Beja, Hedareb in Eritrea

Map Source:  People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Beja, Hedareb
Country: Eritrea
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 209,000
World Population: 2,789,000
Primary Language: Bedawiyet
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Portions
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Beja
Affinity Bloc: Horn of Africa Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

Beja are a group of nomadic shepherds who live scattered across the desert regions of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea. Beja represent the largest non-Arabic ethnic group between the Nile River and the Red Sea. The Bejas believe they are the descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush, the son of Ham. They have occupied their current homelands for more than 4,000 years. During that time, they adopted their Islamic religion. Beja in Sudan are divided into four tribes: the Hadendowa, the Amarar, the Ababda, and the Beni Amer. There are also smaller subgroups including the Hebarabs. They inhabit over 110,000 square miles (284,800 square km) in eastern Sudan. Their native language is called Bedawiya, although many are also fluent in Arabic or Tigre.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The semi-tropical climate of Sudan is influenced by the hot, dry air from the Sahara and Arabian Deserts. The southern part of the country only gets about 10-15 inches (250-380 mm) of rainfall a year. Beja people are traditionally nomadic shepherds who migrate annually with their herds. In the north, small groups of nomads raise flocks of sheep, goats, camels, and cattle. Some Beja have become more settled and engage in farming, usually sorghum. Farmers who live along the Red Sea Coast and the Atbarah River raise commercial crops such as cotton and grains, while herding their flocks. Beja nomads live in portable tents that are put up and dismantled by the women. The tents are curved in shape and are made of woven palm fronds. More settled farmers live in mud-walled houses. The daily diet of the Hedarab Beja people consists of dairy products (especially camel's milk), beef, and some grain. They traditionally wore animal skin clothes. Today, however, they wear manufactured clothing. They are dependent on cash to purchase clothes and other desired goods. Their view of the "good life" is to have large herds and to live in green, well-watered pastures. Beja people are divided into clans. They are named after their ancestors, and they trace the line of descent through the males. Each clan has its own pastures and water sites that may be used by others with permission. Clans vary from one to twelve families. Disputes between clans are often settled by traditional Beja law; but most day-to-day affairs are managed by the heads of the families. Beja people are a hospitable people, and they usually show kindness to other clans; however, they are not necessarily friendly to foreigners. Hedarab Beja prefer cross-cousin marriages. After they make a marriage contract, the groom's family gives a large gift of livestock, clothing, and other goods to the bride's family. The goal of young couples is to have many male children and to acquire a great number of female camels. Only the wealthiest Beja can afford more than one wife.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Beja are Muslims; however, they practice what is known as "folk Islam." Their beliefs are interwoven with a wide variety of traditional beliefs. For example, they believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe in wicked jinnis (spirits capable of taking on animal forms) and other invisible spirits. They believe that evil spirits can cause sickness, madness and accidents. They have adopted many Islamic practices such as repeating prayers, but they do not understand these rote prayers. These people depend upon good works to pay the penalty for their sins. They depend upon the spirit world for their daily needs because they regard Allah as too distant. They believe that Allah may determine their eternal salvation, but the spirits determine how well they live in their daily lives. Consequently, they must appease the spirits. They often use charms and amulets to help them deal with spiritual forces.

What Are Their Needs?

Only parts of the Word of God have been translated into the Bedawiyet language of the Beja Hedarab people in Eritrea, however the JESUS Film, and audio resources are also available to them. They need Christian believers who will take Christ to them.

Prayer Points

Ask Almighty God to raise up Holy Spirit anointed believers to go to the Hedarab Beja until they have their own movement to Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit will hasten the completion of accurate evangelistic materials into the Bedawiya language. Ask Lord Jesus to raise up strong discipleship movements and churches fellowships that will strengthen communities and families among the Beja.

Text Source:   Joshua Project