The Beja of Eritrea
The Beja are a group of nomadic shepherds who live scattered across the desert regions of Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea. With a total population of nearly one million, they represent the largest non-Arabic ethnic group between the Nile River and the Red Sea. They are often referred to as the "Fuzzy Wuzzies" because of their enormous crown of knotted hair. They are an aggressive people with small, strong, wiry frames; long noses; and oval faces.
The Beja are the descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush (son of Ham). They are a native African people who have occupied their current homelands for more than 4,000 years. During that time, they mixed with other Arab tribes, adopting their Islamic religion. The 101,000 Beja in Eritrea are divided into two tribes: the Ababda and the Beni Amer. They inhabit approximately 20,000 square miles (50,000 square km) in the northernmost region of the country. In the last decade, thousands have been driven into Sudan because of war and drought.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The semi-tropical climate of Eritrea is influenced by the hot, dry air from the Sahara and Arabian Deserts. The southern part of the country only gets about four inches (100 mm) of rainfall a year. The Beja migrate with their herds of cattle and camels in search of better grazing land. They have expertise in caring for animals, which is portrayed in their tribal songs and folklore.
The Beni Amer, unlike other Beja tribes, belong to a confederation of nomadic groups that have united as a single political unit. Their social system is unusual because it resembles a "caste" system. Since 1948, the Ethiopian government has strongly discouraged this system.
The Beja nomads live in portable tents that are built by the women. The tents are rectangular in shape and are made of woven, black or gray goat hair. Their daily diet consists of dairy products (especially camel's milk), beef, and some grain. They traditionally wore animal skin clothes; however, today it is more common to wear manufactured clothing. They are dependent on cash to purchase clothes and other desired goods. The Beja's view of the "good life" is to have large herds and to live in green, well-watered pastures.
The Beja are divided into clans. They are named after their ancestors, and the line of descent is traced through the males. Each clan has its own pastures and water sites that may be used by others with their permission. Clans vary from one to twelve families. Disputes between clans are often settled by traditional Beja law; but most day-to-day affairs are managed by the heads of the families. The Beja are a hospitable people, always showing kindness to other clans; however, they are not necessarily friendly to foreigners.
Only the wealthiest Beja have more than one wife. After a marriage contract has been made, a large gift of livestock, clothing, and other goods is given to the bride's family. The goal of young couples is to have many male children and to acquire a great number of female camels.
What Are Their Belief?
All of the Beja are Muslims; however, they practice what is known as "folk Islam." This can be attributed to the fact that their conversion to Islam was largely motivated by their desire to retaliate against Turkish rulers. Today, their beliefs are interwoven with a rich variety of traditional superstitions. For example, the Beja believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe in wicked jinnis (spirits capable of taking on animal forms) and other invisible spirits. The Beja believe that evil spirits can cause sickness, madness, and accidents. Black magic is practiced and animal sacrifices are used in sacred pagan ceremonies. They have adopted many Islamic practices such as repeating prayers, but these prayers are often not understood.
What Are Their Needs?
Although one missions agency is now targeting this people group, there are still no known Beja believers. Evangelistic tools, added laborers, and increased intercession are the keys to reaching them with the Gospel of Christ.
- Pray against the spirit of Islam mingled with witchcraft that is keeping the Beja bound.
- Ask God to raise up prayer teams that will break up the ground through worship and intercession.
- Pray for God to speed the completion of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials into the Bedawiye language.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to grant favor to the missions agency that is currently targeting the Beja.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into Bedawiye.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Beja toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
- Pray that God will begin revealing Himself to these precious Muslims through dreams and visions.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Beja by the year 2000.
The Beja of Ethiopia, and
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Beja (Ben Amer)
- Country: Eritrea
- Their language: Bedawye
- Largest religion:
- Christians: 0%
- Church members: 0
- Scriptures in their own language: None
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 13,100 (13%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 87,900 (87%)
- Country: Eritrea
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 11
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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