Introduction / History The Gumuz are primarily located in eastern Sudan and across the border in western Ethiopia. This area is called a "bush-savanna" region because it is mostly flat with some stone hills that are covered with bamboo and other small trees. Heavy forests are found only along the rivers and ravines. The Gumuz are known by such names as Bega, meaning "people," Deguba, and also Shanqilla, meaning "Blacks." The name of their language is Gumuz or Shankillinga, but many people also speak the Oromo language when trading with the nearby Oromo.
The Gumuz are divided into territorially-based clans, each clan having its own land. The clans are further divided into sub-clans, which are then separated into individual, small nuclear families. Most of the Gumuz are farmers. They never have to cultivate their land alone; rather, the nuclear families within each clan all help each other because they all share the same land.
What are their lives like? The Gumuz farmers plant a number of crops including sorghum, onions, and spices, along with cotton and tobacco. Each farmer lives within his clan's territorial boundaries. Farms may be set apart by rivers, hills, or paths. The families of a village shift their work from one area to the next, leaving their used fields fallow for many years. When uncultivated land is ready to be developed, men begin building new farmsteads on the outskirts of their fields. Farm huts are very simple, and separate huts are built for boys and farm animals. Although the Gumuz have permanent homes in their villages, they live on the farmsteads during harvest time. Those who guard the fields live on the farmsteads year-round.
At age sixteen, a boy can begin to farm on his own, splitting his work between his own fields and those of his father. Girls help farm their fathers' fields until they marry, usually between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. After marrying, a man and his wife are responsible for their own fields. Marriage takes place by "sister exchange" from one clan to the next. This means that the newly-married man gives his wife's clan a sister or a daughter from his own clan to "replace" the woman he has married.
As their staple food, the Gumuz eat porridge flavored with a sauce made from leaves, onions, and spices. They also snack throughout the day on pumpkin seeds, peanuts, fruits, wild honey, and some insects. They drink coffee and beer, and smoking is quite common not only for men, but for women as well. Gumuz society forbids drunkenness and idleness; the entire clan punishes anyone caught in such practices. Also, the whole clan will discipline any members caught stealing, mistreating their wives, or lying.
Trading is an important aspect of Gumuz life. Often the people trade with the nearby Oromo. Oromo sell goods such as coffee, cloth, soap, razor blades, cigarettes, mirrors, and salt bars in exchange for Gumuz crops. Local Gumuz markets are gathering places for the people to exchange news, have meetings, socialize, listen to speeches, and drink.
What are their beliefs? Although nearly one-third of the Gumuz are Muslim, most traditionally worship Rebba, "the supreme god who knows all." The people pray to Rebba and other spirits also to ensure good luck, good crops, and good health and to ask for protection from evil spirits. Gumuz also believe spirits exist in nature (such as in the rain and in lightning) and in animals, grain, and even teeth.
The Gumuz strictly enforce taboos concerning food. They believe a woman will go bald if she drinks milk; a man will be lazy if he eats cabbage; a woman or her husband will become extremely ill if the woman eats porridge while preparing it.
What are their needs? Most of the Gumuz have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, and few Christian resources are available to them at the present time. Prayer is the key to reaching the Gumuz with the Gospel of Christ.
Prayer Points Pray that God will use the Gumuz believers to share the love of Jesus with their own people.
Ask the Lord to send missionaries, medical teams, and Christian teachers to labor among the people.
Pray for opportunities for the Gumuz to hear the Gospel through Christian radio.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Gumuz.