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Prayer Profile
The Senufo of West Africa
A cluster of 14 closely related groups in 3 countries.

[IMAGE] The various Senufo groups live in the Middle Volta region of Central Africa, which includes parts of Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, and Burkina Faso. They are divided into three groups: Northern, Central, and Southern, according to the three distinct language divisions. As a whole, the Senufo tribes speak over thirty dialects.

The Northern Senufo are a cultural mixture of immigrants from around Odienne and Fourou, who intermarried with groups in the Kenedougou region. The Kenedougou kingdom was established in the 1800's, with Sikasso as its capital. Though Islam was the predominant religion, its spread was limited to the elite and tribal chiefs.

The Central Senufo are a cultural mixture of the Samogho, Lobi, Turka, Toussian, and Bobo-Dyula tribes. They continue to be influenced both by Sikasso and the Bobo-Dyula who live in their region. In the 1700's, Dyula traders settled among the Southern Senufo. They eventually overpowered the Senufo and raised up their own rulers. Kong became their Islamic capital; but Islam was once again limited to the elite.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Senufo are subsistence farmers. They have been admired as skilled agriculturists, cultivating dry rice, yams, peanuts, and millet in the grasslands that are prevalent in their region. One of the most important ways for a male to gain prestige is to become a sambali, which is a "champion cultivator." A sambali is respected throughout his lifetime and upholds the honor of his residential settlement before the entire village and surrounding district.

One important aspect of Senufo society is its concept of "community." The Senufo think of themselves as one group, with all of their ideas pointing in the same direction. The concept of the "individual" is only known in limited circumstances; thus, no man stands alone. Instead, each person is thought of as part of an extended family, a member of the village, the elder or younger brother, etc. Everyone eats as a group and dips into a common dish. The fields are worked collectively; food is stored collectively; and each family contributes to the village. A Senufo is always aware of his place in the society as it relates to others in the group. To the Senufo, the good of the community always comes before the good of the individual. Unless the entire tribe makes a change, such as converting to a different religion, no one does.

Another important feature of Senufo life is the "male secret society," which is known as the poro. The poro prepares men for leadership in the community, so that they might attain wisdom, accept responsibility, and gain power. It begins with the child's grade of "discovery," followed by extensive training and service. It ends with the ritual death of the child and the final graduation of the "finished man." Dramatic ceremonies, dances, and visual displays mark the passage from one grade to the next. When the man reaches about 30 years of age, the initiation is complete and he is considered an adult. He then becomes one of the elders with whom the chief consults on major decisions. Poro sanctuaries are hidden inside dense groves of trees outside the Senufo villages. These sacred groves are used as schools, meeting houses, and places of worship.

Since World War II, the Senufo region has become more commercialized and urbanized. Today, the young men have opportunities to move to the cities and earn money. This has weakened the influences that Senufo fathers formerly had over their sons. The importance of the communal nature of their society has also declined. Unfortunately, the weakening of these two areas has allowed Islam to begin seeping into the cracks of this rapidly changing society.

What Are Their Beliefs?
About one-forth of the Senufo are Muslim, although that figure is steadily increasing. The remainder continue to practice their traditional ethnic religions. The belief in various gods, ancestral spirits, and bush spirits, along with participation in witchcraft, magic, and cults, are all a part of daily life for most Senufo.

What Are Their Needs?
Although most of the Senufo groups are being targeted by one or more missions agencies, the Tyelibele have no Christian witness among them. Only four of the groups have portions of the Bible in their languages. Christian broadcasts are currently being aired among only four of the thirteen tribes.

Today, Senufo society is rapidly changing. The Senufo need an opportunity to hear the Truth of the Gospel before a total conversion to Islam takes place. Intense prayers and increased evangelism efforts must be made in order to reach them with the Good News.

Prayer Points
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to West Africa and share Christ with the Senufo.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will soften the hearts of the Senufo towards the Gospel.
  • Ask the Lord to give the Senufo believers courage to share the Gospel with their own people.
  • Pray that God will raise up linguists to translate the Bible into each of the Senufo dialects.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Senufo bound.
  • Pray that God will open the hearts of the governmental leaders of Ivory Coast, Mali, and Burkina Faso to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will raise up intercessors to faithfully stand in the gap for the Senufo.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among each of the Senufo tribes.


See also the following Gur groups:
The Lobi-Wala, The Kotokoli,
The Jaan of Burkina Faso, The Puguli of Burkina Faso.

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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