In prehistoric times fragmented tribes occupied Chad. Their cave paintings and skulls can be seen here. In the eighth century C.E. the Berbers settled in Chad and established rule over the local tribes. Muslim traders, who carried on commerce with the local population, introduced Islam to Chad in 1085. By the 16th century three kingdoms flourished: the Kanem Bornu, the Bagirmi, and the Ouaddai. The Kanem Bornu Empire was the largest of the three. It built its power by annexing territories dominated by smaller local kingdoms. Between 1883 and 1893 Rabih al Zubayr (?1840–1900), the Sudanese ruler, conquered all three kingdoms. Then, in 1891, Chad became a French colony. The French overthrew the Sudanese ruler and merged Chad into the French Equatorial area, along with Ubangi Shari (now known as the Central African Republic), Congo, and Gabon. The region remained a French colony until 1960. In World War II it was the first French colony to join the Allies. After the war in 1946 Chad became an autonomous republic under French governance. The first premier François (Ngarta) Tombalbaye (1918–75) spearheaded a freedom movement, which ultimately succeeded in winning Chad its independence. It attained independence in 1960. Among the French colonies in Africa, Chad was the most neglected of all. The French focused mostly on the southern part of the country where they had cotton plantations. As a result Chad’s south developed considerably, while the people of the north lost out on educational opportunities and development. And when Chad won its independence, the people of the south dominated. Chad’s early years of independence were not peaceful, and decades of civil war, inter-tribal violence, and repeated Libyan invasions ensued. Guerilla warfare prevailed in Chad, and French troops had to be brought in to settle a long-standing dispute between the government and the rebels. From the Muslim north what was to be a long drawn-out civil war broke out in 1965 over taxation. This became the first of several attempts by Libya to press its historical and cultural claims to Chad, Muammar al-Gadhafi (b. 1942) invaded in 1975 and captured a portion of Chad; two years later Libya invaded the rest of the country. General Felix Malloum, who had been Tombalbaye’s chief of staff, led a coup against Tombalbaye in 1975 in which Tombalbaye was killed. Malloum installed himself as president and prime minister. In 1978 Hissene Habre (b. 1942) was made prime minister, but he lasted only a year because Malloum’s regime collapsed in 1979. The civil war continued throughout Malloum’s tenure. Chad was still in a state of chaos in 1979, when nine rival groups came together to form a new provisional government. Goukouni Oueddei (b. 1944), also a former rebel leader, headed it. In 1980 conflict broke out again, and Hissein Habre of the Forces Armees Nationale du Tchad (Armed Forces of Chad, FANT) ousted Oueddei, abolished the position of prime minister, and declared himself president of Chad, installing a regime of terror and more killing. Thousands of tribes Habre thought hostile to the regime were destroyed, and many of Habre’s political opponents were executed. The president of Libya came up with a proposal for merging Chad with Libya in 1980. When Chad refused Libya withdrew from interfering in the country’s affairs, only to invade again in 1983, this time entering from the northern side. The French sent its troops to defend Chad from the Libyan invasion. In 1987, with military support from France and the United States, Chad’s troops successfully forced most of the Libyan troops from the country. However, during this period, vicious rivalries between various ethnic groups like the Zaghawa, the Gorane, and the Hadjerai had resulted in violent clashes. In April 1989 the country’s leader was Habre, a Gorane. After renewed violence broke out, Idriss Deby (b. 1952), one of the leading generals from the Zaghawa ethnic group, defected and fled to Sudan. As the leader of a Zaghawa rebel group the Patriotic Salvation Movement, he intensified attacks on Habre and other Goranes. People in Chad hated Habre’s brutal regime of terror and genocide and, with the backing of Libya, and with no resistance from the French troops stationed in Chad, Deby led a successful coup against Habre and declared himself dictator in the country in December 1990. Thereafter, Habre went exile to Senegal. Until the civil war ended in 1996 Chad faced many problems ranging from ethnic warfare to the Libyan invasion. After declaring himself the new president of Chad, Déby dissolved the legislature. In 1994 a new constitution was drafted, and in 1996 multiparty elections were conducted. Déby won these elections. In northwestern Chad, however, a rebellion led by Déby’s former defense minister Youssouf Togoimi (b. 1953) broke out in 1998. Togoimi’s movement was called the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad. Although there has been a willingness to move toward democratic reform in the region, an ethnic oligarchy is still in power there. In 2001 Déby was reelected, but his regime has been criticized for mismanagement, numerous civil rights abuses, and corruption. The government has consistently neglected to prosecute security force personnel accused of killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem, and incarceration is a life-threatening experience. Violence and societal discrimination against women is common, and female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread. Although Déby and Togoimi declared a ceasefire in 2002, conflicts persisted. Eventually, the southeast-based rebels approached the government and signed a peace treaty. In the 1980s Chad was declared the poorest country in the world. The World Bank helped Chad by providing $200 million to construct a pipeline to connect Chad’s oil fields to those in Cameroon. It was considered a first step toward economic development. According to the agreement signed between Chad and the World Bank, 80 percent of the profits would be allotted to health, education, and social welfare. The country’s prospects are good because of its oil resources, and its treasury is expected to increase by 50 percent. Chad faces a new major problem, however—refugees. Due to the conflict in neighboring Sudan, refugees have been compelled to come to Chad where they struggle with hunger, lack of medical aid, and epidemics in numerous refugee camps. Though Chad falls in the developing nations’ category today, its people continue to fight a grim battle for survival.
Situated in central Africa and the south of Libya, Chad has a tropical climate. It is a landlocked country, three times the size of Texas. It shares its borders with the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Niger, Sudan, and Nigeria. At one time Lake Chad which borders both Chad and Cameroon, was the second largest lake in Africa. Early in the 21st century, however, it was 10 percent smaller than its original size. Chad has four climate zones: arid plains in the center, deserts in the north, dry mountains in the northwest, and tropical lowlands to the south. Chad faces many environmental hazards. The harmattan winds in the north are hot and dry and are followed by droughts and plagues. The average temperature is over 100°F. The rainy season begins in June and lasts until September.
Chad has impressive oil fields that have been discovered on the northern side of Lake Chad. A Cameroon–Chad pipeline, with investment from ExxonMobil (40 percent) and other major oil companies, promises to make the country one of the world’s leading oil exporters. The citizenry of Chad is, however, dubious about the wealth oil promises to bring into this poor country. In October 2003 when President Idriss Déby opened the multibillion dollar facilities in the southern Doba basin, civic groups called for a national day of mourning as a silent protest against the ongoing violations of basic human rights in Chad, as well as against insecurity and falling living standards. Armed attacks on citizens, murders, rapes, extortion, and robberies continue to take place. In addition, the constant and lengthy cut-offs of water and electricity and the deterioration in basic sanitation services are a growing threat to public health.” Chad is also rich in natron, a complex of sodium carbonate used by the Egyptians in mummification. This has been found in the Lake Chad and Borkou areas. In addition, uranium deposits, gold, and wolframite have been found in many areas. However, the country and its people are currently dependent on foreign capital for development. Chad’s economy has long been handicapped by its landlocked position, high-energy costs, and a history of instability. Most of the people in Chad are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Other main fields of labor are forestry, fishing, and animal husbandry. There are major hazards to the economy caused by the country’s geographic isolation, bad infrastructure, and continuing political uncertainties. j CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE Chad is a culturally diverse nation with many rich tribal heritages. Arabic and French are the two official languages of the country, and many Chadians speak several languages. In addition to the official languages there are hundreds of other tribal languages that are widely spoken. Each of Chad’s ethnic groups follows its own religious beliefs and customs. The music of each is different and so is the folklore. The cultural tales of the south are totally different from those of the north. Black African and other non-Muslim groups constitute a large part of the population. There is also a sizable Catholic population. In the south the Sara, Ngambaye, Moundang, and Massa predominate. Most of them are Christians. The Sara group is the biggest ethnic group in Chad, with an interest in the educational opportunities provided by the French. The people of the Sara tribe occupy many major civil positions of the country. A unique social structure is the main characteristic of the Maba tribe. They rely on friendships for aid. People belonging to the griots, the singers responsible for recounting histories and genealogies, play traditional music to earn their living. The people from central Chad are nomadic. The northern portion of the country, inhabited by the nomadic Muslim tribes, is called the heart of Sahara. The Toubou tribe is dominant here. They are Muslims and descendants of Berber migrants (indigenous inhabitants of the Maghrib region, located north of the Sahara desert and west of the Nile River). In 1982 the Toubou people numbered 1.5 million and controlled Chad. Very clan-oriented, these people are herders who prefer to be independent. They are also considered strong on the battlefield.
Millet, a versatile grain that can be prepared in numerous ways, is the staple food of Chadians. Chadians make pancakes or balls with it, which are then dipped in sauces and eaten. They also use it as a paste. In the northern parts of Chad millet is called aiysh, and in the south, biya. Another staple food is sorghum, and rice is popular in some areas. Wheat and corn are not easily available. Pork is famous in N’Djamena and the southern areas, but Muslims do not eat pork, so in the north, there is a great demand for beef and chicken. Livestock herding is common in these areas. Chad’s lake and rivers supply a variety of fish. Capitaine (Nile perch) is the most widely available. Other common varieties in these regions are tilapia, eel, and carp. A mud-dwelling catfish called balbout is available during the rainy season. Banda, a large smoked fish, is also a major part of Chadian cuisine. In Chad, fish are dried, salted, or smoked before they are sold. Salanga is a product that is made from dried or salted fish. Chad exports salanga, balbout, and other varieties of fish and fish products to both Cameroon and Nigeria. Chadians combine fish and meat in one pot, making a single dish out of them. Kebabs are also popular, as are omelets served with rice and meat, and all kinds of fruit juices. Dates also figure prominently in the cuisine of Chad. BIRTH
One of the earliest tribes in Africa to convert to Islam was the Bagirmi Fulani, a branch of the Fulani tribe that occupies the Bagirmi region of south-central Chad. Children hold a vital position in their social life, because the Fulanis believe that people live for generations through their children. For them children represent the future. If a Fulani dies without seeing his or her children, he or she is considered to have died a sad death, so a child’s birth is always celebrated with a grand feast. When the people of this tribe welcome the first son into the family, the naming ceremonies are elaborate. According to them a man’s features and his name will last as long as he has a son. The child is expected to bring with him all the happiness and prosperity that the family will enjoy in the future. Relatives and friends from all over the locality and the neighboring regions join the family on this occasion.
The Sara group of Chad has important initiation rites that mark a boy’s transition from childhood to adulthood. Different groups follow different rites, but the most popular in Chad is yondo, a male initiation ceremony. The yondo, which symbolizes male authority and male bonds, takes place every six or seven years, and boys from all the Sara villages come for the rites. Elders from their families often accompany the initiates. Sons or brothers who have completed their initiation ceremony attend but stay in a different house. Women must stay away altogether. During yondo elderly males take the initiates to the bush area for a predetermined period of time. The boys are taught about their tribe’s way of life and learn tribal secrets. In earlier times these rites used to go on for months, but the celebration has been shortened. The ritual of circumcision is also a part of yondo. Following the rites, initiates do not return to their actual homes. Though there are coming of age ceremonies for women, too, these celebrations are shorter and less elaborate. Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is practiced in all areas of the country. There is no law specifically prohibiting FGM, and 60 percent of the women in Chad have undergone the procedure. Furthermore, the government has shown little interest in trying to eradicate the practice. Household responsibilities and moral values are taught to girls during these procedures.
Among the Muslims in Chad women usually marry in their teens. In most of the groups men have more than one wife. In some groups the bridegroom’s family pays a bride-price in order to get the woman their son wants to marry; in other cases the woman enters the man’s home bringing a dowry in the form of cash, jewelry, and gifts. The wedding ceremonies in the northern parts of Chad are interesting. In these areas, a mock ceremony is staged after marriage in which the bride is stolen from her family. After this performance the girl’s family observes a mock mourning ritual.
In Chadian society ancestors play a vital role in bringing the living and the dead closer. They act as the link between the real world and the supernatural. It is believed that ancestors can interfere in people’s daily affairs. People who died in the recent past are more likely to interfere, since they do not leave the Earth immediately after death. For a certain period of time they will wander between the Earth and the other world. Therefore, many rituals are conducted to satisfy the dead and ask them to leave. It is an aid in forgetting the grief caused by the death of this person and also in restoring social order. Many rites take place to relieve the spirits. Among the Sara there is a belief that lightning and water spirits encourage violent deaths and also inspire other spirits to interfere in the day-to-day activities of their relatives. These spirits may come and live with the family or children. They can also take different forms or enter the bodies of living individuals. Since the spirits can cause harm, rites must be conducted to appease them. In this tribe the New Year is celebrated on the first new Moon after the harvest. On this day major hunting activities take place and whatever is caught is offered to the ancestors. In many villages the village chief holds supreme power, since he is believed to be the messenger between the living and the dead. In centralized societies the ruler of a particular community is expected to possess divine powers and to have a link between the natural and the supernatural.