The Wolof are a large ethnic group usually located in the West African countries of Senegal and Gambia. In recent decades, however, the expansion of peanut cultivation and an acceleration towards urbanization has motivated many of the Wolof to spread out into several other West African countries. There they hope to make use of the land and find better jobs in the cities. Hundreds of years ago, the Wolof conquered many tribes in the northwestern Senegal area. By the end of the 1300s the Wolof had grown into a large empire of separate, self-governing states. By the 1500s, the empire had split into four major Wolof kingdoms. The French expanded into Senegal during the 1800s, making it a colony of French West Africa. Wolof leaders of the resistance to the French were often charismatic Sufi Muslim leaders, who have since become folk heroes. Islam became a focal point of resistance to the French. European influences are still a part of Wolof culture, which are seen in village and social customs. The Wolof often speak French fluently; they use it as a trade language along with their own tongue.
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 small time 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 between the three classes has always been rare. 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. Wolof women, are known for their beauty. They dress fashionably and wear sophisticated hairstyles. In fact, they are often the fashion-setters for women throughout West Africa. Unfortunately, the men are not expected to take precautions with irresponsible sex habits. Despite their Islamic beliefs, pre-marital sex is expected among the Wolof people, especially in an urban setting. The Wolof prefer marriages to be between a man and a woman who is the daughter of his mother's brother. A man often has two wives. 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 small time farmers. The main cash crop for the small time farmers is peanuts. They sell huge sacks of peanuts to traders and use the earnings to provide new clothes, household utensils, blankets, and tobacco. They also grow okra, peppers, beans, and tomatoes in gardens around their houses. Their basic dietary crops include sorghum and millet. They eat a thick porridge for breakfast. Their evening meal usually consists of a steaming grain 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. They build fences 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 there is usually a mosque 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?
Islam and Wolof identity are closely intertwined. Islamic jihads and resistance to the French colonial powers solidified the Wolof people's commitment to Islam. The rallied behind Sufi Muslim leaders and holy men known as marabouts. Marabout leaders are still honored and followed unquestioningly by many Wolof today. Some of them are charged with giving Wolof boys a good Muslim education where they learn the Koran, but most of these boy's time is spent begging for money to bring to these religious teachers. The literacy rate is low among the Wolof people. Despite their Islamic beliefs, the Wolof also believe in bad and good spirits as well as witches. They think that all of these live in their villages. Evil spirits live in tall trees or grassy areas. The Wolof wear amulets to protect them from these evil spirits. To make important decisions, they consult a marabout, or spiritual leader with supernatural powers.
What Are Their Needs?
The Wolof are closed to putting their faith in Christ. They view Christianity as being for someone else, and there is much community pressure to conform to Islam. Today, most of the Wolof groups have a number of Christian resources available to them, and mission agencies have focused on Wolof communities. There is a great need for laborers who are sensitive to the Wolof culture to take Christ to them in a way they can understand and embrace.
Pray for good schools and hospitals to meet the needs of the Wolof people. Pray for the Lord to thrust out Holy Spirit anointed workers to the Wolof people. Pray for the Wolof people to recognize their need for the only Savior, Jesus Christ. Pray for an unstoppable Disciple Making Movement among the Wolof people.
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