They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.
They are the Fulani: Pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.
A few years ago, the Fulani, also called the Peul, pursued their ancient lifestyle largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
All that has changed. Old conflicts have flared anew between herders and sedentary farmers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Thousands of people have died in a cycle of violence that jihadists have manipulated and inflamed. The economic impact is in the tens of billions of dollars.
Governance in many of these afflicted regions is breaking down, turning swathes of land into vast zones of lawlessness.
The clashes have occurred on West Africa's historic Muslim-Christian faultline.
Yet the conflict goes beyond religion, bringing into focus issues that are crucially relevant for the wider world.
They include the roles of population growth and climate change in fuelling disputes over land use, and the part that colonial-legacy divisions play in stoking violence.
The crisis has also turned a sudden, stark spotlight on Fulanis and their gruelling but timeless way of living.
Today, despite their millennia of history, the Fulani people find themselves assailed by stigma, political pressures and a shifting economy, their traditions so often out of kilter with the demands of modern societies.
Many Fulani, struggling to adapt, say their people have no choice but to fight to survive -- or otherwise fade away.
+ These photos are part of an exceptional AFP investigation into the Fulani, a four-part package combining text, photos, graphics and video