Introduction / History
The Goemai are located in the Shendam, Gerkawa, and Namu districts in the Plateau State of Nigeria. They are closely related to the Jukun, who live south of them, and the Ngas, who are located north of them. Goemailand is fertile and well watered, and is the basis for the Goemai being an agricultural society. They are tribal, divided into clans, and each clan has its own chief-priest.
The Goemai trace their origin to the son of a Ngas Chief. In the nineteenth century, the Goemai were the largest ethnic group in the lowlands. Goemailand, with Shendam at its center, continues to show much Ngas culture; while the southern centers of Damshin, Shemankar, and Kwande still share the Jukun culture influence from Jukun immigrants who mixed with the southern Goemai. Although the Jukun and Ngas are historically and culturally related to the Goemai, the differences in the three groups' languages confirm their distinctness as separate groups.
What are their lives like?
The Goemai practice subsistence farming, mainly raising ginger, millet, guinea corn, beans, and fruit. They also grow rice, peanuts, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Some cattle are kept because they are fundamental in fertilizing the fields.
The Goemai live in round, mud-walled huts grouped into enclosed family compounds (villages). Each hut has two cylindrical walls. The inner walls serve as a granary, while the space between it and the outer wall are their living quarters.
Each Goemai village has a chief-priest who answers to the tribal chief (king), the supreme governmental and religious leader of the Goemai tribe. Their system of government is quite organized; the chief-priests form an advisory council and act as officials to the king. There are officials who function as military commanders (intermediaries between the Goemai and outside groups), cooks, and barbers (performing the coronation process), to name a few. The chief-priests also perform the actual religious duties.
All Goemai share the custom of filing their top and bottom front teeth. However, many customs and beliefs only pertain to the office of king. For instance, the king may not look upon the Benue River or he will die. Traditionally, upon his death, the king's favorite wife, horse, and servant were buried in the same grave with him. Also, no one may plant their farms until the king's farm is planted. The most striking physical symbol of kingship is the "sacred hairlock" that is held with an ivory pin and disk containing stones that symbolize the various crops his people cultivate.
Customs and beliefs, likewise, are specific to commoners. Boys are circumcised at the age of seven. A ceremony marks the occasion and a special dance takes place around them. The dancers throw themselves on the ground rolling over and over at the boys' feet. Marriage is also important. A man desiring a wife will bring her a mat with cloth rolled inside. She will return it and others, brought by other suitors, to the man of her choice. When the bride-price is paid, the bride is covered in a big cloth and led to the groom's compound. She is followed there by girls crawling along the ground like snakes. Until the marriage is consummated, the bride may not go out or do ordinary work and her food is brought to her.
What are their beliefs?
The Goemai are almost completely ethnic religionists whose beliefs are manifested in most aspects of their daily lives. They believe in a supreme god and a household god (the god of their particular compound). Divination and cults centering around ancestral spirits and rain, among others, are practiced. Pebbles are cast on the ground making symbols, which determine events. A Goemai will not kill a hawk or a crowned-crane for fear he die or become a fool. They regard the feathers of such birds as symbols of strength and the owl is considered a bird of evil omen.
What are their needs?
The Goemai have few Christian resources available to them, and very few of them have had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. Much prayer is needed if we are to see the Goemai come to Christ.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Nigeria to the Goemai.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to any missions agencies that are focusing on the Goemai.
* Pray for the effective use of the Jesus film in the Goemai language.
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Goemai through dreams and visions.
* Pray that God will give the few known Goemai believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Goemai church for the glory of His name!