A Collective Struggle: Cotton Production by and for a Fulbe Sufi Brotherhood in Postcolonial Southeastern Senegal


  • Sarah Hardin


By presenting the understudied history of Médina Gounass and its offshoot, Madina Hudda, two Pulaar-speaking Sufi brotherhoods in southeastern Senegal, the article contributes to the scholarship on postcolonial cotton production, on Sufi orders and the secular state, and ethnic relations in Senegal. Whereas cotton industry practices in West Africa turned “brother against brother,” farmers at Madina Hudda used cotton production to sustain their brotherhood. Yet this community ultimately coalesced around ethnicity, a phenomenon discordant with Senegal’s reputation for cultural pluralism. The case thereby contrasts with the better-known history of peanut production, ‘Wolofization,’ and the Sufi Murid order’s longevity and financial and political success. The literature on Senegalese brotherhoods considers the Umarian Tijani order of Médina Gounass peripheral to and isolated from the Senegalese state, but my research finds that they have profound connections to the state and privatized parastatals. The Umarian community of Upper Casamance produced remarkable quantities of cotton. Scholars questioned whether and how that production undermined the order’s cohesion. The article argues that cotton was one reason for the schism, but more significantly, that for the members of Madina Hudda cotton represents the importance of collective struggle for a brotherhood. This case suggests that the cohesion of a Sufi order relies on disciples’ sense of belonging to a community in which they share a concern for a common endeavor, earthly and/or divine. Not meekly deferential to their religious authorities, disciples defended their economic and political interests collectively. Although their actions could be interpreted as fighting for individual freedoms, they insisted that their efforts were centered on their shared identities as first-settlers, as essential workers, and most importantly as Sufi adepts