Introduction / History
The Makonde live on both sides of the Ruvuma River which forms the border between Tanzania and Mozambique. They are one of the five largest ethnic groups in Tanzania. Their homeland touches the coast from Lindi to the Ruvuma River and stretches 180 kilometers to the west.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Makonde live in an under-developed area and thus isolated from much interaction or trade with their neighbors. They are known nationally for defending their culture, way of life and land. Internationally they are best known for wood carvings of their family trees.
Most Makonde are slash and burn farmers growing maize, sorghum and cassava. Those who live along the coast or near the Ruvuma River also practice fishery. Their diet is unique in that it includes rats and snails.
Makonde like to carve household objects, figures, and masks, and their traditional religious practices are animistic form of ancestor worship.
What Are Their Beliefs?
On the surface the Makonde primarily practice Islam but in reality, they are animistic – practicing their traditional religion. They have been in contact with Muslim traders for hundreds of years and have received limited Christian witness. Yet, their religion centers on the veneration of their ancestors. This fact is highlighted in the carvings of their family trees that depict the older generation on the bottom supporting later generations.
It takes time and perseverance to reach the Makonde society with the gospel. One church has a Makonde pastor. He and his family have lived among them in a small town for twelve years. They have been faithful witnesses and God has blessed them. Church membership now consists of 24 believers, 22 of them are Makonde with four of them coming from a Muslim background.
Cross cultural missionaries are needed who are committed to identifying with the Makonde: speaking their language, eating their food, living among them and recognizing their value as one made in the image of God – deserving respect as a fellow human being.
Praise God for the few evangelical believers among the Makonde. Thank God for the churches that have been established and the witness they are sharing with the lost.
May believers from surrounding Christian communities see the Makonde as God sees them. May they step forward with a passionate presentation of the gospel through business and educational contacts. May formal, contextualized evangelization efforts be initiated.
Scripture Prayers for the Makonde in Tanzania.
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