Introduction / History The Maninka inhabit the tropical rain forests of Sierra Leone. They speak Maninka, one of many Manding languages. The Manding languages are spoken by approximately 11 million Africans. Although some of these languages have no written script, their oral literature is regarded as some of the best in the world.
Most Manding speakers can trace their roots back to the Mali Empire, which rose to power in the 1200s under the rule of the "lion king," Sundiata. After unifying the kingdom, Sundiata began conquering the surrounding peoples. The Manding have been credited with many significant agricultural developments, primarily their discovery of the uses of millet.
There are three divisions within Maninka society: free-born, artisans, and slaves. The free-born class formerly consisted of nobility. Today, it also includes merchants, farmers, and others. The artisans include leather craftsmen, blacksmiths, and singers, or griots.
What are their lives like? Most of the Maninka are farmers. Rice, millet, sorghum, and peanuts are their staple crops. While they raise most of their own food, some products are obtained through trade and some are gathered from the forests. During planting and harvesting seasons, much time is spent in the fields. At other times, the men work in part-time businesses to supplement their incomes. Others raise goats, sheep, bees, poultry, and dogs. Cattle are sometimes kept, but only to gain prestige, to use as ritual sacrifices, or to use as a bride price.
Maninka society is patrilineal (inheritances are passed down through the males). Clan groups are made up of families with the same name. Clans can be recognized by their symbolic emblems, animals, and plants. If someone travels to another village, he is shown hospitality by the villagers who share his last name.
Maninka children have certain expectations placed on them at birth according to their father's lineage. To be considered "noteworthy," a child must exceed people's expectations of him.
Traditionally, parents arranged their daughters' marriages while the girls were still infants. Today, marriages are still arranged, but not as early. The groom is required to work for the bride's family both before and after the wedding. He must also pay the girl's family a bride price.
The Maninka live in compact, walled villages. Their homes are either round or rectangular, and are made of mud with either thatch or tin roofs. The men usually do the heavy farm work, hunt, and fish. The women cook, clean, care for the children, and help with the farming. They also help the men gather produce from the forests.
The Maninka have a rich musical heritage, which is reflected in the national anthems of four West African nations.
What are their beliefs? Islam was first introduced to the Mali Empire by foreign merchants from across the Sahara. Gradually, Islam was blended with their traditional beliefs, which involved worshiping the spirits of the land. Today, it is not uncommon for someone to first pray in the village mosque, then sacrifice a chicken to the village spirit.
Most of the Maninka observe Islamic rituals with little understanding of what they really mean. They view Allah as being the one supreme god. However, they also see him as inaccessible and little concerned with the daily affairs of his creation. Many of the Maninka consult marabouts (Muslim holy men) for healing, protective amulets, or insight into the future. The more educated Maninka often conceal their beliefs in this type of magic. However, there are very few villagers who do not have amulets in their possessions.
What are their needs? The New Testament is already available in the Maninka language; unfortunately, however, very few of the people can read. Perhaps Christian teachers will find open doors to reach them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send forth laborers to work among the Maninka of Sierra Leone.
* Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Maninka.
* Pray that God will give Maninka believers boldness to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Sierra Leone through worship and intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Maninka of Sierra Leone.