Prayer Profile
The Danakil of Eritrea

[IMAGE] The Danakil claim to be descendants of the son of Noah, as recorded in the Bible. They are located in the East African countries of Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The Danakil prefer to be known as the Afar, since the Arabic word danakil is an offensive term to them. They are a proud people, emphasizing a man's strength and bravery. Prestige comes, as it always has, from killing one's enemies.

The Afar consist of two sub-groups: the Asaemara ("red ones"), who are the more prestigious and powerful nobles living along the coast; and the Adaemara ("white ones"), who are the commoners living in the mountains and the Danakil Desert. Those who live in the desert inhabit one of the most rugged areas in the world. One region, known as the Danakil Depression, consists of a vast plain of salt pans and active volcanoes. Much of it lies 200 feet below sea level and has daily temperatures as high as 125° F. The average yearly rainfall is less than seven inches.

What are their lives like?
Most of the Danakil are nomads who herd sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. A man's wealth is measured by the size of his herds. The women are responsible for tending the sheep, cows, and goats, and for looking after the camp. The men care for the camels and donkeys, and take down the camp when it is time to move.

Not all of the Danakil are herdsmen. Some of the Asaemara who live on the coast are fishermen, while many of the Adaemara mine salt. Those who work in the Danakil Depression pry loose slabs of solid salt during the dry season, supplying ready-to-use salt in the form of crude blocks.

Although Muslims are permitted to have four wives, Danakil marriages are usually monogamous. A man is not allowed to marry until he has killed another man; and girls marry as early as age ten. Marriages between first cousins are preferred, particularly between a man and his father's sister's daughter. The night of the full moon is favored for a wedding ceremony, and the presence of someone able to read the Koran is required.

Meat and milk are the major components of the Danakil diet. Milk is also an important social "offering." For instance, when a guest is given fresh warm milk to drink, the host is implying that he will provide immediate protection for the guest. If a person is killed while under the protection of a Danakil, his death must be avenged as if he were a member of the clan.

The Danakil live in camps surrounded by thorn barricades, which protect them from the attacks of wild animals or enemy tribesmen. Their oval-shaped huts, called ari, are made of palm mats and are easily moved.

What are their beliefs?
Early in their history, the Danakil were heavily influenced by the Islamic religion; and today, Islam is still held in great esteem. The people do not eat pork and rarely drink alcohol. Those who can afford to do so, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. In addition, many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs are also prevalent among the Danakil. They believe that certain trees and groves have sacred powers. They also have various religious rites such as anointing their bodies with ghee (a type of butter). Spirits of the dead are believed to be very powerful, and a "feast of the dead," called Rabena, is celebrated each year. They also give annual offerings to the sea to ensure safety for their villages. Many people wear protective leather amulets that contain herbs and verses from the Koran.

What are their needs?
Because the Danakil are a proud, independent people, they have had a very turbulent history. In recent times, the government has built houses with kitchens and bathrooms—luxuries previously unknown to these nomads. Nevertheless, most of the Danakil have been unwilling to exchange the freedoms of living in the desert for the comforts of city life.

There is a great need for pure water sources for the Danakil and their herds. In recent years, they have suffered because of famines and drought in the region.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth additional laborers intoEritrea.
  • Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Danakil.
  • Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to this tribe.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • Pray for the small number of Danakil believers and ask God to give them opportunities to share Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Danakil bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Danakil church for the glory of His name!

See also:
The Danakil of Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Danakil
  • Country: Eritrea
  • Their language: Afar
  • Population: (1990) 251,800
    (1995) 288,500
    (2000) 328,800
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 29
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 5
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 83,700 (29%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 8,700 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 75,000 (26%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 204,800 (71)
  • Country: Eritrea
  • Population: (1990) 3,081,700
    (1995) 3,531,400
    (2000) 4,025,100
  • Major peoples in size order: Tigrai 54.4%
    Tigre 19.6%
    Danakil 8.1%
    Bilen 3.5%
    Beni Amer2.8%
  • Major religions: Muslim 52%
    Christian 45.9%
    Ethnic Religionist 1.4%
  • Number of denominations: 11

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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