Departing early in the morning from Tanga, Tanzania, the driver, tour guide and I drove south along the coast to the town of Pangani. After crossing the Pangani River by ferry, we soon entered Zigula country.
The fertile Pangani River valley was utilized by an estate for growing sisal. The road runs parallel to the ocean on the left and the sisal estate on the right. The estate includes hundreds of acres and extends for about 30 miles. The sisal is farmed and harvested by hand.
The workers are primarily Zigula and Makonde. The sisal market is diminishing and has created a movement of Makonde laborers from the south to the Pangani estate. The sisal is cut one blade at a time, the sharp tip sliced off and the stalks stacked like cords of firewood. Hundreds of workers are involved, and they rely upon the estate to care for all their needs.
Since the local population consisted of several tribal groups, we continued south to the Sadani Game Reserve. Driving west along its southern border for about 25 kilometers, we located a pure Zigula village of about 600 people. It is the poorest village we discovered along the entire coastline. All the buildings are constructed from mud except for the small, relatively new, primary school.
Stopping at the market area in the center of the village, we met a man who volunteered to lead us to the village chairman. Introductions were given and our reason for coming presented. The chairman was quick to agree to a tour, so I asked to take a picture of his two wives and children.
In the process of taking pictures of the family, I inquired as to the purpose of a basketful of various types of what appeared to be musical shakers. "I use them to drive away evil spirits," he said. It was evident that not only did he serve as village chairman but also as the village witch doctor.
We soon learned that the village was Islamic, but even the sheik came to the witch doctor for cures. It was clear that Islam was a pseudo religion, and animism was the primary faith. Islam appeared to be little more than taking Muslim names and wearing prayer hats.
On the way to visit the old sheik, we passed through the chairman's farm that he had recently cleared by the "slash and burn" method. He explained that he would farm this piece of land for four years and then move to another slash-and-burn plot.
We were led almost immediately to the old sheik's house. At about 90 years old, he is the oldest man in the village and still leads prayers at the mosque. The sheik is very alert, and when asked if he had memorized lengthy passages of the Quran he responded by quoting a long passage.
The sheik shared a lot of information with us. He was assisted by the ward counselor, who was riding by on a motorcycle and stopped to see what strangers were doing in one of his villages. The counselor proved to be quite knowledgeable and was very helpful in telling the Zigula story. He stayed about 15 minutes before leaving to keep a previous appointment.
Most of my pictures were taken during the one and one half hours we spent seated on a mat in front of the sheik's house. The people were curious and wanted to be a part of the event. The visit was short and a relational bridge was built. However, it seems it will need to emerge more in the future to be really effective.
My heart went out to the Zigula. They are so poor, so deceived by the devil and so isolated from the outside world. Truly they are a forgotten people who need a committed messenger to live among them. May God be gracious to the Zigula!