MANDINKA - Personal Visit
Following a lunch of meat pie and a Coke at a local restaurant, our guide led our research team to a predominantly Mandinka community. We noted that the houses were much smaller than in other parts of the town, with few streets and a lot of alleys. The houses did not ring a common courtyard; instead, each house stood alone and had its own backyard.
We were led to the assistant chief, who invited us into his home. Two of his four sons joined us, including one who had just arrived from New York, where he resides. The 60-year-old chief proudly shared that he also had four daughters.
The conversation turned toward Mandinka marriage customs. We learned that when a young man wants to marry a girl, he sends cola nuts to her parents, who should respond within 10 days. If the response is positive, gifts are exchanged, and the groom sets up a house for his bride in the groom's village. When the house is ready, the wedding is held in the new couple’s home, with family and village leaders in attendance. It is a sign of weakness for a groom to move to the bride’s village. Mandinka culture is obviously male-dominated and adheres to Islamic family traditions.
The chief shared that most Mandinkas are hard-working farmers. He even showed us the hoe he used at his farm. He mentioned that at times up to 60 farmers will form a group farming system. The main crops are cassava, corn and rice, which are planted after the rains begin. The chief had a word of advice for today's Mandinka youth who are moving to the cities: "Let's go back to our farms and work hard.”
The chief wanted us to know that he was an active Muslim. Quranic sayings were mounted above the doors of his house. On the floor, skins of animals slaughtered for sacrifice during Eid al-Adha served as his prayer mats. He explained that these mats brought blessings to his prayers and that the hairs of the skins pray for him. Three ears of corn hung over a Quranic verse above his home’s main entrance to assure him that he would have seed to plant. It was easy to see that animism is the underlying force of the Mandinka's brand of Islam.
The exchange was cordial. We stepped outside and the chief and his two sons posed for a picture. A relational bridge was established; we left feeling good about making a Mandinka friend.
The Mandinka speak Mandinka, one of many Manding languages. The Manding languages are spoken in nine African nations by approximately 11 million people. Although some of these languages have no written script, their oral literature is regarded as some of the best in the world.
Most Manding speakers can trace their roots back to the once great Mali Empire, which rose to power in the 1200's under the rule of the "lion king," Sundiata. After unifying the kingdom, Sundiata began conquering the surrounding peoples.
There are three clear divisions within Mandinka society: free-born, artisans, and slaves. The free-born class is the most diverse. It formerly consisted of only noble rulers. Today, however, it includes merchants, farmers, and others. The artisans include leather craftsmen, blacksmiths, and singers, or griots. Artisans are looked upon with fear and awe because their crafts often involve spiritual rituals.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Mandinka are farmers. Rice, millet, sorghum, and peanuts are their staple crops. While they raise most of their own food, some products are obtained through trade and some are gathered from the forests. During planting and harvesting seasons, much time is spent in the fields. At other times, the men work in part-time businesses to supplement their incomes. Others raise goats, sheep, bees, poultry, and dogs. Cattle are sometimes kept, but only to gain prestige, to use as ritual sacrifices, or to use as a "bride price."
Mandinka society is patrilineal (male-dominated) and the smallest social unit is the family. The oldest male serves as the head of the lineage. (A "minor lineage" consists of a man and his immediate family. A "major lineage" consists of households of relatives and their families.) Clans can be recognized by their symbolic emblems, animals, and plants. If someone travels to another village, he is shown hospitality by the villagers who share his last name.
Mandinka villages are made up of clans, or family groups all having the same name. Each village is surrounded by a wall, and the homes are either round or rectangular. They are made of mud with either thatch or tin roofs. The men do the heavy farm work, hunt, and fish, while the women cook, clean, care for the children, and help with the farming. They also help the men gather produce from the forests.
Traditionally, parents arranged their daughters' marriages while the girls were still infants. Today, marriages are still arranged, but not as early. The groom is required to work for the bride's family both before and after the wedding. He must also pay the girl's family a "bride price." Unlimited polygamy is permitted among the Mandinka, but the men rarely have more than three wives.
What are their beliefs?
Islam was first introduced to the Mali Empire by foreign merchants. Gradually, Islam was blended with their traditional beliefs, which involved worshipping the spirits of the land. Today, it is not uncommon for someone to first pray in the village mosque, then sacrifice a chicken to the "village spirit."
Most of the Mandinka observe Islamic rituals with little understanding of what they really mean. They view Allah as being the one supreme god. However, they also see him as inaccessible and little concerned with the daily affairs of his creation. Many of the Mandinka consult marabouts (Muslim "holy men") for healing, protective amulets, or insight into the future.
What are their needs?
Life in Senegal is difficult. In rural areas, there are problems with drought and famine, as well as periodic plagues of locusts. Overuse of the farmland has also caused the soil to lose its fertility. Wells sometimes go dry for weeks or even months before the inadequate annual rainfall replenishes the water table.
Unfortunately very few of the people can read. Perhaps Christian teachers will find open doors to reach them with the Gospel.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are currently focusing on the Mandinka.
* Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Mandinka.
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Mandinka through dreams and visions.
* Pray that God will give the Mandinka believers boldness to share the love of Christ with their own people.
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