Profile Source: Bethany World Prayer Center
Introduction / History
The Lak live in the northeastern Caucasus region of southern Russia in an area known as Dagestan. They are very closely related to the Darghinian. Most of the Lak live in the basins of the upper Kazikumukh, Tleusarakh, and Khatar Rivers, located in the mountainous central region of Dagestan. In this region of high mountains and plateaus, with much of the territory being above 2,000 meters (6,560 feet), there is little rainfall and drought is common.
Shepherding was the traditional occupation of most Lak, with local craftsmanship providing the economic basis of village and town life. The Lak have a long history of economic emigration to neighboring areas. In 1944, many were moved to the steppes and foothills in the far northeastern part of Dagestan. Since then, they have been assimilated into Russian culture. Today, they are probably the most multilingual peoples in the former USSR. Many are fluent in Russian and several other languages.
What are Their Lives Like?
For centuries, most Lak have been involved in raising sheep and goats, and, occasionally, cattle, horses, and mules. They move their livestock from mountain to lowland pastures with the changing seasons. The men raise and tend the livestock, while the women are responsible for farming. Meat and milk products are the major components of their diet, though barley, peas, wheat, and some potatoes are grown.
Many Lak villages specialize in crafts. For example, the village of Kumugh was famed for its jewelers and coppersmiths. Others have been known for their merchants and markets, saddles and harnesses, masons and tinsmiths, candy makers, and even acrobats. Also, Lak women engage in rug weaving, spinning, and making ceramics. Many of these traditions have survived in the Lak territories because it has been difficult for the Soviets to develop these isolated areas. The dominant industries in Dagestan include the manufacturing of textiles, clothing, leather goods, shoes, and the production of meat, cheese, and butter.
Traditionally, the Lak lived in extended family units (clans) called tukhums. Each tukhum was composed of several families who had descended from a common male ancestor. Members of the tukhum were expected to help with work and in family affairs. Today, the importance of tukhums is being eroded by modernization and continuing emigration. Marriages usually took place within the tukhum and were traditionally arranged by the families of the couple. Often the eldest women had prominent roles in such decisions. The custom of paying a bride-price still exists, but to a limited degree. The transaction is now more symbolic than financial.
Prior to the nineteenth century, the Lak wrote in Arabic. However, in 1928, the Russians forced them to use the Latin script. In 1938, the script was again changed to Cyrillic; Russian words replaced Arabic and Persian words, and scientific or political terms were spelled in Russian. For this reason, written Lak differs greatly from the spoken form.
What are Their Beliefs?
Although the Armenians and Georgians introduced the Gospel in the sixth century, the Lak converted to Islam in the eighth century. It is believed that the Lak were the first people of Dagestan to encounter Islam. They still enjoy a unique position of cultural and religious prestige among their neighbors.
Today, the Lak are virtually all Shafi'ite Muslim. Islam encourages group solidarity and provides protection. The members help each other find work and housing, arrange marriages, maintain burial societies, and resolve disputes. Yet, some of the rural Lak still observe many pre-Islamic planting, harvesting, and animal breeding rituals.
What are Their Needs?
Dagestan is the most solid bastion of conservative Islam in the former USSR. With the increasing popularity of Islam and the growing influence of Muslim politicians, hundreds of mosques and Islamic schools have been re-opened. There is virtually no Christian witness among the Lak, and no missions agencies are working among them.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Russia and share Christ with the Lak.
* Pray that the doors of Russia will remain open to the preaching of the Gospel.
* Ask God to use the small number of Lak believers to share the message of salvation with their friends and families.
* Pray that the Jesus film will be used effectively among them.
* Pray that many Christian churches will be planted among the Lak.
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