Introduction / History When the former colony of Portuguese Guinea won its independence in 1974, it became Guinea-Bissau. Today, this small West African nation is the home of the Malinke. The Malinke tribes speak a Manding language called Maninka. Manding languages are spoken in nine African nations by several million people. 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 once great Mali Empire. This empire was created by several Malinke clans in the second millennium. It grew in power in the thirteenth century under the rule of the "lion king," Sundiata, who unified the kingdom and began to conquer surrounding peoples.
There are three clear divisions within Malinke society: free-born, artisans, and slaves. The free-born class is the most diverse.
What are their lives like? Most of the Malinke are farmers. They hoe their fields and do not use irrigation or fertilizer. Rice, millet, sorghum, and peanuts are their staple crops. While they raise most of their food, some food 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.
Malinke society is patrilineal (male-dominated) and the smallest social unit is the family. The oldest male serves as the head of the lineage. (A "minor lineage" consists of a man and his immediate family. A "major lineage" consists of households of relatives and their families.) 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.
Malinke 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 sun-dried brick with thatch roofs.
Formerly, the free-born class only consisted of noble rulers. Today, it includes merchants, farmers, and others. Artisans include leather craftsmen, blacksmiths, and praise singers (griots). Artisans are looked upon with fear and awe because their craft secrets often involve spiritual rituals. Griots are responsible for passing down the oral traditions and cultural heritage of the Malinke.
Among the Malinke, men do the heavy farm work, hunt, and fish. They also hold leadership positions such as village elders and imams (religious leaders). The women help with the farming, as well as, cook, clean, and care for the children.
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. Polygamy is commonly practiced, but men rarely have more than three wives.
What are their beliefs? In the 1860s, the Malinke were forced to convert to Islam. Since then, 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. Many people consult marabouts (Muslim holy men) for healing, protective amulets, or insight into the future. Educated villagers may conceal their beliefs in magic, yet, most of them still carry amulets.
What are their needs? Unfortunately, very few of the Malinke can read. Perhaps the enormous need for teachers will create open doors for reaching them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into Guinea-Bissau.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Malinke.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Malinke.
* Pray that God will give the Malinke believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Malinke Church for the glory of His name!