300.000 Falata live in the forested savannah plains between El Obeid (Kordofan) and Ad Damazin (Blue Nile), Sudan. The Falata are a sub-group of the much larger Fulani, a tribe that is spread across much of West Africa. The reclusive Falata people are a Semitic tribe that migrated from western Africa to greater Sudan starting in the 19th century, reportedly settling in the region on their return from a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Falata in Sudan are semi-nomadic, mixing farming with shepherding. Although some Fulani tribes travel seasonally with their flocks, the Falata have a permanent home they live in for half of the year. They only travel during the dry season, when grazing lands and water are scarce. Many of the men have multiple wives. Since cattle are a symbol of wealth among the Falata, brides are sometimes chosen because of the amount of cattle they own.
Falata society is divided into casts. The fairly rigid caste system of the Falata people has medieval roots, was well established by the 15th-century, and it has survived into modern age. The four major castes in their order of status are ‘nobility, traders, tradesmen (such as blacksmith) and descendants of slaves’.
On top of the pyramid there are the Dimo, meaning ‘noble’. The Dimo are followed by the artisan caste, including blacksmiths, potters, griots, genealogists, woodworkers, and dressmakers. They belong to castes but are free people. On the lower part of the pyramid there are those castes of captive, slave or serf ancestry. The Fulani castes are endogamous in nature, meaning individuals marry only within their caste.
Central to the Falata people's lifestyle is a code of behaviour known as pulaaku, literally meaning the ‘Falata pathways’ which are passed on by each generation as high moral values of the Wodaabe, which enable them to maintain their identity across boundaries and changes of lifestyle. Essentially viewed as what makes a person Falata, pulaaku includes:
The traditional dress of the Falata consists of long colourful flowing robes, modestly embroidered or otherwise decorated. Both men and women wear a characteristic white or black cotton fabric gown, adorned with intricate blue, red and green thread embroidery work, with styles differing according to region and sex.
It is not uncommon to see the women decorate their hair with bead hair accessories as well as cowrie shells. Falata women often use henna for hand, arm and feet decorations. Their long hair is put into five long braids that either hang or are sometimes looped on the sides. It is common for women and girls to have silver coins and amber attached to their braids. Some of these coins are very old and have been passed down in the family. The women often wear many bracelets on their wrists. The women can also be seen wearing a colourful cloth around, the waist, head or over one shoulder.
Like the men, the women have markings (combination of scarification and tattooing) on their faces around their eyes and mouths that they were given as children.
Falata men are often seen wearing solid-coloured shirt and pants which go down to their lower calves, made from locally grown cotton, a long cloth wrapped around their faces, and a conical hat made from straw and leather on their turbans, and carrying their walking sticks across their shoulders with their arms resting on top of it. Often the men have markings on either side of their faces and/or on their foreheads. They received these markings as children. Falata ethics are strictly governed by the notion of pulaaku. Women wear long robes with flowery shawls. They decorate themselves with necklaces, earrings, nose rings and anklets.
One of the most important events in Falata culture is the Gerewol, a yearly ceremony that gathers all the Falata clans so that young members of the tribe can flirt and meet their future wives and husbands. Gerewol happens at the end of the rainy season (late September, early October) but rehearsals and smaller Gerewol ceremonies can be seen all year around. During the Gerewol, dancing and singing become central.
The Falata have a rich musical culture and play a variety of traditional instruments including drums, hoddu (a plucked skin-covered lute similar to a banjo), and riti or riiti (a one-string bowed instrument similar to a violin), in addition to vocal music. Zaghareet or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.
The Falata were one of the first people groups in Chad to be converted to Islam. The Falata still hold on to many old Fulani traditions. They believe that family, cattle, strong morals, beauty, poetry, singing, and dancing are the most important things in life.
Source: Joan Riera - Anthropologist