The Gola of West Africa
A Cluster of 2 Gola groups from 2 West African countries
Most of the Gola live in western Liberia, primarily in the districts of Lofa, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Montserrando. Nearly nine thousand others live in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone, where they are concentrated in the small provinces of Kenema and Pujehun. The Gola speak a Niger-Congo language, also called Gola, that is closely related to the language of the Kissi.
Gola and Kissi migrations into western Liberia began as early as the 1300's, when they left their homes in the Ivory Coast and beyond. During that time, much of what is now Sierra Leone and Liberia was uninhabited, tropical rain forests. Since that time, a large portion of the land has been cleared for cultivation. Today, the Gola of Liberia and Sierra Leone are skilled farmers.
The Gola have slender builds and, like their Kissi neighbors, have lighter skin than other Liberian groups. They are known as a very proud people. They are organized into clans, which tend to be more like territorial units rather than kinship groups.
What are their lives like?
The Gola live in villages that are scattered throughout the forests of the area. They live in round huts that have mud walls and thatched roofs. Family ties are strong and all of the family members work together to cultivate and harvest their crops. The men's duties include clearing the fields and cultivating the land. The women and children help by planting the rice and other crops such as yams, groundnuts, and taro (a tropical plant having a large, starchy, edible root). One of the boys' responsibilities is to guard the crops by chasing birds and animals away from the fields. Women harvest the crops, and the girls winnow the rice.
For a majority of the Gola, life revolves around farming. It is no wonder, then, that their main ceremonies and initiation rites are associated with agriculture. No one is permitted to harvest his crops until the offerings of the first fruits to the gods are carried out. Yearly yam and groundnut harvests are also celebrated. During times of drought, a village elder (acting on behalf of the entire community) offers a prayer for rain to a god known as Da. The elder prays while holding the skull of an ancestor. Afterwards, he sacrifices an animal to Da, usually a chicken, and pours its blood over the skull.
Among the Gola, circumcision is the most important initiation rite for a young boy. It is regarded as a time of cleansing and putting away of the "filth" of life. Circumcision is considered a type of rebirth, and death to one's former self. It is also a form of affiliation with the gods. For a month after circumcision, the boy is secluded and can talk to no one. Afterwards, he is showered with gifts of chickens, beer, and arrows. He is then considered a man—a responsible person who must show respect to his family members and elders. As a man, he can become a member of various religious cults.
What are their beliefs?
Over 20% of the Gola still adhere to their traditional religious or animistic beliefs (belief that non-living objects have spirits). Ancestor worship is also commonly practiced. The Gola believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for. These spirits are said to become hungry and dissatisfied when they are not properly appeased, turning into evil spirits.
Tied closely to their worship of ancestral spirits is their belief in reincarnation (continuous cycle of death and rebirth). When someone dies, he is believed to be reborn into the family of either his father or his mother. For this reason, the names of ancestors are used over and over again.
What are their needs?
Discipleship training is desperately needed for the small number of Gola believers. Bible teachings via Christian radio and television broadcasts, additional long-term missionaries, and evangelistic materials are needed to effectively reach this group with the message of salvation. Above all, intercessors are needed to faithfully stand in the gap for the Gola, 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.
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© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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