The Zerma of Nigeria
The Zerma may have originated from the country of Mali, emigrating southward centuries ago. They speak Zarma, a dialect of the Songhai from the Nilo-Saharan language family. These aggressive, aristocratic people are the second largest group in Niger. They are known as honest and hard-working by the neighboring countries.
The region the Zerma inhabit consists of sandstone plateaus, dome-shaped hills, and plains that flood easily during the rainy season. In this grassland region, freshwater swamps often give way to tropical rain forests. Animals such as leopards, lions, monkeys, and wild pigs roam about freely.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Many children are desired because individual farms are worked only by family members. The head of the household distributes fields to each individual for farming purposes. The Zerma also raise chickens and some cattle. The cattle are usually only slaughtered and eaten during religious ceremonies and festivals.
Some of the Zerma men travel South each year to distant towns where they trade along the Guinea coast. In those towns, the word "Zerma" has become synonymous with "cloth trader."
The windi (household) is the basic social unit among the Zerma, because it combines reproduction, consumption, and production within itself. A typical village house is either round and has mud walls, or is rectangular and has walls made of sun-dried mud bricks. The houses usually have straw thatched roofs. The oldest male is the head of the house. When a man has more than one wife, each wife has a separate dwelling for her and her children.
Zerma children are basically timid and a shameful expression is expected when they are conversing with superiors; they tend to look down when called. By age six or so, children are expected to know the difference between right and wrong, and they begin to do light work in preparation for their future role as adults. Boys usually tend to the farm animals, while girls care for the younger children. They also pound millet and sell food in the villages.
Zerma basketry is the most notable art in the culture. Daum-palm leaves have many uses: women make colorful mats and covers from them, and men make ropes. Women also make pottery and woven blankets.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Zerma follow the usual Islamic practices of prayer, fasting, and making sacrifices. However, they also take part in various cults, which involve spirit-possession, spirit worship, and magic. The cults are headed by priests who have been possessed by evil spirits and are said to have healing powers. The Zerma believe that there are several different types of spirits: those that bring illness or death; ghosts or "cold" spirits; and those who control the forces of nature.
What Are Their Needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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