Introduction / History The Swla-Gbe of Benin are located in Mono, Weme, and Atlantique Provinces along the Southeast coast of Benin. They are surrounded by numerous closely related tribes with similar languages and lifestyles. While most of the groups of the region are highly individualistic peoples, they all share many features and aspects of culture with the Mande people that were once predominant throughout the area.
Very little is known about the Swla-Gbe in particular. Their language, which they call Swla-Gbe, is a member of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Because little is known about this group, some assumptions must be made about their lifestyle based on similar groups living in southern Benin. The nation of Benin gained its independence from France in 1960, but has experienced political and economic turbulence since then. Currently, the country is a democratic republic, yet it ranks among the poorest nations in the world.
What are their lives like? Like most of the tribes in Benin, the Swla-Gbe are thought to be subsistence farmers growing millet, sorghum, and occasionally fonio as the staple crops. If the conditions are favorable, crops such as melons, onions, bananas, cucumbers, eggplant, rice, taro, yams, tobacco, and tomatoes may also be grown. Agricultural methods in Benin are very basic. Shifting hoe cultivation is the prevalent farming technique, using a crop rotation and fallow schedule.
Hunting, fishing, and gathering rarely provide more than a modest supplement to the Swla-Gbe diet. Animal husbandry is considerably more important, and all tribes keep at least some cattle-mainly of a humpless, short-horned breed. Cattle are used primarily for sacrifice and marriage payments. They are also used for their hides and manure, but almost never for milk. Some other domestic animals may be kept, such as sheep, goats, dogs, and chickens.
Trade seems to be highly developed and regular markets are practically universal among the tribes in Benin. Labor is divided between men and women in the villages. The men do the hunting, tend to the livestock, clear the land, and perform the bulk of the agricultural work. Women do most of the market trading and gathering, and they also help considerably in the fields when needed.
Most settlements in Benin are neighborhoods made up of dispersed family homesteads. A few compact villages exist in different areas. Most of the tribes of the region live in either round or rectangular huts made of mud or sun-dried brick with thatch roofs.
Few of the tribes in the region impose restrictions on premarital sex. Marriages are usually arranged by the heads of families, often while the daughter is still an infant. Some Somba subgroups still require a bride price to be paid; others demand that the groom work for the bride's family for a period of time prior to the marriage. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is permitted and occurs frequently. Usually the first wife enjoys a superior status, but the husband provides each wife with her own quarters and distributes his time equally among them in rotation.
What are their beliefs? Although a small number of the Swla-Gbe in Benin are Christian, most still follow their traditional animistic practices (based on the belief that non-human objects have spirits). Their ancient religious system has many gods and an extensive system of cults through which mystical power is explained and controlled.
Common to many ethnic religions is the Swla-Gbe belief that every person has an inner force that determines his destiny. After death, this "soul" either goes to the sky with the other mystical powers or is reincarnated. They also participate in ancestor worship, believing that the dead influence the living; sacrifices are made to gain the favor of the dead.
What are their needs? Although some impact has been made on the Swla-Gbe, many are yet to hear the Gospel. Few Christian resources are available in their language. Increased missions efforts and sustained intercession are necessary to see the Swla-Gbe reached with the light of the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Swla-Gbe.
* Pray that God will give the Swla-Gbe believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Pray that the Lord will raise up long term workers to join the few who have already responded.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a vigorous Swla-Gbe church for the glory of His name! * Pray for translation of the Bible to begin in this people group's primary language. * Pray for the availability of the Jesus Film in the primary language of this people.