Kenya/Tanzania: The Digo People

The Digo are an East African tribe, concentrated on the southern coastal strip of Kenya between Mombasa and the border of Tanzania. It is rather surprising to find that in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian, the Digo are nearly all Muslim.

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The Digo are a Bantu tribe and are actually grouped together with eight other tribes. Together these tribes make up the Mijikenda, or “nine towns.” Tradition tells us that the nine Mijikenda tribes originated farther north, but were driven south as a result of war. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Digo experienced a time of great famine. It became a common practice for them to give either themselves or their children as kore, or “blood money,” to serve as temporary collateral for a loan of food. Sadly, there were many times when the debt could not be redeemed, thus leaving them to live as slaves. Many of the Digo who were brought to Mombasa as slaves later obtained their freedom by converting to Islam.

What are their lives like?
For many years the Digo have been involved in trade with Muslim Arabs. As a result, they have enjoyed a higher standard of living than most of their neighboring tribes. In addition to trading, farming and fishing are two other sources of income for the Digo. Their principal crop is “manioc,” a small shrub with thick roots that are eaten like potatoes. They also grow sesame, corn, rice, and beans. “Palm wine” is a popular drink produced from the palm tree.
The Digo tribe formerly lived in large, fortified villages but today their villages only consist of about 40 huts each. The shape of each hut clearly indicates to the villagers who live inside. The huts of elders are round, while those of other people are rectangular.

When a young Digo man marries, he must pay the normal bride-price of four heads of cattle, two goats or sheep, and palm wine. He is then incorporated into the bride’s family. Eventually, as he demonstrates leadership qualities, he will be accepted into the body of tribal elders.

What are their beliefs?
Islam is more widely accepted among the Digo than among any of the other Mijikenda tribes. Nevertheless, ties with traditional practices (such as animism and ancestor worship) still have more influence on the Digo community than does Islam. (Animism is the belief that non-human objects have spirits. Ancestor worship is the practice of praying to deceased ancestors for help and guidance.) One example of spiritism is their use of blood sacrifices. Such sacrifices are very significant to the Digo, especially in the exorcism of evil spirits. Witchdoctors are also consulted regularly.

Most of the Digo people over forty years of age have no real understanding of the Koran. Only a few of them have studied Islam in any depth, and most of them have only a superficial knowledge of its principles and doctrines. However, its presence among the Digo over the past eighty years has not gone entirely unnoticed. Its existence has altered both religious and political structures. For example, the people have adopted new attire and diets from their Muslim Arab neighbors. Although they know no religious significance for wearing the black veil, Digo women wear it to show respect for their husbands. This nominal identification with the Muslim religion is referred to as “folk Islam.”

What are their needs?
Even though the nation of Kenya is predominantly Christian, the Digo have never been successfully reached with the Gospel. There are currently no Christian broadcasts in their area.

Since the Digo are economically self-sufficient, they have no real need to reach out to the nearby Christian-sponsored relief agencies.

Also, the religious practices of the Digo are deeply rooted in spiritism and folk Islam.
For more infos about the Digo people contact Daudi Masha (youngest Safari Company Director in Kenya) at info@biguniontours.com on http://www.biguniontours.com/


3 thoughts on “Kenya/Tanzania: The Digo People

  1. Pingback: African Tours: Explore the wild side of East Africa « africanperspectivesblog

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