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Gender, Violence Against Women
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Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
Westernization, Tradition, Education, Child Marriage, West Africa, Africa, Women, Female Circumcision, Rural, Farming
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The Fulani, who once crisscrossed the continent of Africa tending their precious herds of cattle, was a civilization known for its constant movement. In the West African country of Guinea Bissau, the former nomads have settled in a village, become farmers and now struggle to adapt to a world that has rudely intruded upon them.
Ami Vitale

2011 — professional

Initially a grant recipient in 2000, Ami Vitale was asked to update her work on the Fulani in 2011.  These color images that follow are the culture revisited in 2011.

The Fulani, who once crisscrossed the continent of Africa tending their precious herds of cattle, was a civilization known for its constant movement. This nomadic existence spun the threads of a rich social fabric of tradition and ritual that endures to this day. In the West African country of Guinea Bissau, the former nomads have settled in a village, become farmers and now struggle to adapt to a world that has rudely intruded upon them.

Unlike most other ethnic tribes in Guinea Bissau, the Fulani are Muslim. Village life is structured according to Islamic traditions including performing male and female circumcision, praying five times a day, following the Islamic calendar and practicing polygamy.

The inclusion of local beliefs and traditions produces a brand of Islam that is unique to its area and its people. From the belief in tree spirits to the use of traditional medicine or “voodoo,” the mixing of cultures that took place centuries earlier has produced a society that blends a unique spiritual universe with an often brutal daily existence in the physical world.

To an outsider, the village may appear to be a place where a people, living simply, struggle to survive. While that perception is partially valid, the social hierarchy and politics existing among members of the tribe are far more complex than in most modern western societies.

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Children clean the school waiting for their teacher to arrive in a small village in Guinea Bissau May 14, 2011. Because of a devastating conflict, Guinea-Bissau continues to recover from the civil conflict of 1999. Most children, especially in rural areas don't have access to an education, especially for girls who face even more obstacles because of the conservative society which prevents them from attending school. In the past ten years though, there have been substantial changes and at least some of the girls have opportunities to attend school. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Jenabu, 13, waits for her teacher to arrive in the small school in a village in Guinea Bissau May. 2011. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundatio
Abi, 13, whose parents died, prepares to go to school on a bicycle her grandfather bought for her in a small village in Guinea Bissau, May 2011. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Women make palm oil. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Mariama arrives to the village covered and with a thousand West African CFA note ($2) pinned on her covering. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
After washing the laundry of all her in laws, Mariama, the new bride washes and changes into new clothes before she is taken back to her husbands house on the back of a bicycle and the wedding ceremony is over. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Mariama arrives to the village covered and with a thousand West African CFA note ($2) pinned on her covering. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Mariama and her son Alai in a hut in a village in Guinea Bissau. Mariama, like most girls, was never able to complete school and was instead was married. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Maimuna, whose is the oldest elder in the village (but her age is unknown... some think she is close to a 90) sits inside her mud hut. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation
Women who came for a wedding ceremony watch by the light of fire as dancers and drummers celebrate the beginning of a wrestling ceremony in a small village in Guinea Bissau, May 2011. Increasingly exposed to outside influences, even Guinea Bissau's most rural areas are becoming more Westernized. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation