Prayer Profile
The Songhai of Burkina Faso

[IMAGE] Of the 1.5 million Songhai in central West Africa, nearly 137,000 live in Burkina Faso. They are located in the northwestern region of the country, near the border of Niger. Some of the Songhai live nearer to the desert, where there is little water and sparse vegetation. Sizable Songhai communities can also be found in the nearby countries of Nigeria, Niger, and Mali. A small number also live in Benin.

The Songhai trace their origin to the eighth century kingdom of Za. Islam was embraced as early as 1010, but it was mixed with their original beliefs in spirits of the river, soil, and wild game. The Za dynasty endured to the end of the sixteenth century, when it was conquered by the Sultan of Morocco.

The Songhai are almost entirely Muslim, and so is over half of the population of Burkina Faso. Strong political ties with Libya have strengthened Muslim influence within the country.

What are their lives like?
Songhai settlements usually consist of round, mud or thatched dwellings with straw roofs. Today, an increasing number of villagers live in rectangular mud brick houses with corrugated tin roofs. Songhai settlements along the Niger River contain many rice fields and garden plots. Villages farther from the river are surrounded by bush areas and cultivated fields. Cowpeas, groundnuts, and manioc are the usual crops, but millet is grown from June to September during the brief rainy season. Farming is considered noble labor among the Songhai and is for men only. The women have gardens in which they grow mangoes, guavas, citrus fruits, papayas, dates, and bananas during the hot, dry season. They also cultivate carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, and various types of squash. Most of the garden work is done by family members. In addition to farming, the Songhai also raise some livestock.

The village community is patrilineal; that is, all the men have a common male ancestor. Among the Songhai nobles, firstborn sons are pressured to marry their paternal uncle's daughter in order to maintain the purity of the lineage. Men marry while they are in their late twenties; whereas, girls marry while in their early teens. Whether the marriage lasts or not, all of the children belong to the husband's lineage group. Although the Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives, most of the Songhai men have only one, due to economic reasons. When there is more than one wife, each lives in her own separate dwelling within the extended family compound.

What are their beliefs?
The Songhai are almost entirely Muslim. Even though Islam introduced new elements to the Songhai culture, it left the underlying framework of custom and tradition virtually untouched. Islam is superficially important, as evidenced in the fact that every town has a mosque, or at least a Friday mosque. Some communities have imams (religious leaders) who teach Islamic philosophy, and Muslim ceremonial activities are frequently practiced. Spirit possession, magic, sorcery, ancestor worship, and witchcraft, however, remain the vital components of Songhai belief. Most of the villages have possession troops, magician-healers, and witches. Ceremonies of spirit possession occur at least once a week in some places. The most important ceremonies are the genji bi hori (a festival in which the Songhai make offerings to the "black spirits" believed to control pestilence) and the yenaandi ("rain dance"). Both of these are held in the dry season. Marabouts (Islamic holy men) lead community prayers but are also used in healing the sick.

What are their needs?
Generally, the Songhai live simple but adequate lives, except in times of drought. Unfortunately, these occur regularly, leaving many children as orphans. Malnutrition is also a problem for many of them.

Burkina Faso is one of the countries most dominated by idolatry and secret societies in West Africa. Currently, there are very few Christian resources available in the Songhai language. A majority of these precious people have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached for Christ.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to send Christian agricultural workers, educators, and doctors to minister to the physical needs of the Songhai.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts and evangelistic literature will soon be made available to the Songhai.
  • Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Songhai who will boldly proclaim the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will strengthen, encourage, and protect the Songhai believers.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Songhai bound.
  • Ask God to raise up intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Songhai.
  • Pray that the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to the Songhai through dreams and visions.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Songhai church for the glory of His name!

See also the following related groups:
the Songhai of Mali, Niger, and Nigeria;
the Zerma of Niger and Nigeria.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Songhai
  • Country: Burkina Faso
  • Their language: Songhai
  • Population: (1990) 119,200
    (1995) 136,900
    (2000) 155,300
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Malikite) 99.6%
  • Christian: <1%
  • Church members: 547
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 44,300 (32%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 7,400 (5%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 36,900 (27%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 92,600 (68%)
  • Country: Burkina Faso
  • Population: (1990) 8,987,100
    (1995) 10,319,400
    (2000) 11,707,900
  • Major peoples in size order: Mossi 46.7%
    Busansi 3.8%
    Liptako Fula 3.4%
    Gurma 3.3%
    Black Bobo 2.7%
  • Major religions: Muslim 51.4%
    Ethnic religionist 27.5%
    Christian 21%
  • Number of denominations: 17

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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