Introduction / History
One of the first Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around 750 AD. Because of Berber persecution, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main offshoots of the Soninke are the Marka, the Nono, and the Aser. Often, these tribes are broken into smaller clans that specialized in various crafts.
Some of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, the Drame, the Sylla, and the Kante. After fleeing to Senegal and Gambia, these groups intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.
Due to the influence of a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become known as farmers and herdsmen. They speak a Mandingo language called Sarakole (or Soninke). Sarakole is derived from the Mande language, with dialects of Silabe and Marka.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of the 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 also 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. Other houses are rectangular, with brick walls, interior courts, and flat terraced roofs. Houses line both sides of the main street. A mosque is typically located at 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. Polygamy (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?
Virtually all of the Soninke are Malikite Muslims. A very small percentage follow a mixture of various tribal animist religions (believe that non-living objects have spirits).
Islam is a major world religion that is based on the teachings of Mohammed, the prophet. The Koran, or holy book of Islam, was said to have been given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. The Soninke follow the five essential « pillars » or duties of Islam: (1) A Muslim must affirm that « there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. » (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give an obligatory percentage (very similar to tithes) on an annual basis. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
What Are Their Needs?
Among all the Soninke in Gambia, there are only a few known Christians. Those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by the Muslims; therefore, evangelizing is extremely difficult. Most Soninke have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Gambia to share Christ with the Soninke.
* Ask God to make it possible for the Gospel to be broadcast via radio in their area and in their language.
* Pray that God will give the 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 Gambia through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Soninke church for the glory of His name!