Zenaga in Senegal

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People Name: Zenaga
Country: Senegal
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 500
World Population: 1,600
Primary Language: Zenaga
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Unspecified
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: No
People Cluster: Berber-Saharan
Affinity Bloc: Arab World
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

Zenaga is a Berber language. Berbers generally prefer to call themselves Amazigh, meaning free men. They are the original inhabitants of North Africa, which has been overrun by the Roman Empire, and later by the Arabs in the 600s. Since that time, they have largely been "Arabized" meaning their language and culture have been influenced by the Arabs. But they still yearn for freedom no matter where they live.

In general, Berbers feel that the more powerful Arabs have controlled them, though the two groups have often worked together throughout history. Berber groups like the Zenaga speakers would love to have complete freedom, but there are more powerful groups wherever they live. In the case of the Zenagas who live in Mauritania, the Moors are a powerful ethnic group.

Zenaga was widely spoken in the country until around 500 years ago but after a military victory for the Moors, the language of most tribes gradually changed to Hassaniya Arabic – albeit with some vocabulary loaned from Zenaga. Marabout tribes, who specialised in Islamic religious learning, retained the language for the longest time.

Where Are they Located?

Zenaga speakers live in either south-western Mauritania or northern Senegal. In the mid-20th century, they were described as a group of nomadic tribes in an area roughly bounded by Saint-Louis and Podor (Senegal), and Boutilimit and Nouakchott (in Mauritania) although not within these cities. The people group would therefore be mostly located in and around the town of Mederdra, in the what is now known as the Trarza region.

What Are Their Lives Like?

It is highly possible that Zenaga Berbers are not satisfied with their economic situation or the lack of good roads, potable water or electricity. Their lifestyle has traditionally been rural, nomadic and tribal and the use of the Zenaga has declined over time in favour of Hassaniya Arabic. The Trarza region of Mauritania is mainly desert apart from a thin belt of arable farmland along the Senegal River and its delta.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The primary religion practised by the Zenaga Berbers in Mauritania is Sunni Islam, the largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims follow the teachings of the Qur 'an and consider the first four caliphs to be the rightful successors of Muhammad. As some Zenaga people have traditionally held a role as marabouts (religious leaders and teachers), they may be a relatively high level of education and influence in their communities.

What Are Their Needs?

There are few if any Christian materials in their language. The decline of the language is likely to correspond with a long-term sense of cultural decline and a concern about how or whether they can pass on their way of life to the next generation. The language is considered highly endangered and is mainly spoken by people aged over 45 years of age.

Prayer Points

Scripture Prayers for the Zenaga in Mauritania.
There are no Zenaga speakers who have embraced Jesus Christ, so pray for the Holy Spirit to move in their communities in the coming years.
Pray for opportunities for Zenaga speakers to hear and respond to Jesus Christ, despite the fact they live in a closed country.
Pray for a Disciple-Making movement to move through Zenaga communities in both Mauritania and Senegal
For guidance as the Zenaga people face uncertainty and seek to maintain their culture in Mauritanian society

Text Source:   Keith Carey, et al.