The Fulbe Culture of Emotional Moderation

The Fulbe (or Fulani) people are a large ethnic group living in several countries in West Africa and the northern part of Central Africa. Many of them live in pastoral and nomadic communities. They speak their own Fula language and follow their cultural traditions and practices. They are mostly Muslims. The Islamic religious culture substantially affects their way of life, thoughts, and emotions.

This article is about the Fulbe of North Cameroon. Let us look at cultural ideas and social expectations about emotions that were prevalent in the 1990s among the Fulbe people. We’ll learn what Fulbe people think about and how they express their emotions and love in particular (see more in Karandashev, 2017).

In the early 1990s, Helen Regis, an anthropologist from Louisiana State University, wrote about her anthropological observations carried out in a Fulbe community of sedentary people in the Extreme North Province of Cameroon (Regis, 1995, p. 141).

How the Fulbe Experience and Express Emotions

The Fulbe’s cultural emphasis on restraint and self-control in their daily lives has a significant impact on their feelings and expressions of love. The Fulbe tend to control their emotions. They adhere to their norms for when and how to display emotions. They highly value the ability to be reserved.

The Fulbe believe that pain, anger, grief, and other emotions are natural parts of human existence everywhere. They try to conceal their experiences and expressions of emotions. The culture teaches children and adults to suppress these feelings. Young Fulbe boys and girls are socialized to hide their emotions. They learn from their parents to keep the injuries, pain, and suffering to themselves. They know that they must control their anger and pain. As children grow, they strive to internalize their emotional experiences.

The Fulbe people in their community naturally accept

“that one is in control of normal human emotions and above human needs is constantly taking place in [Fulani] formal behavior”

(Riesman 1975, p. 63).

Shame and fear, on the other hand, are culturally acceptable. The emotions of “semteende” (shame) are supposed to affect public behavior. The main connotations of the semteende in Fulbe culture are reverence and respect for the social group. The Fulbe men and women, anticipating the feeling of shame and the fear of being called shameless, deter them­ from the public display of romantic love.

Everything in Fulbe Life Must Be in Moderation

People do not express excessive parental love. They cannot express their grief over the death of a child beyond culturally prescribed norms. Otherwise, relatives and kin scold them.

People frowned upon excessive happiness and joy exhibited in laughter or abandoned dancing. It is thought to be a denial of death.

People also frown upon excessive passion. A person who commits a crime in the heat of passion is punished especially harshly. Loss of temper, rather than being viewed as “mitigating circumstances,” embarrasses the accused. That person is judged as mentally unstable.

The Fulbe cultural norms suggest that people should not be obsessed with any emotion. In other words, the personality should succumb to the tyranny of passionate feelings of any kind.

And love is no exception in this way. In the Fulbe culture, love is viewed as a defiant emotion.

What Is Love for the Fulbe People?

Helen Regis noticed that Cameroonians express their love in a different way than Americans.

For most Americans, love is one of the highest cultural ideals. Being in love, they enjoy their emotional experience and express their feelings openly and explicitly.

The Fulbe culture does not acknowledge love as an ideal state of being. Romantic love is not suitable for the community’s social life. In the Fulbe, men and women experience emotional states such as love. However, they prefer to avoid expressing genuine emotions in inappropriate situations. The Fulbe have a reason not to fall in love and keep their heads on straight, but sometimes they still do (Regis, 1995, p. 141).