Prayer Profile
The Soninke of Senegal

[IMAGE] One of the first Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around A.D. 750. Because of persecution by the Berbers, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main sub-groups of the Soninke are the Marka, Nono, and Azer. Often, these tribes are further broken into smaller clans that specialize in various crafts. Some of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, Drame, Sylla, and Kante. After fleeing to Senegal and Gambia, these groups intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.

Today, there are about 155,000 Soninke in Senegal, making up only 2% of the country's total population. They live primarily along the upper Senegal River from Matam to Bakel, with some migrating to the city of Dakar. Two of their settlements are Jara and Gajaga. Due to influence by a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become farmers and herdsmen. They speak a Mandingo language called Sarakole (or Soninke).

What are their lives like?
The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of the Mande-related people groups. They are farmers who raise sorghum, rice, peanuts, and their staple crop, millet. They also raise large numbers of goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. Very little fishing and hunting is done, and trade is extremely important. The Soninke trade in the local markets. They also travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods.

In the past, the Soninke men cleared the land and cultivated the crops; the women worked in the gardens. Today, however, they have one of the highest rates of labor migration in West Africa. Approximately 20% to 70% of the male population is absent from the home doing migrant work, which often lasts from two to four years. With the women, old men, and children left behind, a form of matriarchal (female-dominated) society has evolved.

The Soninke live in compact villages, in which homes are built in two distinct styles. One style is round huts with brick walls and thatched roofs. The other style is rectangular houses with brick walls, interior courts, and flat terraced roofs. Houses line both sides of the main street, and a mosque is typically located in the village square.

Soninke marriages require the payment of a bride-price. In contrast to most neighboring tribes, the bride-price is given to the bride rather than her parents, and becomes part of her dowry. Pre-marital sexual relations are forbidden. Polygyny (having more than one wife) is generally accepted, with each man being limited to four wives by Islamic law.

In the past, inheritances were passed down from fathers to sons. Today, Muslim rules govern the dispersion of property: one-eighth goes to the widow, while equal shares go to each son and half shares go to each daughter.

What are their beliefs?
Most of the Soninke in Senegal (63%) are Sunni Muslims. The remaining 37% are a mixture of various animistic religions (believe that non-human objects have spirits). The Muslims follow the teachings of Mohammed, the Islamic prophet. Their holy book, the Koran, was said to have been given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.

As Muslims, the Soninke adhere to the five essential "pillars", or duties, of Islam. These include affirming that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet;" praying five times a day while facing Mecca; giving alms generously; fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year; and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible.

What are their needs?
Among the nearly 155,000 Soninke in Senegal, there are only 31 known Christians. At the present time, three missions agencies are working among these believers, but the Bible has not yet been translated into their language. Those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by the Muslims; therefore, evangelizing is extremely difficult. Most Soninke have not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into Senegal to share Christ with the Soninke.
  • Pray that the Jesus film will soon be made available in the Soninke language.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts would be made available to the Soninke.
  • Pray that the Lord Jesus will supernaturally reveal Himself to the Soninke through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will give the small number of Soninke believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Soninke bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Senegal through worship and intercession.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Soninke church for the glory of His name!

See also the following Groups:
The Soninke of Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Soninke
  • Country: Senegal
  • Their language: Soninke (Marka)
  • Population: (1990) 136,200
    (1995) 154,500
    (2000) 176,500
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 63%
    Ethnic religionist 36.9%
  • Christian: <1%
  • Church members: 31
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 3
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 29,400 (19%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 4,700 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 24,700 (16%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 125,100 (81%)
  • Country: Senegal
  • Population: (1990) 7,326,500
    (1995) 8,311,600
    (2000) 9,495,200
  • Major peoples in size order: Wolof 34.7%
    Fulakunda 12.4%
    Serer-Sine 11.2%
    Tukulor 8.7%
    Mandinka 5.9%
  • Major religions: Muslim 90.5%
    Chirstian 5.8%
    Ethnic religionist 3.5%
  • Number of denominations: 17

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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