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The Mandinka of Senegal

[IMAGE] The Mandinka speak Mandinka, one of many Manding languages. The Manding languages are spoken in nine African nations by approximately 11 million people. Although some of these languages have no written script, their oral literature is regarded as some of the best in the world.

Most Manding speakers can trace their roots back to the once great Mali Empire, which rose to power in the 1200's under the rule of the "lion king," Sundiata. After unifying the kingdom, Sundiata began conquering the surrounding peoples.

There are three clear divisions within Mandinka society: free-born, artisans, and slaves. The free-born class is the most diverse. It formerly consisted of only noble rulers. Today, however, it includes merchants, farmers, and others. The artisans include leather craftsmen, blacksmiths, and singers, or griots. Artisans are looked upon with fear and awe because their crafts often involve spiritual rituals.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Mandinka are farmers. Rice, millet, sorghum, and peanuts are their staple crops. While they raise most of their own food, some products are obtained through trade and some are gathered from the forests. During planting and harvesting seasons, much time is spent in the fields. At other times, the men work in part-time businesses to supplement their incomes. Others raise goats, sheep, bees, poultry, and dogs. Cattle are sometimes kept, but only to gain prestige, to use as ritual sacrifices, or to use as a "bride price."

Mandinka society is patrilineal (male-dominated) and the smallest social unit is the family. The oldest male serves as the head of the lineage. (A "minor lineage" consists of a man and his immediate family. A "major lineage" consists of households of relatives and their families.) Clans can be recognized by their symbolic emblems, animals, and plants. If someone travels to another village, he is shown hospitality by the villagers who share his last name.

Mandinka villages are made up of clans, or family groups all having the same name. Each village is surrounded by a wall, and the homes are either round or rectangular. They are made of mud with either thatch or tin roofs. The men do the heavy farm work, hunt, and fish, while the women cook, clean, care for the children, and help with the farming. They also help the men gather produce from the forests.

Traditionally, parents arranged their daughters' marriages while the girls were still infants. Today, marriages are still arranged, but not as early. The groom is required to work for the bride's family both before and after the wedding. He must also pay the girl's family a "bride price." Unlimited polygamy is permitted among the Mandinka, but the men rarely have more than three wives.

What Are Their Beliefs?
Islam was first introduced to the Mali Empire by foreign merchants. Gradually, Islam was blended with their traditional beliefs, which involved worshipping the spirits of the land. Today, it is not uncommon for someone to first pray in the village mosque, then sacrifice a chicken to the "village spirit."

Most of the Mandinka observe Islamic rituals with little understanding of what they really mean. They view Allah as being the one supreme god. However, they also see him as inaccessible and little concerned with the daily affairs of his creation. Many of the Mandinka consult marabouts (Muslim "holy men") for healing, protective amulets, or insight into the future.

What Are Their Needs?
Life in Senegal is difficult. In rural areas, there are problems with drought and famine, as well as periodic plagues of locusts. Overuse of the farmland has also caused the soil to lose its fertility. Wells sometimes go dry for weeks or even months before the inadequate annual rainfall replenishes the water table.

Portions of scripture are available in the Mandinka language; unfortunately, however, very few of the people can read. Perhaps Christian teachers will find open doors to reach them with the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are currently targeting the Mandinka.
  • Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Mandinka.
  • Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio in their area.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Mandinka through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will give the Mandinka believers boldness to share the love of Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Mandinka bound for many generations.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Senegal through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Mandinka of Senegal.

See also the following related groups:
The Maninka of Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia;
the Ivorian Malinke of Coté d'Ivoire;
the Mandinka of Gambia;
and the Malinke of Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Mandinka
  • Country: Senegal
  • Their language: Mandinka
  • Population: (1990) 433,300
    (1995) 491,500
    (2000) 561,500
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 95%
    Ethnic religionist 4.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 492
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 192,200 (40%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 25,100 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 167,100 (34%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 299,300 (60%)
  • Country: Senegal
  • Population: (1990) 7,326,500
    (1995) 8,311,600
    (2000) 9,495,200
  • Major peoples in size order: Wolof 34.7%
    Fulankunda 12.4%
    Serer-Sine 11.2%
    Tukulor 8.7%
    Mandinka 5.9%
  • Major religions: Muslim 90.5%
    Christian 5.8%
    Ethnic religionist 3.5%
  • Number of denominations: 17

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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