Introduction / History
The Vai live in northwestern Liberia and eastern Sierra Leone, two neighboring countries in West Africa. The Vai of Liberia occupy territory covering about 7,000 square miles. This region has several rivers that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The Vai living along the coast are surrounded by sandbars and swamps; while those living farther inland dwell in thick, forested areas.
Liberia is a small country that remains primarily undeveloped. The temperatures there range from about 76º to 80º F year round. It is the oldest republic in Africa and the only African state never subject to colonial rule. As a result of extensive migrations that occurred centuries ago, more than twenty different tribes now live in Liberia.
The Vai are attractive people of average height, and their skin ranges in color from light brown to coal black. They are well proportioned and intelligent. They speak Vai, a Niger-Congo language.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Vai are farmers. Plots of cleared land provide space to grow rice and vegetables. These plots can only be used for one or two years before the farmer must move to a new plot. New plots are cleared by using the "bush farming" technique. This involves burning off the land and allowing the ashes to serve as fertilizer. The only trees not cut down are the palm trees, which provide nuts and shade for the farmers. Women and children participate in farming by chasing away the birds and weeding the plot.
Game is scarce in Vai country since most of the animals live farther inland in the jungles. However, hunting occasionally provides meat for the Vai.
The Liberian Vai are known as skilled carpenters, weavers, and tailors. This is evidence of the Egyptian and Arabic cultures from which they came. Although they are crafters of valuable hand-made items, imported goods are now beginning to take their place.
Village houses are usually rectangular, about seven or eight feet high, and rise to a peak in the middle. They usually have from two to six rooms. The kitchen and bathroom are separate structures built several yards from the home.
The Vai have three types of schooling. The first is the "bush school," where the children learn traditional Vai socialization skills, important survival skills, and other traits of village life for four to five years. Some then attend English schools to learn the English language. Finally, those who attend the Quianic schools are taught the Arabic language under the guidance of the village iman (local Muslim religious leader).
Growing technology in this region is changing the tribal Via into a more modernized community. Automobiles have provided a means by which they can trade their cocoa, coffee, and cloth with people in other towns.
What are their beliefs?
The Vai are predominantly Muslim, but many traditional beliefs are still practiced. For instance, the alligator is believed to be connected with evil spirits, since it destroys life. A supreme god is thought to be the controller of Earth and everything in it, since they believe he created everything. The Vai believe that this god manifests himself through spirits and nature. They also believe that this god is too distant to serve or worship directly, so they use a spirit medium.
Most of the Vai are very superstitious and some practice witchcraft. They consider themselves to be surrounded by spirits that can change into living creatures or objects. These spirits are believed to have the power to do evil to individuals or to the whole tribe. The Vai perform ceremonies for the dead in which they leave articles of clothing and food near the graves of the deceased.
What are their needs?
Only a few of the Vai population have become Christians. Prayer is the first step toward reaching them with the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Vai.
* Ask the Lord to raise up additional long-term missionaries to go to Liberia and work among the Vai.
* Ask God to give the Vai believers a burden to share Christ with their friends and families.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Liberia's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to the Vai through dreams and visions.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Vai.
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