The Yalunka of West Africa
A Cluster of 4 Yalunka Groups in 4 countries
The Yalunka are a Mandingo people who were one of the original inhabitants of the Futa Jallon (or Fouta Djalon), a mountainous region in West Africa. It is the source of the headwaters of the Gambia, Niger, and Senegal Rivers. The Yalunka are also known as the Dialonke or Jallonke, which literally means "inhabitants of the Jallon (mountains)." In the eighteenth century, many of the Yalunka were dispersed from the Futa Jallon by the Fulani, another vast people group in the region.
Today, the Yalunka number about 200,000 and are concentrated mostly in the country of Guinea. Some also live in Senegal, southwestern Mali, and northeastern Sierra Leone. Their language, also called Yalunka, belongs to the Mandingo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Yalunka is easily understood by those who speak Soso, another Manding language. In fact, the Yalunka often refer to themselves as Soso, and some scholars see the two as one group. The Yalunka region has tall grass with a few trees and some bush areas. The country is hilly, and most of it is 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level.
What are their lives like?
The Yalunka are primarily subsistence farmers, with rice and millet being their staple crops. Peanuts, sweet potatoes, maize, and beans are also grown. Chickens, herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep and goats are kept. Animals such as goats and cattle are also very important because they serve as bride-price payments. The animals are given to the girl's family before the marriage takes place. These animals are also valuable as a means of economic exchange, and are used for providing milk.
Among the Yalunka, herding is done by the children. The women milk the cattle, churn the butter, and help the men in some of the agricultural work. Honey is another important commodity among the Yalunka. It is gathered by suspending large water tight baskets in trees. The bees use the baskets as hives. Every year, between four and six gallons of honey may be gathered in each basket.
The Yalunka prefer to live in large settlements and villages as opposed to small ones. Many of the large settlements have remained in their current locations since the eighteenth century. The Yalunka society is basically patriarchal, which means that the family households are headed by the men. A household typically consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried children. The family is the major social unit for the Yalunka. Extended households, which consist of two or more married men and their families, may also adjoin the nuclear family, forming an extended family compound. The Yalunka live in round huts that have brick walls and cone-shaped, straw-thatched roofs. Within the village or settlement, the huts are grouped in compounds around a courtyard and are surrounded by a fence.
Polygyny (having multiple wives) is a common practice among the Yalunka. According to Islamic law, a man may have up to four wives. However, his first wife has authority over any subsequent wives. The husband has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them. He also helps the wives' parents when necessary. The wives' duties include maintaining the house, preparing the meals, washing the clothes, and helping with the farm work.
What are their beliefs?
The Yalunka also believe that witches have the power to change into animals and cause harm to the villagers. Some put curses on victims' houses to ruin their crops. Special rituals are performed by diviners or sorcerers to keep the witches and evil N'iena away from farms and households.
What are their needs?
Much prayer, further missionary efforts, and additional evangelistic tools are needed to penetrate this people group with the Truth. Above all, they need people who will begin to faithfully intercede for them, tearing down the strongholds that are keeping them in spiritual bondage. Only then will their hearts be prepared to receive the Gospel as it is presented to them.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.