Introduction / History
One of the first Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around A.D. 750. Because of persecution by the Berbers, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main sub-groups of the Soninke are the Marka, Nono, and Azer. Often, these tribes are further broken into smaller clans that specialize in various crafts. Some of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, Drame, Sylla, and Kante. After fleeing to Senegal and Gambia, these groups intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.
The Soninke live primarily along the upper Senegal River from Matam to Bakel, with some migrating to the city of Dakar. Two of their settlements are Jara and Gajaga. Due to influence by a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become farmers and herdsmen. They speak a Mandingo language called Sarakole (or Soninke).
What are their lives like?
The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of Mande-related people groups. They are farmers who raise sorghum, rice, peanuts, and their staple crop, millet. They also raise large numbers of goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. Very little fishing and hunting is done, and trade is extremely important. The Soninke trade in the local markets. They also travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods.
In the past, the Soninke men cleared the land and cultivated the crops; the women worked in the gardens. Today, however, they have one of the highest rates of labor migration in West Africa. Much of the male population is absent from the home doing migrant work, which often lasts from two to four years. With the women, old men, and children left behind, a form of matriarchal (female-dominated) society has evolved.
The Soninke live in compact villages, in which homes are built in two distinct styles. One style is round huts with brick walls and thatched roofs. The other style is rectangular houses with brick walls, interior courts, and flat terraced roofs. Houses line both sides of the main street, and a mosque is typically located in the village square.
Soninke marriages require the payment of a bride-price. In contrast to most neighboring tribes, the bride-price is given to the bride rather than her parents, and becomes part of her dowry. Pre-marital sexual relations are forbidden. Polygyny (having more than one wife) is generally accepted, with each man being limited to four wives by Islamic law.
In the past, inheritances were passed down from fathers to sons. Today, Muslim rules govern the dispersion of property: one-eighth goes to the widow, while equal shares go to each son and half shares go to each daughter.
What are their beliefs?
Most of the Soninke in Senegal are Sunni Muslims. The remainder are a mixture of various animistic religions (believe that non-human objects have spirits). Muslims follow the teachings of Mohammed, the Islamic prophet. Their holy book, the Koran, was said to have been given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.
As Muslims, the Soninke adhere to the five essential "pillars", or duties, of Islam. These include affirming that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet;" praying five times a day while facing Mecca; giving alms generously; fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year; and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible.
What are their needs?
Among all the Soninke in Senegal, there are only a few Christians. Those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by Muslims; therefore, evangelizing is extremely difficult. Most Soninke have not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
* Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into Senegal to share Christ with the Soninke.
* Pray that Christian radio broadcasts would be made available to the Soninke.
* Pray that God will give the small number of Soninke believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Senegal through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a vigorous Soninke church for the glory of His name!