Songhay New Testament Translation Project

Profile of the Songhay


  • A landlocked country in West Africa
  • NE region of Mali
  • Timbuktu region

Language Family

  • Nilo-Saharan; Songhai, Southern


  • 200,000 and increasing


  • 90% Muslim (mostly Sunni and Sufi)
  • 2% Christian
  • The remaining adhere to indigenous or traditional animist beliefs


  • Taught in primary schools
  • Has grammar and dictionary



Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in West Africa. The Songhay people are the descendants of the ancient empire that controlled the area, the largest empire in West Africa, from the mid-16th to late 17th centuries. It covered parts of nine present-day countries. Today, the Songhay are the farmers and boat people of the Niger river, and they trade with the Tuareg people of the Sahara.


Islam was introduced to West Africa in the 11th century and remains the predominant religion in much of the region. The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religion, and the government largely respects this right. Islam as practiced in Mali before 2012 was moderate, tolerant, and adapted to local conditions; relations between Muslims and practitioners of minority religious faiths were generally amicable.However, since the 2012 with the imposition of sharia rule in northern parts of the country, Mali is now listed high (number 7) in the Christian persecution index published by Open Doors, which described the persecution in the north as severe.


Christianity came to the Songhays in the 1930s and has remained, growing slowly in spite of the dominance of Islam. The largest growth has occurred since the 1980s when the first generation of believers had received Bible school training and were able to begin their own ministries. Despite this growth, long established beliefs in the spirit world, coupled with Islam, have planted a strong barrier against Christianity among the Songhay. Of the approximately three million Songhay, it is believed that only about 2% may be Christian. The great majority of the Songhay people have never heard the Gospel Message. The greatest setback in recent times has been the jihadist "republic" that was set up in early 2012 but has since fallen under the attacks of French and African troops.



It was first in 1993 that Bibles International received word from EBM (Evangelical Baptist Mission) about the possibility of producing a Songhay Bible. It wasn't until after BI conducted a field study trip that BI saw a real possibility of seeing the project move forward. Though having experienced a year and a half interruption due to the recent Northern Mali Conflict, plans are in place to complete the New Testament and then shortly thereafter begin work on the Old Testament.

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