The Fulɓe people are widely distributed, across the Sahel from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, particularly in West Africa. The countries where they are present include Burkina Faso, Benin, Camroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leon, South Sudan, and as far east as the Read Sea in Sudan and Ethiopia. There are also large communities of Fulbe in the USA, Middle East and Europe. Particularly in France, Spain and Italy. In Guinea, the Fulbe make up the largest Ethnic group,

whereas, in Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon the Fulɓe are either second largest ethnic group or one of the three most significant components of the population. Nearly all the other countries they live in they are a minority ethnic group. Alongside, many also speak other languages of the countries they inhabit, making many Fulani bilingual or even multilingual in nature. Such languages include French, English, Portuguese, Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Arabic.

Major concentrations of Fulani people exist in the Fuuta Jalon highlands of central Guinea and south into the northernmost reaches of Sierra Leon; the Fuuta Tooro  Savannah grasslands of Senegal and southern Mauritania; the Masina inland Niger river delta system around Central Mali; and especially in the regions around Mopti and the Nioro Du Sahel in the Kayes region; the Borgu settlements of Benin, Togo and West-Central Nigeria; the northern parts of Burkina Faso in the Sahel region’s provinces of Seno, Wadalan, and Soum; and the areas occupied by the Sokoto Caliphate, which includes what is now Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria (such as Tahoua, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zinder, Bauchi, Diffa, Yobe, Gombe, and further east, into the Benue River valley systems of North Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon).

This is the area known as the Fombina, literally meaning “The South” in Adamawa Fulfulde, because it represented the most southern and eastern reaches of Fulɓe hegemonic dominance in West Africa. In this area, Fulfulde is the local lingua franca, and language of cross cultural communication. Further east of this area, Fulbe communities become predominantly nomadic, and exist at less organized social systems. These are the areas of the Chari-Baguirmi Region and its river systems, in Chad and the Central African Republic, the Ouaddaï highlands of Eastern Chad, the areas around Kordofan, Darfur and the Blue Nile, Sennar, Kassala regions of Sudan, as well as the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan. The Fulbe on their way to or back from the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, settled in many parts of eastern Sudan, today representing a distinct community of over 2 million people referred to as the Fellata.

While their early settlements in West Africa were in the vicinity of the tri-border point of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, they are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a wide band of West and Central Africa. The Fulbe People occupy a vast geographical expanse located roughly in a longitudinal East-West band immediately south of the Sahara, and just north of the coastal rain forest and swamps. There are an estimated 40 to 60 million Fulbe people.

Fulani herdsman crossing their cattle

There are generally three different types of Fulbe based on settlement patterns. The Nomadic/Pastoral (Fulɓe Durooɓe or Aynaaɓe, also called Fulɓe buruure, or Mbororo),the Semi-Nomadic and the Settled or “Town Fulani”. The pastoral Fulɓe move around with their cattle throughout the year. Typically, they do not stay around, for long stretches (not more than 2–4 months at a time). The semi-nomadic Fulɓe can either be Fulɓe families who happen to settle down temporarily at particular times of the year or Fulɓe families who do not “browse” around past their immediate surroundings, and even though they possess livestock, they do not wander away from a fixed or settled homestead not too far away, they are basically “In-betweeners”

Settled Fulɓe live in villages, towns and cities permanently and have given up nomadic life completely, in favor of an urban one. These processes of settlement, concentration and military conquest led to the existence of organized and long-established communities of Fulbe, varying in size from small villages to towns. Today, some major Fulbe towns include: Labé, Pita, Mamou and Dalaba in Guinea; Kaedi in Mauritania;Matam,Podor,Kolda,Welingara, Madina Yero Foulah, Madina-Gunaas in Senegal; Bandiagara, Mopti, Kaye, Nioro du Sahel In Mali; Dori, Gorom-Gorom and Djibo in Burkina Faso, on the bend of the Niger, and Birnin Kebbi, Gombe, Yola, Digil, Jalingo, Mayo Belwa, Mubi, Maroua, Ngaoundere, Girei and Garoua in the countries of Cameroon and Nigeria, in most of these communities, the Fulani are usually perceived as a ruling class.