The Dendi of Niger
Many years ago, the Dendi traveled as merchants throughout the Niger River Valley, selling their goods and services and settling along the principal caravan routes. Today, they have become an influential group with significant political influence in regional politics. In some of the larger cities, the Dendi form a very powerful commercial elite. Many continue to work as merchants, while others are farmers.
The Dendi have intermarried with the local peoples in the regions in which they live. In some ways, such as religion, they have become indistinguishable from them. Like other Songhai groups, they are completely Muslim.
What are their lives like?
Many Dendi also raise animals such as cattle, camels, sheep, goats, and chickens. In contrast to their southern neighbors, the Dendi milk their cows and goats, and make butter from the milk.
Regular markets exist on both local and regional levels, with the caravan trade still playing an important role in the Dendi economy. Cotton fabrics, leather goods, kola nuts, salt, dried fish, and other articles are among some of the items traded.
Each Dendi village is composed of an extended family linked to a common male ancestor. This group is then divided into sub-groups and further into household units. Each household unit consists of a married son, his wives, and their children. Most men have more than one wife, and each wife has her own hut. There, she will raise her children until they marry or are old enough to move out on their own. The first wife enjoys a privileged status and is considered the "chief" over the other wives. Marriage raises a man to a senior status; therefore, most men do not usually marry until they are in their late twenties. Girls, on the other hand, marry while in their early teens. All children belong to the husband's lineage group, even in cases of divorce.
In the rural areas, individual huts of a household unit are round and made with mud or mat walls and have round, thatched roofs. In the larger towns and cities, however, houses are rectangular and have sun-dried brick walls and roofs made of beaten earth. An interior courtyard is located in the center of these houses and is used as a place to keep the animals, store grain, and receive guests. A number of these houses together forms a household unit, which is fortified or protected with walls of brick or stone laid in mud.
What are their beliefs?
Most Dendi live in rural areas and keep some of their traditional religious practices in conjunction with Islam. The belief in natural forces and spirits forms the basis of their ethnic religion. They still depend on elders and specialists, who they believe are able to tell the secrets of nature and spirits.
What are their needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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