RESEARCH FINDINGS OF AN ON-SITE STUDY OF THE DAGAARA PEOPLE (BURKINA FASO)
by AFRICAN MISSION FELLOWSHIP - STRATEGY GROUP JULY, 1994
George Akpable; Max Crittenden; Vikki Sullivan; Paul MacDonald;
Cyndi Chowning; Richard Chowning
The primary goal of our research was to assess whether or not the Dagaara ethnic group should be a priority target for a future team of church planting missionaries. The assessment was done by interviews and observations. Tested interview schedules were employed. A secondary goal was to study the logistics that a team of missionaries would face if they desired to live among the Dagaara people. The study was facilitated by forms and observations. A corollary to the above goals was to learn better research techniques.
The Churches of Christ Are Registered with the Government
The Federation of Evangelical Missions and Churches (FEME) studied the registration of the Churches of Christ that was completed in 1991. FEME agreed that the registration process had been completed. Missionary work permits could be obtained through that registration. A copy is on file at ACU.
Security in Burkina Faso is Excellent
President Blaise Compaore came to power in a coup in which his friend, and former President, Thomas Sankara, was killed. Compaore won a multi-party election in 1993. The military is still the main power, but they are well disciplined. We traveled freely throughout the country; missionaries and aid workers related that the government had not been hindering their work in any way. The situation in neighboring Mali deserves monitoring. There is a civil war underway for the independence of the Tuareq homeland.
The Dagaara are located between two and three degrees east and ten and eleven degrees north. That places them in both Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Black Volta river is the boundary between the two countries. The heart of Dagaaraland in Burkina Faso is approximately two hundred and fifty kilometers from Ouagadougou (the capital). Most of the region is arid and dry. It is not strictly speaking the Sahel, but it does exhibit some of the same characteristics.
The total population of the Dagaara people is 668,000. This study was conducted in Burkina Faso where 245,000 Dagaara live. This is just under three percent of the population of Burkina Faso. There are 423,000 in Ghana. It is important to think of the Dagaara as the entire group. This population figure fits well within the Africa Mission Fellowship - Strategy Group's criteria for target areas of 200,000 population of more.
The Dagaara are from the same ethnolinguistic branch as the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso. Dagaara is the way the people refer to themselves. Others call them Dagari or Dagati. The Dagaara are divided into two groups, the Lobr and the Wille (according to Dancing a S.I.L. researcher). Slight differences in language have developed over the last fifty to one hundred years. The primary difference is in the inheritance rites of each group. Soma Gora Gabriel, the chief of the Dagaara, told us the story of how the separation occurred. A patriarch of a respected clan was working in the field with his children. About noon the children quit working, yet the old man continued. An uncle from his mother's side came by and saw that the old man needed help so he helped him. After the work was finished, the old man told his children that they would not inherit anything from him but it would all go to his mother's side of the family. That was the beginning of the Lobr. From that time on Lobr have had the inheritance pass to the wife's side of the family, while the Wille have continued with the inheritance passing to the husband's relatives. Lobr is the smaller group and they have considerable Catholic presence among them. They are more educated and have greater politically power. The Wille are predominantly traditionalists. The groups intermarry and consider each other as brothers. Even though French is the official language of Burkina Faso, Djulla is spoken as the trade language in Dagaara and Lobi (not to be confused with Lobr). The Djulla translation of the Bible is used in many church services among the Dagaara. There are no missionaries and foreign volunteers working among the Dagaara. Aid agencies have targeted two major problems that Dagaara people face. Water availability is a constant problem. There are wells in some villages. They are usually overused. Rain has not been doing all that well this year. Some 20 or 30 foot wells dry up in November and December. If they dig deeper they can have water all year. The pumps break easy. Guinee worm in the water is also a severe problem. Rapid population growth is another problem. There are family planning researchers here from Europe. Education is not as widespread nor as effective in Burkina Faso as other African countries. Dagaara area has a real education problem. Kambou Ollo Gaston, Inspecteur d' Enseigment du 1re Degre a'Dano Bougouriba, gave us the following statistics: 49 Primary Schools 130 classes 131 male teachers, 12 female 6700 students Kambou went on to say that about twenty-eight percent of the children in the district go to school. Many boys go to school, but few girls. They are kept away from school so that they can get married and avoid getting pregnant in school. Most illiterate men do not want to marry a literate wife. Funerals are very important, and there is much drumming and dancing. A conversation one evening with Soma Gora Gabriel, Chief of the Dagaara, was very informative. He related that he is chief over three districts. There are 36 village chiefs over which he has authority. One of his functions is to punish people if they break traditional law. During the discussion of law he referred to Moses and the law. He seemed to have an elementary knowledge of the Bible. He claims to have a good relationship with the churches but they view him as a worker of Satan. His response to the charge is "Lucifer has no workers here." The Chief told us that the people make sacrifices to idols. In fact he had some in his house. They use some astrology. At harvest time there are family sacrifices. There are communal sacrifices during the famines. They sacrifice chickens, water, or corn flour in order to bring rain. They make special sacrifices at the river and at the large mountain. These sacrifices are made to spirits and ancestors. The Dagaara are monotheistic. The name for God is Sanzewa. The Lobi name for God is Tangab. Black magic is not tolerated. There are secret societies here. They are called Bor (like Poro in Senoufou). They take oaths not to tell the secrets they learn. The rites take place in Feb-April. The Dagaara are historically and linguisticly linked to the Mossi. The two groups intermarry.
The Land of the Dagaara
The land of the Dagaara is flat with only a few hills. It is semi-arid. Short trees and shrubs are numerous.
Western style housing is available in Gaoua, Dano, and Diabougou. The later offers the best possibilities for missionary housing. There is running water there, phones and electricity. Gaoua, though located in the Lobi region, has facilities as well. Other towns in Dagaara offer real challenges for living conditions.
State of Religion
Animism is the dominant religion among the Dagaara. Close to ninety-five percent of the Dagaara follow the traditional ways. Shrines ornamented with cowrie shells are seen in front of many houses. Many children wear amulets for protection. Funerals, secret societies, and sacrifices were discussed above.
Islam is a major belief in Burkina Faso but it has very few followers among the Dagaara. All of the major towns in Dagaara have Mosques, but they are for Muslims of other ethnic groups who work in the towns.
The Dagaara have very few followers of the Christian religion. Less than six tenths of one percent (.06%) are Evangelical. There is no translation of the scriptures in Dagaara. They are a priority area for a translation of the New Testament according to S.I.L. WEC has done Bible translation in the neighboring Lobi language. The small size of the Evangelical churches has prompted FEME (Federation du Eglise et Mission Evangelique) to mount a prayer effort hoping to break the hold of the sacrifices going on in the Dagaara and Lobi areas. FEME is an umbrella organization through which the major Evangelical groups do development and other cooperative projects. To become members of FEME, a group needs registration, a faith statement, constitution, and fee. There are nine denominations presently in FEME. During a conference at independence, FEME helped the Assemblie of God come to the determination not to follow Comidy agreements.
See the statistics of the agencies who are members of FEME
We interviewed Diononne, a priest in Dano, who is Dagaara (his home is 42 Km. from town). The Dano church was started here in 1933, the buildings in 1944. There are three priests in Dano. The Bishop in Diabougou is originally from here and he is a Dagaara. The other priests are Lobi. The Lobr (not to be confused with Lobi), where the Catholic missions started, may be a more developed region. In Dano the Catholics have been having a "web of conversions". There are 14 catechists. There are about 8000 Catholics in the Dano area, in nine parishes. There are about 150 baptized each year. There are 70-80 who take communion at this one congregation. The Catholics have translations of some passages and liturgy which were translated with the help of some Africans in 1973. The first Catholic priests were Europeans who came in from Ghana. Since 1973 there have been no white priests in the Gaoua Diocese. It is the only diocese without a white priest. There are 50 priests in the parish. The large Catholic church in Dissin was built in 1962, There are two priests and four or five sisters. There is a medical center and maternity center begun by the Catholics and now run by the government. There is also a school they have handed over to the government.
The Pentecostal church is the Evangelical church among the Dagaara. The Pastor in Dano has been there two years. He was converted in this congregation and then went to school and came back here to pastor. The church began in 1980 with just a prayer cell. It was begun by the congregation at Fafo. They constructed their building in 1987. They now have eighty members. There are other congregations at Fafo, Kaiyo, Koti, and Bonza. The Pentecostal church uses Dagaari and French because some government workers attend. In the beginning there were more members than there are at present. Catholic tolerance of beer and traditions has caused some of the converts to become Catholics and others just fell away. There are eleven or twelve pastors in Bobo and Dagaara. We met on a Sunday with the evangelical Pentecostal church in Diebougou. There were about eighty present at the service. They used drums and tambourines. Men and women were equal in number with women opposite of men on the benches. Some of the people were middle class, but the majority were poor. They were reading from Djulla Bibles and translating the talking from French to Djulla. There was a meeting after church at which the men answered our questions. The congregation is composed of Lobi, Ja, and Dagaara. The Dagaara are the majority in the city. This church was started by Canadian Pentecostals who came from Ghana in 1939. The current Pastor has been here for four years. He had grown up seventy kilometers from Diebougou.
Assemblies of God
The AOG have two thousand pastors in the country and fifteen hundred churches. There are many churches in the northeast (Guramanche), southwest (Lobi and Dagaara) and northwest (Fulani). The AOG churches (distinquished from the mission) are sending couples out as missionaries to these areas. They have ten couples out now. They have two years to become self supporting. They are to farm and be supported by the congregation. They have a couple (Alaphonse) at Diebougou. This is their only real presence in Dagaara. They have thirty pastors at Leo and the missionary who was at Diabuougou moved there. There are close to 100 pastors in Bobo area, but few among the Lobi and Dagaara. In Diebougou we met with the AOG pastor, who is Mossi and has been working here since the beginning of the church two years ago. They have 20-30 members. The members are a mixture of ethnic groups, and he preaches in Moore and reads from a Moore Bible. However, Moore and Djulla are both used in the services. He claims that town people are more receptive.
Churches of Christ
Registration with the government seems to be complete (according to FEME). As stated above missionaries just need to apply for long term visas. The Churches of Christ have no members among the Dagaara. Their only presence is in Ouagadougou. The contact person there is Nikima K. Clementine (Mission Josue Pour La Conquete de Cannaan). She said that Paul (the TV repairman) had moved back to Ghana with no expectation to return. She thought that the church was still meeting in Kitue.
There is no animosity between Christians and Catholics. Even the Catholics, Protestants, Animists and Muslims got together for the inauguration of the Mosque in Dano.
Government Attitude toward Missions:
The government has told the missions that they will no longer subsidize the primary schools so the Catholics gave them all back to the government. If villagers build a school, the government will send teachers. There are some Europeans who are helping to build schools.
The Christian churches' failure to deal with the funerals among the Dagaara has caused them some problems. The animists will say that the Christians are "buried like a dog." Our last evening in Diebougou we had a visit with about 12-15 of Christians. The first group came specifically asking us to send missionaries to the Dagaara. They even brought one man of about 30 years of age whose village needed help. They seemed to be very excited and urgent about workers coming. The AOG pastor asked what he should do to help the congregation grow in his place. We said (1) give a positive message, (2) plant churches, and (3) train the men.
The above meeting is a sign that there is some openness to outside leadership. The lack of culturally sensitive evangelization and church maturation led the research team to believe that the lack of growth is not due to the resistance of the Dagaara.
It is recommended that a team of missionaries settle among the Dagaara people. The best place to live would be Diebougou. There is the possibility, as well, for missionaries to locate among the Dagaara in Ghana where the population is larger.
Eckhard and Margret Kern (tel. 86-03-95) workers with handicapped in Diebougou Jean-Charles Ouedraogo FEME 10 BP 108 Ouagadougou Anthony Jephet Our translator for session with FEME Jeunesse pour Christ - Togo BP 20091 Lome' Togo He was a Christian church brother and knew much about the three main streams of the Restoration Heritage. Gloria Scott, very helpful. Contacts given by Gloria Scott: John Kmboo - BourumBourum (Pastor) Walter and Lois Roesti - Gaoua (Swiss) missionaries Mady Vaillnet - WEC guesthouse in Abidjan. She translated the Lobi Bible. Pastor Dolly - Kampti. Driver in Kampti who is a Christian, Phillipe. Abbe' Hlen Dieudonne (Catholic Priest - Dano) Paroine de Dano B.P. 33 Diocese de Diebougou Burkina Faso Kambou Ollo Gaston Inspecteur d' Enseigment du 1re Degre a'Dano Bougouriba Burkina Faso Cheif of Dano Soma Gora Gabriel P.O. Box 11 Dano Bukina Faso tel: 86-62-12 Priest at Dissin Abbe' Meda Thaddee Mission Catholique Dissin BP 35 Diocese Diebougou Burkina Faso Pastur Fandie K. Simeon Eglise Evangelique de Pentecoste du Burkina Faso Secteur No. 1 B.P. 37 Diebougou Burkina Faso