Introduction / History
The Masalit (and a group of the same people known as the Massalat) are a non-Arab ethnic group. These tribes live in the most remote areas of Sudan and Chad. The Masalit of Sudan are concentrated in the Dar Masalit ("home of Masalit") district of the northern Darfur Province. The Masalit of Chad live in the Adre District. Most of the Massalat and some Masalit live near the city of Gereida in southern Darfur, as well as in the Oum Hadjer-Am Dam area of Chad.
It is unclear whether the word Massalat is an Arabic form of "Masalit," or if the Massalat are actually an offshoot of the Dar Masalit people. It is certain, however, that the two groups are in close contact with each other and share similar customs and traditions. Both the Masalit and the Massalat speak Maba languages from the Nilo-Saharan language family.
In times past, the Masalit were known as fierce warriors who fought hard to protect their independence. Today, they are becoming more settled as a result of outside political, economic, and cultural influences.
What are their lives like?
The Masalit (hereafter including the Massalat) are primarily farmers who raise millet, sorghum, peanuts, sesame, okra, and various fruits. Honey, gum, leaves, and other useful products are also gathered from the forests. Most of the grain is grown for domestic use, while the other crops are raised as cash crops. The Masalit obtain additional income by selling animals, tanning hides, sewing, transporting goods, and brewing a type of millet-beer.
In addition to farming, the Masalit raise cattle, sheep, and goats, which are helpful in fertilizing their fields, as well as providing milk for the villagers. Though donkeys were their only means of transportation in the past, camels purchased from Arab nomads have recently become an important means of transportation.
Both men and women cultivate the fields, own land and animals, make decisions, and store their harvests separately. Although they share most of the household tasks, including raising the children, all of their financial responsibilities are kept separate. Some of the older Masalit children have their own fields where they cultivate their own crops.
Generally, the men tend to the livestock while the women cook, care for the young children, gather wood, and draw water. Economic activities are usually the responsibility of each individual. Therefore, each person takes responsibility for his own work.
Most of the Masalit live as nuclear families in village settlements. Their homes are made from forest products. The walls are made of grass mats, and the cone-shaped roofs are thatched with wild grasses. They are round in shape and their frames are held up by strong wooden posts and poles. The huts are situated closely together to form small compounds. The compounds are surrounded by fences made from millet stalks. Each village consists of several compounds.
Inside each village is a central masik, which is a shaded clearing where men gather to eat, drink, pray, socialize, and discuss village affairs. The women do not socialize at the masik, but visit one another at the village well or in each other's homes.
Masalit marriages generally take place between young couples in their early 20s. Polygamy is permitted and most men have two wives, sometimes more. Unfortunately, divorce is common among the Masalit.
Before a marriage is finalized, a man must pay a bride-price to the woman's family. He is also required to build a house in the bride's mother's compound. The couple will live in that house for at least one year while the new husband works in his mother-in-law's fields. When the couple has their first child, they then decide whether or not to stay in their home, or resettle near the husband's family. This decision largely depends on the availability of fields.
What are their beliefs?
The Masalit began converting to Islam during the 1600s; and today they are completely Muslim. Islam is a major world religion that is based on the teachings of Mohammed. The Koran, or holy book of Islam, was said to have been given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.
The Masalit are increasingly becoming more orthodox in their faith. Islamic laws dominate their political and social lives as well as their values. Today, most Masalit abstain from alcohol, pray five times a day, and seek religious counsel for important matters.
What are their needs?
The majority of the Masalit have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. This is due in part to their geographical isolation. There is a need for Bible resources in this group.
Although a few missions agencies have worked among the Masalit of Chad, none is known to be ministering to the groups in Sudan. Fervent intercession and further evangelistic efforts must be made in order to help turn the hearts of the Masalit toward Jesus.
Ask the Lord to send forth laborers to work among the Masalit of north central Africa.
Ask God to use the small number of Masalit believers to share Christ with their own people.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Sudan and Chad through intercession.
Pray that the Lord will save key Masalit leaders who will boldly declare the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong Masalit church for the glory of His name!