Afar in Djibouti

Provided by Joshua Project
Afar
Photo Source:  Kerry Olson 
Map Source:  Joshua Project / Global Mapping International
People Name: Afar
Country: Djibouti
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 316,000
World Population: 2,545,000
Primary Language: Afar
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.03 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Afar
Affinity Bloc: Horn of Africa Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Afar (Danakil) claim to be descendants of Noah's son - Ham. They are located in the East African countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The Afar of Djibouti live either along the coastline bordering Ethiopia, or in a portion of the Danakil Desert that stretches across Ethiopia into Eritrea. Djibouti is sometimes called "a valley of hell" because it has one of the hottest, driest climates in the world.

The Danakil prefer to be known as the Afar, since the Arabic word danakil is an offensive term to them. The Afar consist of two sub-groups: the Asaemara ("red ones"), who are the more prestigious and powerful nobles living along the coast; and the Adaemara ("white ones"), who are the commoners living primarily in the mountains and the desert. The Danakil are a proud people, emphasizing a man's strength and bravery. Prestige comes from killing one's enemies.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Most of the Afar are nomads who herd sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. Some of the Asaemara living on the coast are fishermen. A man's wealth, however, is measured by the size of his herds. The women are responsible for tending the sheep, cows, and goats, and for looking after the camp. The men care for the camels and donkeys, and take down the camp when it is time to move.

Although some Muslims are permitted to have four wives, Afar marriages are usually monogamous. Girls may marry as early as age ten. Marriages between first cousins are preferred, particularly between a man and his father's sister's daughter. The night of the full moon is favored for a wedding ceremony, and the presence of someone able to read the Koran is required.

Meat and milk are the major components of the Afar diet. Milk is also an important social "offering". For instance, when a guest is given fresh warm milk to drink, the host is implying that he will provide immediate protection for the guest. If a person is killed while under the protection of an Afar, his death must be avenged as if he were a member of the clan.

The Afar live in camps surrounded by thorn barricades, which protect them from the attacks of wild animals or enemy tribesmen. Their oval-shaped huts, called ari, are made of palm mats and are easily moved. Market day is important to the Danakil. Some travel great distances to sell cattle, camels, goats, sheep, butter, and straw mats. In turn, they buy items such as coffee, sugar, matches, and soap.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Early in their history, the Afar were heavily influenced by the Islamic religion; and today, Islam is still held in great esteem. The people do not eat pork and rarely drink alcohol. Those who can afford to do so, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. In addition, many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs are also prevalent among the Danakil. They believe that certain trees and groves have sacred powers. They also have various religious rites such as anointing their bodies with ghee (a type of butter). Spirits of the dead are believed to be very powerful, and a "feast of the dead", called Rabena, is celebrated each year. They also give annual offerings to the sea to ensure safety for their villages. Many people wear protective leather amulets that contain herbs and verses from the Koran.

What Are Their Needs?

One of the most serious problems in Djibouti is drought. Unfortunately, there is a lack of industry and natural resources to combat the problem.

Currently, the region is also under much political pressure. Since Djibouti gained its independence in 1977, tension between the Somali and the Danakil has increased. The Somalians feel the loss of a missing colony; Djibouti contains a vital part of the railway line that links Ethiopia to the outside world. Hence, both want control of the region.

The few Afar who have converted to Christianity are isolated. They are also pressured by their relatives to return to Islam. They need the Holy Spirit's strength to hold onto their faith in Christ.

Prayer Points

* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth additional laborers into Djibouti.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Afar.
* Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to this tribe.
* Pray for the small number of Afar believers and ask God to give them opportunities to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong Afar church for the glory of His name!

Text Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center