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People Profile
The Sakuye of Kenya

Religion: Islam and Traditional
Population:  14,000
Status:  <0.1% Christian

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NARRATIVE PROFILE

Location: The Sakuye live in northeastern Kenya, near the Ethiopian border.  Dabel is their traditional ceremonial site.  Their name comes from an old name for Marsabit, Saaku.  The group of Rendille who moved north from Marsabit were called Saakuye by the Borana.

History:  The Sakuye are a small, semi-nomadic group of pastoralists.  They were a group of the proto-Somali peoples who separated from the Rendille.  One group called the Sakuye Miigo came from the Garre people.  One group of the related Gabbra are also called Miigo.  The Sakuye now speak the Borana Oromo language and share same Oromo clan identities with other Borana-speaking peoples.

Following Kenya's independence, nearly all of their livestock died due to the Shifta war in 1963 between the Somalis and the Kenya government.  The Sakuye were caught in the middle and most Sakuye became destitute.  Some were able to rebuild their herds but many remain poor.  They survived by taking up agriculture.  Their culture is undergoing basic changes as they strive to maintain their identity.  In some areas, traditional Sakuye rituals have been replaced by Islamic prayers.

Identity:  Tradition says that before the Sakuye attached themselves to the Borana, they lived with the Rendille in the Mt. Marsabit area.  The Sakuye and the Rendille are said to have broken away in the 1500's from the early Somali group from which the Garre also developed.  Tradition also says that the Gabbra Miigo, the Sakuye Miigo and the Gabbra of Kenya's Eastern Province later originated directly from the Garre Somali.

Today there are two sections of the Sakuye people, living in two areas.  The northern group are semi-permanent at Dabel and the southern group is in Isiolo District.  Clan structure and traditions are no longer as important as in the past.

The majority can't read and speak only Borana.  Even the Muslim teachers can't read although they want to learn.  However, the school children are learning to read.  Most families exist on famine relief but the fortunate ones are those who still have camels or cattle and fare better.

Language:  The Sakuye speak Borana, an Eastern Cushite language adopted from their Borana Oromo patrons.

Customs:  The Sakuye live among the Borana and they are ritually allied to them for political purposes in their history.  Many identify themselves as Borana.  However, the Sakuye herd camels primarily, whereas the Boran are mostly a cattle people.

They have also adopted the pre-Islamic religious institution of the priest-diviner called Qallu.  Since the re-establishment of the social structures in 1965, the Sakuye do not allow Sakuye girls to marry outside the Sakuye group. The Sakuye have much social interaction with the neighboring Somali peoples, and when asked, will sometimes identify themselves as Somali.

Religion: Traditionally the Sakuye worshipped one God, Waaq, by putting sacrifices in special trees.  Over the last century, aspects of Islam has come into their culture, largely due to their association with the Somali. Most Sakuye, however, still hold on to their traditional beliefs and practices.

Dabel is the center of the Ayaana, a strong Oromo Satan appeasement and worship cult.  Ayaana followers believe it is necessary to appease Satan, because he brings harm to them, while it not necessary to appease God, Since he does not harm people.

Christianity: There is little Christian influence among the Sakuye.  There are three or four known churches.  Geographical, as well as social, isolation is a major factor in their lack of access to the gospel.

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SAKUYE STATUS SUMMARY

1.  HAVE THEY HEARD THE GOSPEL?

Ratio of pastors/evangelists to population:
             (total pastors or evangelists--0)
Ratio of missionaries to population:
              (total missionaries--2 part-time)
Who is Jesus Christ to them?
          <.1%  Believe Jesus is the Son of God and name themselves Christians
          <.1%  Believe in the Son of God and have accepted him as their Savior
         99%  Believe Jesus is a prophet, teacher, good man, but not God's Son
         99%  Believe in local, traditional religion rather than in Jesus
           ?%  Have not really heard who Jesus is

2.  HAVE THEY RESPONDED TO THE GOSPEL?
A few have.

3.  DO THEY HAVE A CHURCH?
Ratio of churches to population:
        (total churches -- 3-4)
Total number of communities (cities, towns, villages):
        (communities without church--???)

4.  DO THEY HAVE THE BIBLE TRANSLATED INTO THEIR MOTHER TONGUE?
Yes.  They speak Borana which has the New Testament available.  The entire Bible should become available very soon.

5.  ANY HINDRANCES TO THE USE OF SCRIPTURE?  Literacy Rate:  <5%
Other than school children, almost none of the people know how to read.  The Ayaana cult is very powerful.  Every attempt to evangelize the Sakuye has failed so far.

6.  WHAT OTHER FORMS OF GOSPEL PRESENTATIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
Recordings:  Yes Literature:  Not much      Audio-Visual:  No
Radio:        No     Video:  Jesus Film (Borana)

7.  ARE THEY RECEPTIVE TO CHANGE AND TO CHRISTIANITY?
Unknown.  However, they are a destitute, traumatized people who theoretically should be receptive.
Anyone who becomes a believer presumably would be ostracized and family members would try to get
them to return to Islam and the clan.

8.  DO THEY REQUIRE OUTSIDE (CROSS-CULTURAL) ASSISTANCE FROM MISSIONARIES?
Yes, both expatriates and Kenyan missionaries.
However, they should expect opposition from the Muslim leaders when people begin to believe.
Any missionary going to that area needs to have a strong prayer team behind them and be well versed
in spiritual warfare.

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Bibliography

Schlee, Günther.  Identities on The Move:  Clanship and Pastoralism in Northern Kenya.  Nairobi, Kenya:  Gideon S. Were Press, 1994.

-----.  "Interethnic Clan Identities Among Cushitic-Speaking Pastoralists," Africa, 55 (1), 1985.
 

Orville Boyd Jenkins
Francis Omondi
An Anonymous Contributor
June 1996
Last updated 15 March 2003

Copyright © 1996, 2003 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
Email: researchguy@iname.com
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