The Masalit of North Central Africa
A cluster of 3 closely related groups in 2 countries.
It is unclear whether the word Massalat is an Arabic form of "Masalit," or if the Massalat are actually an offshoot of the Dar Masalit people. It is certain, however, that the two groups are in close contact with each other and share similar customs and traditions. Both the Masalit and the Massalat speak Maba languages from the Nilo-Saharan language family.
In times past, the Masalit were known as fierce warriors who fought hard to protect their independence. Today, they are becoming more settled as a result of outside political, economic, and cultural influences.
What Are Their Lives Like?
In addition to farming, the Masalit raise cattle, sheep, and goats, which are helpful in fertilizing their fields, as well as providing milk for the villagers. Though donkeys were their only means of transportation in the past, camels purchased from Arab nomads have recently become an important means of transportation.
Both men and women cultivate the fields, own land and animals, make decisions, and store their harvests separately. Although they share most of the household tasks, including raising the children, all of their financial responsibilities are kept separate. Some of the older Masalit children have their own fields where they cultivate their own crops.
Generally, the men tend to the livestock while the women cook, care for the young children, gather wood, and draw water. Economic activities are usually the responsibility of each individual. Therefore, each person takes responsibility for his own work.
Most of the Masalit live as nuclear families in village settlements. Their homes are made from forest products. The walls are made of grass mats, and the cone-shaped roofs are thatched with wild grasses. They are round in shape and their frames are held up by strong wooden posts and poles. The huts are situated closely together to form small compounds. The compounds are surrounded by fences made from millet stalks. Each village consists of several compounds.
Inside each village is a central masik, which is a shaded clearing where men gather to eat, drink, pray, socialize, and discuss village affairs. The women do not socialize at the masik, but visit one another at the village well or in each other's homes.
Masalit marriages generally take place between young couples in their early 20's. Polygamy (the practice of having multiple wives) is permitted and most men have two wives, sometimes more. Unfortunately, divorce is common among the Masalit.
Before a marriage is finalized, a man must pay a bride-price to the woman's family. He is also required to build a house in the bride's mother's compound. The couple will live in that house for at least one year while the new husband works in his mother-in-law's fields. When the couple has their first child, they then decide whether or not to stay in their home, or resettle near the husband's family. This decision largely depends on the availability of fields.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Masalit are increasingly becoming more orthodox in their faith. Islamic laws dominate their political and social lives, as well as their values. Today, most Masalit abstain from alcohol, pray five times a day, and seek religious counsel for important matters.
What Are Their Needs?
Although a few missions agencies are currently working among the Masalit of Chad, there are none targeting the groups in Sudan. Fervent intercession and further evangelistic efforts must be made in order to help turn the hearts of the Masalit toward the Truth.Prayer Points
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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