Introduction / History
The Senoufo peoples began to emerge as a people group somewhere in the 15th or 16th century. They were well-known by the 17th century especially regarding powerful kingdoms in this region. The various Senoufo groups live in the Middle Volta region of West Africa which includes parts of Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso. They are divided into three major groups: Northern, Central, and Southern, according to the three distinct language divisions. As a whole the Senoufo tribes speak over thirty dialects, one of which is Cebaara. The Tyelibele Senoufo speak this language. In the 1700s, Dyula traders settled among the Southern Senoufo. They eventually overpowered the Senoufo and raised up their own rulers. Kong became their Islamic capital, but Islam was once again limited to the elite. In general terms, Islam hasn't reached the Senoufo masses even today. Slavery was a sore spot on Senoufo history. They were enslaved by the Denkyira and Akan tribes, and they also enslaved others. Senoufo owners of the slaves could impregnate the women, and her offspring would also be slaves.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Tyelibele and other Senoufo groups are subsistence farmers. They have been admired as skilled agriculturists, cultivating dry rice, yams, peanuts, and millet in the grasslands that are prevalent in their region. One of the most important ways for a male to gain prestige is to become a sambali, which is a "champion cultivator." A sambali is respected throughout his lifetime and upholds the honor of his residential settlement before the entire village and surrounding district. One important aspect of Tyelibele society is its concept of "community." They think of themselves as one group, with all of their ideas pointing in the same direction. The concept of the "individual" is known only in limited circumstances; thus, no man stands alone. Instead, each person is thought of as part of an extended family, a member of the village, the elder or younger brother, etc. Everyone eats as a group and dips into a common dish. The fields are worked collectively, food is stored collectively, and each family contributes to the village. A Tyelibele Senoufo is always aware of his place in the society as it relates to others in the group. To them, the good of the community always comes before the good of the individual. Unless the entire tribe makes a change, such as converting to a different religion, no one does. Those who want to take Christ to these people will need to remember this communal aspect of their culture and try to bring about a people group movement, probably starting with those at the top. Another important feature of Tyelibele life is the poro or "male secret society." The poro prepares men for leadership in the community, so that they might attain wisdom, accept responsibility, and gain power. It begins with the child's grade of "discovery," followed by extensive training and service. It ends with the ritual death of the child and the final graduation of the "finished man." Dramatic ceremonies, dances, and visual displays mark the passage from one grade to the next. When the man reaches about 30 years of age, the initiation is complete and he is considered an adult. He then becomes one of the elders with whom the chief consults on major decisions. Poro sanctuaries are hidden inside dense groves of trees outside the Tyelibele Senoufo villages. These sacred groves are used as schools, meeting houses, and places of worship. Since World War II, their homeland has become more commercialized and urbanized. Today, the young men have opportunities to move to the cities and earn money. This has weakened the influences that Tyelibele fathers formerly had over their sons. The importance of the communal nature of their society has also declined. Unfortunately, the weakening of these two areas has allowed Islam to begin seeping into the cracks of this rapidly changing society.
What Are Their Beliefs?
About one-fourth of the Tyelibele are Muslim, although that figure is steadily increasing. The remainder continues to practice their traditional ethnic religions. The belief in various gods, ancestral spirits, and bush spirits, along with participation in witchcraft, magic, and cults are all a part of daily life for most Tyelibele. However, there are Christians among them who can potentially take Christ to others in a language they can understand.
What Are Their Needs?
Although most of the Senoufo groups are the focus of one or more mission agencies, many of their subgroups are far from reached including the Tyelibele. Today, Senoufo society is rapidly changing. The Senoufo need an opportunity to hear the truth of Christ before there is a total conversion to Islam. Intense prayers and increased evangelism efforts must be made in order to reach them with the Good News.
Pray for Holy Spirit directed prayer and evangelism among the Tyelibele Senoufo people. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give the Tyelibele people teachable and understanding hearts. Pray that a strong movement of the Holy Spirit will bring entire families into a rich experience of God's blessing. Pray for Tyelibele families to be drawn by the Holy Spirit to seek forgiveness, and to understand the adequacy of Christ's work on the cross.
Scripture Prayers for the Senoufo, Tyelibele in Côte d'Ivoire.