Population: over 3 million
Non-Africans often do not know that West Africa has had many great empires. The establishment of the Songhai Empire began in Gao, Mali, around AD680. Before finally being overwhelmed by Moroccan invaders using firearms in 1591, the Songhai’s organisational skills, bravery, sorcery and growing Islamic faith led them to build one of the greatest West African empires (the size of France, Spain, Germany and Italy combined, or 20 per cent of the USA including Alaska).
Today, the majority of the over three million Songhai live along the Niger River from Niamey in Niger to Timbuktu, Mali, with a smaller group in Burkina Faso. During the dry season, many Songhai men migrate to the larger West African cities in search of work, returning home to the farm during the rainy season. They live as millet and sorghum farmers at the edge of the Sahara Desert, surviving in one of the harshest climates in the world. For those living along the banks of the Niger River, and therefore close to water, opportunities exist to cultivate rice, grow pumpkins and onions, cast nets for fish, raise small livestock and harvest mangos. Their gardens produce okra, tomatoes, sesame seeds, aubergines and garlic.
The Songhai live in extended families which are centred around the male heads of households, who have the responsibility to keep the family strong and united. One of their priorities is to keep all family members grounded in the Islamic faith and practice. Being the descendants of kings, sorcerers, and great leaders, they are a proud people. Patience, hard work, hospitality, courage, honesty, and the ability to listen are character traits that are highly valued by the Songhai.
Though the majority of the Songhai profess an adherence to Islam, they also follow animistic beliefs and practices. They believe that their dead ancestors have an active role to play in their present lives. Religion, culture, and social customs have united to produce a strong barrier against Christianity. The Songhai people are one of over 2,000 people groups worldwide who have the least access to the gospel; there are few Christians among the Songhai (possibly 0.2 per cent or less).
Missionaries are focusing on church-planting and discipleship through the use of the Jesus film, story telling, literacy training, theological education, and aid and development projects. The missionaries respect the Songhai culture and want to bless this people.
One can sense a darkness and evil that holds the Songhai and their lands in its grasp. Famine and disease have been their constant companions. Sixty per cent of children die before their fifth birthday. The Songhai feel there is very little that they say or do which will change their life experience. See the website: www.byhisgrace.com/songhai
Prayer Guide for the Songhai:
* Pray that the Songhai find their identity in serving Christ the King (Rev 7:9-10).
* Pray that the spiritual darkness which surrounds and enslaves the Songhai be broken (Acts 19:18-19, Heb 2:14-15, Rom 8:2).
* Pray for wisdom, perseverance and determination as missionaries and Songhai Christians proclaim the gospel through word and deed among the Songhai.