Introduction / History
The Wolof are a large ethnic group with a population of over four million. Most of them are located in the West African countries of Senegal and Gambia. In recent years, however, the expansion of peanut cultivation and an acceleration towards urbanization has motivated many of the Wolof to spread out into Cote d'Ivoire and Mali. There they hoped to make use of the land and find better jobs in the cities. As many as 15,000 may live in New York.
Hundreds of years ago, the Wolof conquered many tribes in the northwestern Senegal area. By the end of the 1300's, the Wolof had grown into a large empire of separate, self-governing states. By the 1500's, the empire had split into four major Wolof kingdoms.
The French expanded into Senegal during the 1800's, making it a colony of French West Africa. In 1946, the Wolof of Senegal were awarded French citizenship, and today, many Wolof have their homes in France. In 1968, Senegal gained its independence. However, European influences are still a part of Wolof culture, which are seen in village and social customs.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Traditionally the Wolof were divided into three classes: the freeborn, those born into slavery, and the artisans. The freeborn class ranged from high-ranking noblemen to common peasant farmers. The slave class was made up of the Wolof whose parents were slaves. They were born into slavery and continued to serve their parent's masters. Finally, the artisans were considered a low class in Wolof society. This group included blacksmiths, leather workers, and musicians. Intermarriage among the three classes was a very rare occurrence.
However much of this class distinction is disappearing among the Wolof. For example, former president Abdou Diouf of Senegal was actually from the blacksmith class.
The Wolof, particularly the women, are known as being very beautiful. They dress fashionably and wear sophisticated hairstyles. In fact, they are often the fashion-setters for others around them. While many of the Wolof have settled in cities and work as merchants, teachers, or government officials, most of them still live in rural areas and work as peasant farmers.
The main cash crop for the peasants is peanuts. Huge sacks of them are sold to traders, and the earnings are used to provide new clothes, household utensils, blankets, and tobacco. Okra, peppers, beans, and tomatoes are also planted in gardens around their houses. Their basic dietary crops include sorghum and millet. For breakfast, grains are prepared as thick porridge. In the evening, grains are prepared as a steaming dish covered with either peanut and tomato sauce or meat and bean sauce. Wolof generally do not like change and are content with the same daily meals.
A typical Wolof village consists of several hundred people living in compounds that are grouped around a central village square. The compounds contain houses made of mud or reeds. Fences are built just inside the compound entrances to block the view of strangers. Public events, such as dancing and wrestling, take place in the village square. A platform used for public meetings is usually located in the center of the square, and a mosque is located on the square's east side.
When outside the village, the Wolof must wear clothing suitable for the occasion and according to one's role in society. While in the public eye, they must look, move, and talk in the appropriate manner, even while shopping in the market.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Virtually all of the Wolof claim to be Muslims. Islam is centered on five basic teachings or "pillars." (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 an obligatory percentage (very similar to tithes) on an annual basis. (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.
Wolof believe in bad and good spirits, as well as witches. They think that all of these live in their villages. Bad spirits live in tall trees or grassy areas. The Wolof wear amulets to protect them from the bad spirits. A marabout, or spiritual leader with supernatural powers, is contacted when making important decisions.
What Are Their Needs?
The Wolof have been closed to Christianity for many years. Today, most of the Wolof groups have a number of Christian resources available to them, and missions agencies have focused on each of the groups. Sadly, however, very few of them have become Christians. There is a great need for laborers who are sensitive to the Muslim culture to work among the Wolof and to share Christ's love.
* Pray for the small number of Wolof believers to have the courage to share the love of Christ with their own people and be strong through persecution.
* Pray for the translation of the Wolof Old Testament.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film, radio, and other evangelistic tools among the Wolof.
* Pray that the Wolof living in the United States would come to know God and return as strong leaders to their people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Wolof.
* Pray that their traditional Muslim culture will soften, creating open doors for the Gospel to be preached among them.
* Ask the Lord to give the Wolof believers opportunities to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Wolof.