Vai in Liberia

Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2022
Kerry Olson  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Vai
Country: Liberia
10/40 Window: No
Population: 193,000
World Population: 218,000
Primary Language: Vai
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.70 %
Evangelicals: 0.23 %
Scripture: New Testament
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Mande
Affinity Bloc: Sub-Saharan Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The earliest description of the Vai people came from Dutch merchants in the first half of the seventeenth century. Later Portuguese merchants associated them with some local birds. The Vai were able to speak for themselves and describe themselves when they developed their own cryptic written language in the 19th century. Each of its 212 unique symbols represents an entire syllable.

What Are Their Lives Like?

At one time the Vai were slave traders, but today some work as government employees or for foreign corporations. Most are fishermen or 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 they do not cut down are palm trees which provide shade for the farmers, and they use the nuts for many things. 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. 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 children learn how to be culturally Vai and important survival skills. Some then attend English schools to learn the English language. Finally, those who attend the Koranic schools are taught Classical Arabic under the guidance of the village iman (local Muslim religious leader). Growing technology in their region is changing the tribal Vai 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 they still practice many traditional beliefs. For instance, they believe the alligator is connected with evil spirits since it destroys life. Like Muslims they believe in a supreme god who is the controller of Earth and everything in it. 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 follow folk beliefs and some practice witchcraft. They consider themselves to be surrounded by spirits that can change into living creatures or objects. They believe these spirits 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?

The Vai people need the chance to find the only Savior. They need the blessing of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

Pray for the Holy Spirit to give the Vai people teachable and understanding hearts. Pray that a strong movement of the Holy Spirit will bring entire Vai families into a rich experience of God's blessing. Pray for Vai families to be drawn by the Holy Spirit to seek forgiveness, and to understand the adequacy of Christ's work on the cross. Pray for teams of believers to do sustained, focused prayer for the Lord to open the hearts of Vai family leaders to experience God's blessing through a movement to Christ.

Text Source:   Joshua Project