ^ Barry 1997, p. 291.
  12. ^ Barry 1997, p. 292.
  13. ^ Richard Andrew Lobban, Jr. and Peter Karibe Mendy, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, 3rd ed. (Scarecrow Press, 1997), p. 432 ISBN 0-8108-3226-7
  14. ^ Gray 1975, p. 208.
  15. ^ Sanneh 1997, p. 73.


External links