Introduction / History The Digo are a Muslim tribe living in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. More than 100,000 Digo are concentrated on the northern coastal strip of Tanzania from the town of Tanga to the border of Kenya. They inhabit the fertile plains of the Pangani River, between the Usambara Mountains and the Indian Ocean.
The Digo are a Bantu tribe and are grouped together with eight other tribes who share a common oral history. Together, these tribes make up the Mijikenda, or "nine towns". Tradition tells us that the Mijikenda tribes originated farther north, but were driven south as a result of war. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Digo experienced a great famine. It became common for them to give either themselves or their children as "blood money" to serve as temporary collateral for a loan of food. Sadly, there were many times when the debt could not be redeemed, thus leaving them to live as slaves. Freedom was then granted when a slave converted to Islam.
What are their lives like? For many years, the Digo have been involved in trade with Muslim Arabs. As a result, they have enjoyed a higher standard of living than most of their neighboring tribes. In addition to trading, farming and fishing are two other sources of income. Rice is their main crop since the area often floods and is very fertile.
The Digo have a talent for creating songs and stories about their lifestyle, but unfortunately the tradition of story telling is fading away, and more modern forms of recreation, such as soccer, are being adopted.
Contrary to the Digo of Kenya, the Tanzanian Digo may not be solely matrilineal; they trace their heritage through both the male and the female lines. Today, young Digo are abandoning many of the ways of their tribal elders as they become increasingly influenced by the outside world.
When a Digo couple decides to marry, a substantial bride-price must be paid by the groom. The head of the household and members of the groom's family help to provide the cattle, goats, sheep, or money necessary for payment to the bride's family.
What are their beliefs? Islam is more widely accepted among the Digo than among any of the other Mijikenda tribes. Nevertheless, ties with traditional practices such as animism (the belief that non-human objects have spirits) and ancestor worship (praying to ancestors for help and guidance) still have more influence on the Digo community than does Islam. One example that is very significant to the Digo is their use of blood sacrifices, especially in the exorcism of evil spirits. Witchdoctors are also consulted regularly and play an important role in their society.
Only a few Digo have studied Islam in any depth, and most of them have only a superficial knowledge of its doctrines. Nevertheless, its presence has not gone entirely unnoticed, and its influence has altered both their religious and political structures. The people have adopted new attire and diets from their Muslim Arab neighbors. However, to most Digo, the wearing of a white skull cap and the adoption of an Arab name constitute the major requirements of being Muslim. This nominal identification with Islam is referred to as "folk Islam".
What are their needs? The Digo have never been successfully reached with the Gospel. Determined prayer efforts must be made to see the barriers surrounding them broken.
Most Digo experience some degree of persecution when they become Christians, and many are disinherited by their families. However, there have been reports that tolerance has increased and persecution has lessened in recent years.
The entire New Testament has successfully been translated into Chidigo, the language of the Digo people, around 2005, and now there is a need for literacy training to put the gospel in their heart language to use. The Old Testament translation into Chidigo has also begun.
Prayer Points The raising up of Digo pastors who take their words and actions from the Word of God in their own language is necessary for true church growth amongst the Digo.
Pray that God will call prayer teams to break up the ground through worship and intercession.
Ask the Lord to open the eyes of the Digo to the love of Jesus and to the truth of His Gospel.
Pray that God will thrust forth laborers into the harvest fields of Tanzania.
Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Digo Christians.
Ask the Lord to send Christian teachers to work among the Digo.
Ask the Lord to raise a strong local Church among the Digo.