Afar in Djibouti

Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2022
Kerry Olson  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Afar
Country: Djibouti
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 330,000
World Population: 2,722,000
Primary Language: Afar
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.03 %
Evangelicals: 0.01 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Afar
Affinity Bloc: Horn of Africa Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Danakil prefer to be known as the Afar, since the Arabic word danakil is an offensive term to them. The Afar consist of two sub-groups: the Asaemara ("red ones"), who are the more prestigious and powerful nobles living along the coast; and the Adaemara ("white ones"), who are the commoners living primarily in the mountains and the desert. The Afar (Danakil) claim to be descendants of Ham, Noah's son. They are located in the East African countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Afar of Djibouti live either along the coastline bordering Ethiopia, or in a portion of the Danakil Desert that stretches across Ethiopia into Eritrea.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Afar are a proud people, valuing a man's strength and bravery. Prestige comes from killing one's enemies. There was an article about them in 2006 with the headline, "The Afar: The toughest people on earth?" There is good reason for that. Djibouti is sometimes called "a valley of hell" because it has one of the hottest, driest climates in the world. The Afar homeland is where three seismic plates meet. There will probably come a day when the land shifts and this place is dropped into the sea, people livestock and all. As if that weren’t enough misery, the Afar people have regular conflicts with other tribes. These conflicts are usually about scarce water and land rights. There are many blood feuds which cause conflicts to continue generation after generation; a situation these nomads do not need. The Afar have age-sets where a chief settles their conflicts. They also have legal procedures to settle matters such as adultery by fining the perpetrator. Most of the Afar are livestock herders who own goats and camels and occasionally cattle. A smaller number of them either mine salt or fish for a living.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Most Afars consider the Arabs their ancestors; therefore, Islam has had a tremendous influence on Afar culture. They practice Sunni Islam and honor their Sky God. The Afar also worship sacred trees, a belief that predates their conversion to Islam. They believe the spirits of the dead are very powerful, and they celebrate a "feast of the dead" called Rabena, each year. They also give annual offerings to the sea to ensure safety for their villages. Many people wear protective leather amulets that contain herbs and verses from the Koran.

What Are Their Needs?

One of the most serious problems in Djibouti is drought. This poses a threat to anyone who is raising livestock or trying to grow crops. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do either of these things as water becomes increasingly scarce. There has been a lot of fighting in their region, and this situation is unlikely to stop. Often nomadic peoples get shoved aside when there is armed conflict. The few Afar who follow Christ are isolated. They are usually pressured by their relatives to return to Islam. They need the Holy Spirit's strength to hold onto their faith in Christ.

Prayer Points

Pray for the Holy Spirit to draw Afar leaders to the Throne of Grace so they will open the door to a movement to Christ. Pray for spiritual discernment and a hunger for truth among the Afar people in all three countries where they live. Pray for Christs followers with medical skills to go to the Afar people and help them with their medical needs. Pray for the Lord to bless the Afar people with the abundant rain they need for their livestock as a demonstration of his power and goodness.

Text Source:   Joshua Project