Berta is one of several names for a people group who live on both sides of the Ethiopian and Sudanese borders, south of the Blue Nile in an area known as the Benishangul.
The Benishangul-Gumaz region in Ethiopia is one of the least developed regions in Ethiopia. Some 160,000 Berta live there. On the Sudanese side of the border there are probably about the same number. Most of them live in rural areas and not in the cities and towns. The largest town in the area has only about 20,000 people and only one third of the population is Berta.
The area where the Berta or Wetawit live was known by the ancient Egyptians as a gold reserve. Although the Berta live mostly from agriculture and the sale of the fruits grown on their land, gold is still to this day an important bartering commodity for them. In the past the Berta were under oppression from the slave trade. Even their own rulers kept and sold slaves from along their own people.
The Berta language is generally classified as a branch of Nilo-Saharan and is not related to the official Amharic language of Ethiopia nor the Arabic of Sudan. Children who do actually manage to make it into a school are therefore taught in a totally foreign language. Many children give up trying after just a few years in school and just 9.7% of the people are considered literate. It was only recently that the written form of the Berta language was introduced. Thanks to government efforts and various organisations, Berta children can now take lessons in their mother-tongue.
Islam came to this region in the beginning of the 18th century especially from Northern Sudan. It established its roots in five kingdoms. Up until 30 years ago visitors to the region wrote that Islam was very superficial, basically just in name only. However, today most Berta Muslims take their religion quite seriously although it is mixed with indigenous beliefs and practices. There is no local group of Christian believers. A handful of Christians live scattered throughout the area and in other countries. The Christian believers in the neighbouring peoples are not very open or motivated to witness to the Berta since evangelisation of other peoples can be very difficult. Bible translation began with some Old Testament passages but unfortunately that work stopped two years ago when the Muslim translators were forbidden to help more on the project.
* Christians from other people groups in the region need an outpouring of courage, love and wisdom to reach the Berta with the Gospel in an understandable and culturally appropriate way.
* Pray for the local believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-20).
* Pray that the work of Bible translation could begin again.
* Pray that the Berta can learn how to read so that later, they can read the Bible.