Introduction / History
Some research indicates that a large people group migrated to Tanzania from West Africa. The Rufiji settled along the river and took that river's name. The Matumbi moved farther south and occupied a series of small hills—(Matumbi means "mountain" in their language). The Ndengereko stayed north of the Rufiji River and lived only along the coastal plain area.
The Ndengereko are the first major coastal group below Dar es Salaam. My guide selected a town on the main road with a population that was primarily Ndengereko. It was about 2:30 p.m., and we were both hungry.
Small restaurants were on each side of the road. We entered one of them and inquired as to what they were serving. "Fish and rice," we were told. We had eaten that menu for several days and we were ready for some beef or goat. Upon making our request, the waitress informed us that only one restaurant was serving meat, and she pointed to the restaurant across the street.
We entered and found only a few customers eating a late lunch. The cook and two waitresses were sitting down to eat their own meal, but they took time to serve us. Then we discovered they were Ndengereko and had the interest and time to visit with us about their people. It was remarkable how the Lord led us to them.
Following a good meal and a nice visit, we asked directions to the town chairman's office. When we arrived, we found the chairman to be a bit suspicious of our intent. Eventually he accepted our explanation and offered to take us to an elderly gentleman who could share the history of their people and town.
After discussing the origin of the Ndengereko, I asked if the tribe had always been Islamic. The old man said, "No. Islam came with the Arab slave traders who taught us to be Muslims." Our attention turned to the subject of slavery and the involvement of the Ndengereko in the slave trade. He explained that his tribe was already practicing slavery before the arrival of the Arabs, which made it easy to cooperate with them.
I asked if David Livingstone ever visited their area, but I learned he had never passed that way. Upon inquiring about the presence of a church or Christians in their town, the chairman responded, "There are none, and if there were they would not be permitted to live among us." Later I discovered that a church had been built in a neighboring village but was completely demolished by the local people just a few months earlier.
Our departure was cordial, and a small relational bridge was built. However, it was easy to see that the typical approach – witnessing, distributing literature, conducting open-air meetings, sending a pastor and building a church – may not be the best method to use in presenting the gospel to the Ndengereko. May the Lord raise up a committed messenger with a creative approach to gain favor and for an open door to present the gospel.