About the People
The Dendi people of Benin are located in the northernmost region of the country, mainly in the lush plains of the Niger River. Some of the Dendi live in the high grass areas, where there is little water and sparse vegetation. Sizable communities can also be found in the nearby countries of Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. The Dendi are one of approximately 70 ethnic groups in Benin, the least evangelized non-Muslim country south of the Sahara. They trace their origin to the eighth century kingdom of Za. They embraced Islam as early as 1010, but it was mixed with their original beliefs in animism.
Dendi settlements usually consist of round, mud or thatched homes with straw roofs. Today, an increasing number of villagers live in rectangular mud brick houses with corrugated tin roofs. Dendi 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 Dendi 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 Dendi also raise some livestock.
The Dendi are almost entirely Muslim. Even though Islam introduced new elements to the Dendi culture, it left the underlying framework of custom and tradition virtually untouched. Islam is superficially important. Every town has a mosque. Some communities have imams (religious leaders) who teach Islamic philosophy and lead Muslim ceremonies. However, spirit possession, magic, sorcery, ancestor worship and witchcraft remain vital components of Dendi belief.
About the Project
The Republic of Benin, a West African country roughly the size of Pennsylvania, is bordered by Togo, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, and the Atlantic Ocean. Once the seat of the powerful Dahomey kingdom, Benin became a French colony in 1900 and gained independence in 1960, subsequently becoming the first African country to successfully transition from a dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. Benin’s natural resources include oil, marble, limestone,and timber. Industries include textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, and petroleum. However, the economy is chiefly based on agriculture. The tropical climate has two rainy and two dry seasons.
Unfortunately, the Dendi suffer times of drought, and malnutrition is also a problem for many of them. Currently, there are some Christian resources available in the Dendi language. A majority of these precious people have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.
- Population: 100,000
- Language: Dendi
- Religion: Islam (with indigenous religious undercurrents)