Introduction / History
The Jerba inhabit the island of Jerba, which is located in the Gulf of Gabes just off the southwestern coast of Tunisia. Unlike most Tunisians, who are Arabs, the great majority of Jerba are Berbers. As such, their culture is starkly different from that of the Arab Tunisians. They speak a Berber language that is also called Jerba. Although nearly all of them now speak Arabic, about half of them continue to speak Jerba.
The Jerba have lived on the island of Jerba for thousands of years. They have been conquered by many civilizations, including the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Arabs, the Byzantines, the European Crusaders, the Turks, and the French. In the last 100 years, immigrants from mainland Tunisia have moved to Jerba and have become absorbed into the Jerban culture. Recently, because of its isolation and a lack of water, Jerba has become economically depressed, and many of its people have moved back to the mainland to find work.
What are their lives like?
Jerba consists of a plateau about 40-150 feet in elevation. It has virtually no sources of fresh water, forcing the people to collect the sparse rain water in tanks and cisterns. As a result, farming is limited, except in the few areas that have a fresh underground water supply.
Fruits, vegetables, and a very small amount of cereals are some of the crops grown by the Jerba. Olives have also become an important agricultural product. For centuries, many Jerba have owned land plots on the mainland and have hired laborers to cultivate them. This is due to the fact that only a small portion of the island is suitable for farming.
Some Jerba are involved in the large fishing industry. Since the strait between Jerba and the mainland is very shallow and crossed by sandbars, the Jerba have built platforms of mud and palm leaves from which to fish. The fishermen primarily use nets and rods.
The greatest source of income for the Jerba comes from those who emigrate to the mainland. Since Jerba is economically depressed, many of the islanders join together in "partnerships" and work on the mainland. A man will usually work on the mainland for nine months, after which time he will be replaced by a member of his partnership. The men send the earnings home to their families, providing a steady stream of income into Jerba.
Most Jerba do not live in villages or towns, but on homesteads scattered across the island. This practice of dispersed settlements has developed because the Jerba, always fearing invasion by a larger, more powerful nation, found it safer to scatter their homes than to group them in one place.
What are their beliefs?
Nearly all Jerba are Muslim, and many of them follow the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam. Islam is a religion of works based on five essential duties: (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 alms generously. (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. In addition to these duties, the Wahhabi have many rules and regulations governing their everyday lives. For example, the sect prohibits its members from smoking and gambling.
What are their needs?
The Jerba live under difficult physical circumstances. Water on the island is scarce and the overall economy is depressed. Migrant workers from the island are forced to endure months of separation from their families. In addition, the Jerba-due to their Berber ancestry-are isolated from mainstream Tunisian society, making their lives even more difficult.
There are virtually no Christians among the Jerba, although the Berber were once vibrant Christians. The Christian witness in Tunisia is discouraged by the Muslim government, making any witness to the Jerba difficult. There are no missions agencies currently working among the Jerba and no Christian resources are available to them.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth Christian laborers into Jerba.
* Pray that the Jerba will hunger to know Jesus and that God will reveal Himself to them through dreams and visions.
* Ask the Lord to bless the Jerba spiritually, economically, and in their families, easing their burdens.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Jerba church for the glory of His name!
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Jerba who will boldly declare the Gospel.