Fulani chieftain riding up to salute the emir of Katsina at the end of the Muslim festival of —Ken HeymanRapho/Photo Researchers
Primarily Muslim people, numbering about 18 million, found in many parts of West Africa, from Lake Chad west to the Atlantic coast. Their language is Fula, an Atlantic language of the Niger-Congo family. Originally they were herders, but interaction with other groups produced marked cultural changes. In the 1790s the Fulani priest Usman dan Fodio led a holy war (jihad) that created a large empire. Its decay in the 19th century aided the establishment of British rule over northern Nigeria. Many Fulani of northern Nigeria have adopted the Hausa language and culture and established themselves as an urban aristocracy.