Prayer Profile
The Diola of Guinea-Bissau

[IMAGE] The Diola are a widely scattered people. While most of them live in the Ivory Coast, others can be found in Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, and Guinea-Bissau. Some of the Diola migrated to Guinea-Bissau from the east. Others were brought in as slaves during the 1400's when the Portuguese were experimenting with the new idea of slavery; the Diola were their first victims.

The Portuguese colonized Guinea-Bissau in 1879 and turned the area into a center for slave trade. In the 1950's, an African nationalist movement launched the war for independence. In 1974, freedom was granted. The new government promptly established a monopoly over foreign trade. The Diola have had extensive contacts with other people groups through commerce. This has given them worth, since the value of an individual was in his identity as a warrior, a scholar, or a merchant. The Diola speak Dyola (Jula), which is the principal language of trade. The word itself means "itinerant trader."

What are their lives like?
The Diola live in clans, and the clan is the most important aspect of their lives. The people are fiercely loyal to their clans, defending them proudly. They express their history and devotion through the oral traditions of dance and storytelling. Men and women live in separate houses made of mud or cement—the men in round houses and the women in rectangular ones. The father is the head of the family, and inheritances are passed down from fathers to their sons. Older males possess the most power and influence.

The Diola still practice polygamy (multiple spouses), and young people are encouraged to marry within their own clans. Girls usually marry at age 16; boys at age 18.

Since sanitation in the villages is so primitive, only about 13% of the Diola live beyond age 45. In addition, nearly half of the population is under the age 15. Therefore, the Diola have great respect the elderly, especially if a man is an Islamic scholar.

The Diola began settling in towns during the 1500's. Some founded their own independent villages; others chose to settle in established towns. There, they often lived in special separate areas, a practice that is still common today.

The word diola is often used to describe all Muslim merchants, whatever their ethnic or cultural background. In addition to being successful merchants and businessmen, they also breed cattle and grow crops. Peanuts and rice are the two main staples. Some Diola have become excellent craftsmen, creating beautiful pottery and wooden items.

The fundamental moral principles of the Diola include obedience, honesty, and dedication to their people. Such precepts are motivated by a driving sense of human dignity.

What are their beliefs?
The majority of the Diola are Sunni Muslim. Most of the others, whom the Muslims call "pagans," hold traditional animistic beliefs (believe that non-human objects have spirits). West African Islam does, however, generally retain local traditions and is more tolerant of diversity than elsewhere. Muslim scholars are held in high esteem. They are responsible for educating the people in the teachings of the Koran.

Their religious ideals share several similarities with Christianity: the belief in one God who is eternal, creator, and omniscient; the existence of protecting spirits or angels; the concept of the sanctuary, or the holy of holies; the Spirit of God who communicates; and analogies to explain complex concepts.

What are their needs?
Proper sanitation and health care are lacking among the Diola. Medical missionaries are needed to live and work among the Diola, showing them the love of Jesus in practical ways.

Although a small number of Diola have become Christians, very few Christian resources are available to them in their native language. Additional laborers and evangelistic tools are needed to penetrate this Muslim tribe with the Gospel. Prayer is the first step toward seeing them reached with the Good News.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that God will protect and encourage the small number of Diola Christians.
  • Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Diola.
  • Ask God to speed the completion of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials into the Dyola language.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • Ask God to raise up teams of intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Diola.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Diola bound.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Diola towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Diola by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
the Jula Bobo of Burkina Faso;
the Jula of Mali and Burina Faso;
the Dyula of Ghana and Cote d'Ivorie.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Diola
  • Country: Guinea-Bissau
  • Their language: Dyola
  • Population: (1990) 17,200
    (1995) 19,100
    (2000) 21,300
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 62%
    Ethnic religionist 34.4%
  • Christian: 3.5%
  • Church members: 677
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 4
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 5,800 (30%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 1,800 (10%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 4,000 (20%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 13,300 (70%)
  • Country: Guinea-Bissau
  • Population: (1990) 964,000
    (1995) 1,072,700
    (2000) 1,192,400
  • Major peoples in size order: Balanta 26.4%
    Fulakunda 17.9%
    Mandyak 12.7%
    Mandinka 9.9%
    Guinean Mestico 9.1%
  • Major religions: Ethnic religionist 46.9%
    Muslim 44.3%
    Christian 8.2%
  • Number of denominations: 7

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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