Introduction / History Gambia is a small, narrow country located in the western portion of North Africa. The Mandinka live along the Gambia River, which cuts through the center of the country. The main language of the Mandinka is a Manding language that is also called Mandinka. Their oral literature is considered some of the best in the world.
There are three clear divisions of Mandinka society: free-born, artisans, and slaves. The free-born class, originally comprised of only people of noble birth, now includes farmers, merchants, and Muslim clergy. The artisans consist of blacksmiths, leather craftsmen, and praise singers, or griots. The artisans are generally looked upon with awe and fear because their crafts often involve spiritual rituals. The griots are respected because they are responsible for passing down the oral traditions of the Mandinka. Their rich musical heritage is reflected in the national anthems of four West African nations.
What are their lives like? Most of the Mandinka are farmers. Peanuts, rice, millet, and sorghum are their main crops. While the Mandinka raise most of their own food, some produce is 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, and poultry. Cattle are sometimes kept, but only to gain prestige, to use as ritual sacrifices, or to use as a bride price.
Mandinka society is patrilineal (male-dominated) and the smallest social unit is the family. The oldest male serves as the head of the lineage. 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.
Mandinka villages are made up of clans, or family groups all having the same name. Each village is surrounded by a wall, and the homes are either round or rectangular. They are made of mud with either thatch or tin roofs. These rural villages have neither electricity nor telephone services. Most of the villagers have never traveled more than five miles from their homes.
Traditionally, the Mandinka men do the heavy farm work, hunt, and fish, while the women cook, clean, care for the children, and help with the farming. They also help the men gather produce from the forests.
Parents formerly 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.
What are their beliefs? Islam is practiced faithfully among the Mandinka. Ritual washing and daily prayers are usually observed; however, very few wear Arab dress, and no women wear veils. Islam has been 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 Mandinka 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 Mandinka consult marabouts (Muslim holy men) for healing, protective amulets, or insight into the future.
What are their needs? Life in Gambia is extremely difficult. The annual income is approximately $135. Along with the presentation of the Gospel, the Mandinka need educational opportunities, training in modern agricultural techniques, and economic advice. The New Testament is already available in the Mandinka 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 Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies currently focusing on the Mandinka.
* Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Mandinka.
* Ask God to send Christian teachers to live and work among the Mandinka.
* Pray that God will give Mandinka 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 Gambia through worship and intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Mandinka of Gambia.