Introduction / History
The western desert of Egypt is one of the most arid areas of the world, apart from a little rain on the coastal strip. The Siwa are the inhabitants Egypt's Siwa Oasis, which is also known as Jupiter Ammon. They live in a somewhat compact, walled town and in a number of outlying villages. Although their native language, Siwah, is a Berber dialect, it is not closely related to other Berber languages.
The Siwa Oasis lies seventy feet below the surrounding desert. It is accessible by a gorge that is wedged between sandstone hills and worn into fantastic shapes by wind and weather. Inside the oasis there are refreshing pools with groves of olive trees and date palms. Long ago, Cambyses, the Persian king who conquered Egypt in 52 B.C., sent 40,000 men to attack the Siwa Oasis region. However, the soldiers neither reached their destination nor returned to Persia. It is assumed that they all perished in the desert.
What are their lives like?
The Siwa are characterized by light to medium brown skin color, dark brown eyes, wavy hair, and noticeably narrow heads. They are primarily farmers whose staple crops include dates and olives. Also grown to a lesser degree are wheat, barley, sorghum, broad beans, and onions. The agricultural work is primarily done by the men. Most land is held as private property by individuals and can be bought and sold. Water rights are very important.
The Siwa do not keep camels, although they are used in the caravan trade. Native domestic animals include cattle, goats, donkeys, dogs, and a few sheep. Milk is an important element in their diet, as is the butter made from the milk.
Like other Berbers, the Siwa live in a patriarchal (male-dominated) society. They are Muslims, and according to Islamic law inheritances are traced through the males. These religious principles also determine which portion of a man's estate goes to his widow; the balance is divided among his children, with full shares to sons and half shares to daughters. Wealth distinctions are very important to the Siwa. Servants make up the lower class of society.
Having only one wife is the prevailing Siwa custom, but polygamy (multiple wives) is permitted. Marriage with first cousins is common. A tradition among the Siwa is that a bride, dressed in her finest clothes and with her hair plaited in forty braids, is led to the village pool on the eve of her wedding. There, an old woman bathes her and removes the silver disc of virginity, which hangs from her neck. On the way home, the bride is intercepted by her fiancé's family, who present her with many gifts. Among them are forty dresses, of which seven must be worn-one on top of the other-on the wedding day.
Family life is patrilocal, which means that newlyweds live with the groom's parents. Sometimes a new level is added to the house to accommodate the young couple. Homes are typically rectangular and often several stories in height. They have walls of stone and clay, and flat roofs of thatch covered with earth. The town is run by a council of male chiefs. Although the chiefs are supposed to be elected, their sons often inherit their positions.
What are their beliefs?
Prior to the seventh century, the Berbers had successfully resisted foreign invasions of Islam. However, with the Arab conquests of the seventh century, the Berbers were shattered. Some fled or were driven into the desert, while others submitted, becoming Arabized in language and, to some extent, racially mixed. All embraced Islam, the majority being Sunni Muslims. Although the Siwa observe Islamic fundamentals, many pre-Islamic traditional beliefs still persist.
What are their needs?
The Siwa have never been successfully reached with the Gospel. Prayer is the key to reaching the Siwa Muslims with the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Egypt and share Christ with Siwa Berbers.
* Pray that the doors of Egypt will soon open to missionaries.
* Ask God to provide evangelistic tools and equipment needed to reach them both spiritually and geographically.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Siwa Berbers toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Egypt's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Siwa Berbers.