The O people of East Africa
Location and Background: The O are semi-nomadic herders who live in the semi-arid bush lands of East Africa, in round, dome-shaped structures which can be dismantled in order to move with their herds. They are the most southern representatives of the once more powerful nations to the north.
History: They migrated south as cattle and camel herders, raiding more settled peoples as they went. They controlled a wide area of territory around 400 years ago, but due to health epidemics and surrounding enemies the size of the tribe was reduced. They resisted the Islam of the Arab slave traders until the 1920s, and by 1950 the whole tribe had converted. They are often in conflict with their neighbors over conflicts about access to good grazing, wells, and river waters for their herds. Recently there have been times of violent clashes, revenge raids and cattle stealing between ethnic communities.
Culture: Cattle are central in O culture, being used to pay bride price, and are slaughtered for weddings and funerals. Boys are taught to shepherd smaller animals. Girls help with household chores and younger siblings. There are special ceremonies for the birth of babies, and for funerals.
Polygamy is practiced by half of the men, marriages used to be arranged but now elopement is more common. For men, bravery is stressed and riding, spear throwing, and fighting are admirable skills.
Modern education and the practice of Islam is creating change in the culture. Traditionally the elders had authority and were respected, and decided cases when there were disputes. They led the people to repentance and forgiveness through blood sacrifice and confession. The breakdown in traditional ways, replaced by the five pillars of Islam, has left people uncertain about their forgiveness until the Day of Judgment.
Religion: The O culture is becoming more and more Islamic in nature. Traditionally they believed in a creator God associated with the sky and believed in the spirits associated with locations in nature. These beliefs are now combined with their Islamic beliefs. Blood sacrifices are decreasing and observance of the five pillars of Islam is done in order to please God and gain forgiveness.
Latest Prayer Updates:
May God call and equip long-term mission-minded nurses to join our outreach team – we need one more Kenyan and 2 ex-pats. The medical ministry brings so many opportunities for deep relationship building and sharing the Good News, and Jesus’ power, authority and saving grace! Though it seems impossible, let’s ask God even for 2 O Christian disciples of Jesus as nurses for our two dispensaries.
So many O have heard the gospel, and many even express much interest. It is such a challenge to get them to actually meet regularly for discipleship or more study. Pray that two men of peace who are welcoming, would be instrumental in starting 1-2 new groups for regular study of God’s Word, and may the Father draw them to choose response and obedience to become faithful disciples of Jesus.