The Digo of Kenya
The Digo are an East African tribe with a population of nearly 225,000. They are concentrated on the southern coastal strip of Kenya between Mombasa and the border of Tanzania. It is rather surprising to find that in a country that is 84% Christian, the Digo are more than 90% Muslim.
The Digo are a Bantu tribe and are actually grouped together with eight other tribes. Together these tribes make up the Mijikenda, or "nine towns." Tradition tells us that the nine Mijikenda tribes originated farther north, but were driven south as a result of war.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Digo experienced a time of great famine. It became a common practice for them to give either themselves or their children as kore, or "blood money," to serve as temporary collateral for a loan of food. Sadly, there were many times when the debt could not be redeemed, thus leaving them to live as slaves. Many of the Digo who were brought to Mombasa as slaves later obtained their freedom by converting to Islam.
What are their lives like?
For many years the Digo have been involved in trade with Muslim Arabs. As a result, they have enjoyed a higher standard of living than most of their neighboring tribes. In addition to trading, farming and fishing are two other sources of income for the Digo. Their principal crop is "manioc," a small shrub with thick roots that are eaten like potatoes. They also grow sesame, corn, rice, and beans. "Palm wine" is a popular drink produced from the palm tree.
The Digo tribe formerly lived in large, fortified villages; but today their villages only consist of about 40 huts each. The shape of each hut clearly indicates to the villagers who lives inside. The huts of elders are round, while those of other people are rectangular.
When a young Digo man marries, he must pay the normal bride-price of 4 heads of cattle, 2 goats or sheep, and palm wine. He is then incorporated into the bride's family. Eventually, as he demonstrates leadership qualities, he will be accepted into the body of tribal elders.
What are their beliefs?
Islam is more widely accepted among the Digo than among any of the other Mijikenda tribes. Nevertheless, ties with traditional practices (such as animism and ancestor worship) still have more influence on the Digo community than does Islam. (Animism is the belief that non-human objects have spirits. Ancestor worship is the practice of praying to deceased ancestors for help and guidance.) One example of spiritism is their use of blood sacrifices. Such sacrifices are very significant to the Digo, especially in the exorcism of evil spirits. Witchdoctors are also consulted regularly.
Most of the Digo people over forty years of age have no real understanding of the Koran. Only a few of them have studied Islam in any depth, and most of them have only a superficial knowledge of its principles and doctrines. However, its presence among the Digo over the past eighty years has not gone entirely unnoticed. Its existence has altered both religious and political structures. For example, the people have adopted new attire and diets from their Muslim Arabian neighbors. Although they know no religious significance for wearing the black veil, Digo women wear it to show respect for their husbands. This nominal identification with the Muslim religion is referred to as "folk Islam."
What are their needs?
Even though the nation of Kenya is predominately Christian, the Digo have never been successfully penetrated with the Gospel. There are currently no Christian broadcasts in their area, and only portions of the Bible have been translated into their native language of Chidigo.
Since the Digo are economically self-sufficient, they have no real need to reach out to the nearby Christian-sponsored relief agencies. Materialism is becoming increasingly widespread among them.
Also, the religious practices of the Digo are deeply rooted in spiritism and folk Islam. This makes reaching them a very difficult task.
- Pray that God will cause the Digo people to become dissatisfied with their traditional religions and begin searching for the Truth.
- Pray that God will empower the Kenyan church with the ability and the strategy to reach the Digo tribe with the Gospel.
- Ask God to soften the hearts and open the ears of the Digo people to the Gospel as it is presented to them.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the Bible into Chidigo.
- Pray that Christian broadcasts will be made available in the area of Kenya where the Digo tribe is located.
- Pray for the Christians working nearby the Digo settlements. Ask God to give them open doors of ministry to the Digo tribe.
- Pray that a strong Christian work will be raised up within the Digo tribe by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Digo
- Country: Kenya
- Their language: Digo
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 270
- Scriptures in their own language: Bible
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 6
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 85,600 (39%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 139,1000 (61%)
- Country: Kenya
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 116
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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