Introduction / History
The Yalunka are a Mandingo people who were one of the original inhabitants of the Futa Jallon (or Fouta Djalon), a mountainous region in West Africa. It is the source of the headwaters of the Gambia, Niger, and Senegal Rivers. The Yalunka are also known as the Dialonke or Jallonke, which literally means "inhabitants of the Jallon (mountains)." In the eighteenth century, many of the Yalunka were dispersed from the Futa Jallon by the Fulani, another vast people group in the region.
Today, the Yalunka are concentrated mostly in the country of Guinea. Some also live in Senegal, southwestern Mali, and northeastern Sierra Leone. Their language, also called Yalunka, belongs to the Mandingo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Yalunka is easily understood by those who speak Soso, another Manding language. In fact, the Yalunka often refer to themselves as Soso, and some scholars see the two as one group. The Yalunka region has tall grass with a few trees and some bush areas. The country is hilly, and most of it is 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level.
What are their lives like?
Most Yalunka settlements are located in the valleys between the hills. Since the 1950s, many Yalunka have migrated to cities such as Freetown to find wage-paying jobs. In recent times, many Fulani and Mandingo have moved into the Yalunka region, creating a multi-cultural environment.
The Yalunka are primarily subsistence farmers, with rice and millet being their staple crops. Peanuts, sweet potatoes, maize, and beans are also grown. Chickens, herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep and goats are kept. Animals such as goats and cattle are also very important because they serve as bride-price payments. The animals are given to the girl's family before the marriage takes place. These animals are also valuable as a means of economic exchange, and are used for providing milk.
Among the Yalunka, herding is done by the children. The women milk the cattle, churn the butter, and help the men in some of the agricultural work. Honey is another important commodity among the Yalunka. It is gathered by suspending large water tight baskets in trees. The bees use the baskets as hives. Every year, between four and six gallons of honey may be gathered in each basket.
The Yalunka prefer to live in large settlements and villages as opposed to small ones. Many of the large settlements have remained in their current locations since the eighteenth century. The Yalunka society is basically patriarchal, which means that the family households are headed by the men. A household typically consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried children. The family is the major social unit for the Yalunka. Extended households, which consist of two or more married men and their families, may also adjoin the nuclear family, forming an extended family compound. The Yalunka live in round huts that have brick walls and cone-shaped, straw-thatched roofs. Within the village or settlement, the huts are grouped in compounds around a courtyard and are surrounded by a fence.
Polygyny (having multiple wives) is a common practice among the Yalunka. According to Islamic law, a man may have up to four wives. However, his first wife has authority over any subsequent wives. The husband has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them. He also helps the wives' parents when necessary. The wives' duties include maintaining the house, preparing the meals, washing the clothes, and helping with the farm work.
What are their beliefs?
The Yalunka are nearly all Muslim. Although they follow most of the religious teachings of Islam and observe its rituals and ceremonies, some of their pre-Islamic beliefs still persist. For instance, they continue to believe in N'iena, or "nature spirits," and sacrifices are regularly made to them. Some of the N'iena are said to be good spirits, helping with rice production and fertility in women; others are believed to be evil, living in the bush and stealing children from their parents.
The Yalunka also believe that witches have the power to change into animals and cause harm to the villagers. Some put curses on victims' houses to ruin their crops. Special rituals are performed by diviners or sorcerers to keep the witches and evil N'iena away from farms and households.
What are their needs?
The Yalunka have the Bible translated into their language. Their devotion to Islam and fear of persecution have prevented all but a few Yalunka from converting to Christianity.
Much prayer, further missionary efforts, and additional evangelistic tools are needed to reach this people group with the Truth. Above all, they need people who will begin to faithfully intercede for them, tearing down the strongholds that are keeping them in spiritual bondage. Only then will their hearts be prepared to receive the Gospel as it is presented to them.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into West Africa to work among the Yalunka.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Yalunka.
* Ask the Lord to save key Yalunka leaders who will boldly declare the Gospel to their own people.
* Pray that God will give the small number of Yalunka believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth strong and growing churches among the Yalunka for the glory of His name!