An Open Heart

A Jola Fonyi man arrived at the research team's hotel with his personally owned taxi (purchased with funds provided by his extended family). Our guide was with him, ready to get our journey under way. Leaving Banjul, Gambia’s capital, we drove about two hours on an excellent tarred road running parallel with the Gambia River.

Gambia is a former British colony, and it is said the country's boundaries were set according to the range of cannons on the British ships that traversed the Gambia River. Consequently, the little country, with a population near 2 million, consists of fertile land along both banks of the river.  The national language is English.

Turning off the main road and driving one kilometer toward the river, we entered a Jola Fonyi village. The chief was at his compound and graciously welcomed his unannounced guests. He was prepared to work on his farm, so he slipped into his house and changed into more suitable clothing. I shared with him that we were visiting Gambia for three days, and in preparation for our visit I had read about the Jola Fonyi. Our purpose in visiting his village was to personally meet the Jola Fonyi and put faces to statistics and an anthropological profile.

Exchanging introductions, the chief and I discovered that we are about the same age: I am 75 years old and he is 76. The chief proudly shared that he had four wives and 13 children. Two of the wives and the oldest son were present. The others were in the fields protecting the grain from monkeys and birds.

The chief explained that his great-grandfather led this village under the colonial rule of the British. Then his grandfather, father and two older brothers succeeded to the chieftaincy. Following the death of his older brother, the villagers asked him to serve as their chief. When asked what makes a good chief, he quickly responded, "A faithful and honest man."

One particular comment by the chief caught our attention. He said, "No one has ever talked to me like this." He was pleased to have us enter his world without a complaint or a request for his assistance and with a genuine interest in him and his people. He called for his wives, changed into a nice robe and posed for pictures. He opened his heart and village to us.

It was a good visit, and a relational bridge was built. The name "Jola Fonyi" had come alive - their faces never to be forgotten. The first step had been taken in giving these villagers an adequate introduction to Jesus, the Savior.



Introduction / History
The Jola are a friendly people who are very relaxed and known for their charm towards strangers. Family is central to the Jola culture and all are treated equal while performing their roles in the village. Rice, millet, corn, and peanuts are grown as the primary means of support.
 Folk or popular Islam is the predominant religion. The traditional Islamic beliefs have been changed from the true meaning in order to fit pre-existing fears and beliefs. Their desire to follow Allah is out of fear, not love for him. The Jola believe in both good and evil spirits. The good spirits protect houses from curses and other troubles while the evil ones demand sacrifices. Shrines are also very prevalent with various meanings attached to each one.
 The great majority of the Jola claim to be Muslim, although African traditional practices are mixed with it. Polygamy is common.
 Mostly farmers, the Jola-Fonyi raise peanuts and rice. The women are responsible for gardening, rice, food preparation, care of the house and children. The men cultivate and produce the cash crops: peanuts, citrus fruits, and mangoes.
There is no caste system among the Jolas, and family relationships are very strong. They strongly depend on each other for their survival.
Primarily farmers, the Kasa use very basic tools to raise a variety of vegetables, as well as manioc and rice. The Kasa raise sheep, cattle, and goats. Women gather kola nuts, berries, and palm nuts.
Jola Fonyi people are largely Muslim, with a substantial number practicing African traditional religion and a small percentage of Christians. Young people are taken to "bush schools" when they reach puberty, at which time they are circumcised.
They prefer to marry cousins and ask for the bride price in the form of livestock.

Where are they located?
The Jola reside in southwestern Senegal in isolated, forested regions of the Casamance with smaller concentrations in southern Gambia and northern Guinea-Bissau.

Prayer Points
* Pray that the Jola people will hear and understand the word of God in their heart language. 
* Pray that respected leaders and elders of villages to give lives to Christ. 
* Pray that the medical and nutritional needs of these people will be met. 
* Pray that peace will reign in the Casamance region where many Jola reside. 
* Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers to the Jola people.
* Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.