Introduction / History
The Barma (or Bagirmi) occupy the territory between N'Djamena (Chad's capitol) and Bousso, a small city farther south on the Chari River. The region varies from wet and tropical to semi-arid, and the average yearly temperature is about 82° F. The Barma raise some cattle, but only in the N'Djamena region because of the disease-carrying tsetse flies farther south. They speak Baguirmi, a Nilo-Saharan language.
In the 1700s, the Barma's ancestors ruled the Bagirmi Empire, a large area across Chad and into Sudan. The empire was situated between two competing kingdoms: Bornu to the west and Wadai to the east. At the end of the 1700s, the empire was attacked by Islamic Wadai armies and was never able to regain its political independence. In 1912, the Bagirmi Empire was incorporated into French Equatorial Africa. It remained under French rule until Chad declared its independence in 1960.
What are their lives like?
Most Barma rely on both fishing and agriculture as the basis of their livelihood. However, some individuals rely solely on one or the other. The fishermen spend each day at the Chari and Bahr Ergig Rivers, while the farmers can be found in the fields outside their villages. Millet and sorghum are the main crops. Beans, sesame, peanuts, cotton, and vegetables are also grown.
Both men and women cultivate the land. The men maintain the large fields that produce the millet and sorghum. The women cultivate the vegetable plots, which are located either in or near the villages. Men fish, trade at the markets, and build the houses. The women prepare the meals, care for the children, and produce crafts such as pottery and baskets.
Barma villages consist of "family households". The settlements range in size from 50 to 1,000 or more people. Typically, each village represents a common lineage or extended family. The Barma are known for having small families due to low fertility rates. This can be attributed to several factors, including sterility (caused by venereal diseases), the high divorce rate, and the large age differences between the husbands and wives. Since much help is needed in food production and the labor force for each household is small, the Barma regularly participate in inter-village work parties. There, the people work as one group for the good of the whole village.
In previous times, parents arranged marriages. They did this to form alliances between villages or clans. Presently, the high divorce rate has made it difficult to establish such bonds. Today, if many suitors are interested in the same girl, they must perform a traditional marriage ceremony-simultaneously. The ceremony includes paying a "bride price" (money paid to the girl's family). The suitor who gives the most money is chosen to be the groom. In times past, young men did not have the ability to acquire money to pay the bride price. Today, however, many enter the market to sell cash crops or products of their labor. Others depend on older relatives to donate money.
The Islamic courts and Chad's legal system settle disputes of the most serious crimes. The lesser ones are handled at the village level. Gossip, ostracism, and even sorcery and witchcraft continue to be a way of punishing people at the local level.
What are their beliefs?
The Barma have been followers of the Islamic faith since the sixteenth century. They are devout Muslims who read the Koran, say daily prayers, practice polygamy, and avoid alcohol. Some make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if they can afford to do so. A mosque is located in each village. The men regularly gather there for prayer. Islamic schools are set up in many towns. Adolescent males attend the schools and are taught the laws written in the Koran.
What are their needs?
There are only a handful of known Barma believers. Effective prayer and further missions work are needed.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go and share Christ with the Barma.
Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies working among the Barma.
Pray that God will give the few known Barma believers boldness to share the Christian faith with their own people.
Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
Ask the Lord to establish a strong Barma Church for the glory of His name!