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ETHNONYMS: Tebou, Tebu, Tibbu, Toda, Todaga, Todga, Toubou, Tubu, Tuda, Tudaga


The Teda inhabit the Tibesti Massif, in northern Chad. They are generally considered to be part of a larger grouping of people known as "Tebu," "Tebou," "Tibbu," or "Toubou." Patterns of growth, intraethnic differentiation, and migration among the more widespread Tebu have left the Tibesti mainly to the Teda and to smaller numbers of Daza. Most of the Teda are isolated in the mountainous plateaus of the Tibesti.

The modern European occupation of the Tibesti put new pressures on old patterns. The Europeans arrived with different technology and objectives that were totally foreign to the Teda. There were three primary European objectives: pacification, sedentarization, and the abolition of slavery. Apart from these essentially political pressures, there is also evidence of climatic pressure, particularly the progressive desiccation of the area over a period of more than fifty years. The emancipation of the people upon whom the Teda relied for agricultural labor compelled the Teda to abandon cultivation rather than to sedentarize and take up a despised occupation. The slaves who were freed did not continue in their traditional line of work, that is, in agriculture, because they too shared the values of their culture, which gave little prestige to agricultural work. They, in fact, tended to become increasingly nomadic. The pacification achieved under European colonization also increased the attraction to travel by rendering it safer. Some of the traditional lifeways of the Teda, particularly a reluctance to rely on cultivation and a preference for migratory activities, have withstood the pressure to change, a demonstration of the tenacity of Teda culture.

In sum, important features of the Teda culture include their reliance on flexible subsistence strategies, a pattern of social stratification that discourages the accumulation of dependents and encourages flexible alliances, a property system that favors movable property over land and that fostered an ethos favoring mobility and military prowess over secure land tenure and intensive production, and a traditional history of small-group (clan) migration and predatory relations with adjacent communities. These features are common to groups that seek to avoidat almost any costtheir own subjugation or taxation by wealthier predatory peoples.

The massif is centered in the southwestern corner of the Sahara. The people of the massif inhabit an area roughly between 15° and 22° E and 16° and 24° N. The population of the area was an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 in the early 1980s. There are 10,000 to 13,000 Teda in the Tibesti and another 3,000 in the southernmost oases of Libya. Others are scattered in Niger and Chad.

The Teda language includes dialects of the Tebu (Tubu, Tibbu, Toubou, Daza) and Teda or Tedaga (Tuda, Toda, Tugada, Tegada) languages, which belong to the Nilo-Saharan Language Group. The only people who speak Tedaga are the Teda of Tibesti. Daza or Dazaga is the language of the Tebu, and the language in which poetry and songs are composed even by the Teda, whose knowledge of Dazaga is often imperfect.

The climate of the Tibesti region is one of abrupt daily temperature fluctuations, long rainless seasons, and considerable variation according to elevation. Generally, however, it is extremely arid and follows a specific pattern of seasonal variation. December through February are cold and dry months, with violent northeast winds; March and April are hot and dry, but overcast; May and June are hot and dry, with maximum temperatures; July is humid with rainstorms and tornadoes; August and September are rainy and increasingly hot; and October and November are hot and dry, with extreme daily fluctuations in temperature. The greatest extremes for the region at different seasons and elevations are around 46° C. and -26° C, but a 17° daily fluctuation is not unusual.

Most of the massif is made up of steep plateaus dissected by many drainage channels. The west has narrower and more precipitous valleys, whereas the east has broader plateaus with more rounded peaks. Several summits are more than 3,000 meters high, and there are volcanoes on a sandstone plateau with elevations averaging 1,800 meters. The major mineral resource of Teda country is salt, which has long been exploited as a principal trade commodity. In addition, there are deposits of natron, sulphur, amazonite, and superficial deposits of hematite that have yielded sufficient iron ore for native use.

Apart from domesticated dogs, sheep, goats, camels, horses, and donkeys, the fauna includes gazelles, antelope, addaxes, oryx, wild sheep, ostriches, jackals, lizards, and even small numbers of fish and water fowl. There are also poisonous varieties of snakes and scorpions and seasonal swarms of locusts and beetles. Of the uncultivated plants, various shrubsespecially acaciasand grasses grow where and when moisture is sufficient. Doom and date palms are found at sites with permanent water.

History and Cultural Relations

Teda traditional history consists mainly of accounts of the migration of various clan groups into and around the Tibesti. They reveal a good deal about the nature of the Teda clan as a social unit, the formation process of the Teda as an ethnic group, and the character of power and status in Teda society. The recorded history of the Teda territory begins with a seventh-century Arab chronicle, but it is not until around 1300 that solid evidence of the Teda presence is found.

A critical feature of the Tibesti is its remoteness. For the Teda this remoteness is a refuge; others passing through the region are charged a fee. Because of the strategic location of the Tibesti relative to the major caravan routes, the Turks, Arabs, Italians, and French vied to control it, but political control did not always result in significant cultural influence. The most significant effect of contact with other cultures was a stricter adherence to Islamic doctrine. Thus, while the Teda clans immigrated to Tibesti from areas that were already Muslim, their practice of the faith had been extremely unorthodox. Between 1850 and 1930, the Senusi brotherhood a rather puritanical Islamic sect emphasizing scriptural education, established its mission among the Teda and made some headway in eliminating nonstandard and pre-Islamic features.

The Teda are considered solitary, rather tough mountain and desert people. They were on quite hostile terms with their Arab and Tuareg neighbors throughout the colonial period. Their style of social interaction tends to be oriented more toward independence than cooperation. Their character has been described as Spartan, softened by an Islamic emphasis on giving over receiving.


The Teda are, by numerical majority and by cultural preference, nomadic pastoralists. They have herds of goats and, in some areas, camels. As is the case throughout North Africa and the Middle East, the actual degree to which any sector of the population relies on migratory herding for its subsistence, however, varies regionally with social conditions, climate, and terrain. Most of the Tibesti is so barren as to require migration for pasture, and since herding is not a self-sufficient subsistence mode, seasonal migration is also necessary for date harvesting. Even in the best years, however, these two activities do not produce an adequate diet. In the north-central and northeastern Tibesti, there are areas of arable land where sedentary and semisedentary sectors of the population cultivate vegetable gardens, cereals, groves of palm and fruit trees, grapes, and some cotton. Trade between the pastoral and agricultural sectors is essential to the diets of both, whether it be carried out between social units that are almost exclusively migratory or entirely sedentary, or accomplished by division of labor within a social unit whose members exploit both pastures and arable lands. Thus, there is a continuum of patterns of community land use, mobility, and subsistence strategies, with a stated preference and higher status for the end of the continuum that is most exclusively nomadic pastoralism.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

The Teda are divided into as many as forty patrilineal clans. In some instances, these clans are clustered in certain areas, but they cannot be considered territorial units. Each member traces descent to a common ancestor, who may have been forced to flee from some other area into the Tibesti. Most Teda clans cannot trace descent beyond about ten generations.

The dominant rule governing actual social organization is one of bilateral kindred and relationship rather than patrilineality. Marriage is kindred exogamous and ideally virilocal. Years of drought and revolution have reduced the economic viability of the Tibesti to the point that men sometimes remain absent most of the year, and residence has become more commonly uxorilocal, as the women stay with the children to care for the herds. The basic unit of social organization is the nuclear family. Friendship plays at least as large a part in determining cooperation as does kinship.

Sociopolitical Organization

The patricians vary in rank and status according to traditions of length of residence in the Tibesti, conditions under which they settled there, or reputations in war. One clan usually claims the right to the office of paramount chief, or derdai, but it appears that this right has at times been held by other high-ranking clans. There is some suggestion that the transfer of the office from one clan to another has been the result of some strategic interclan marriages, which may explain the assertion by some authors that certain clans (presumably high-ranking ones) are preferentially endogamous. Apart from access to the office of chief, distinctions among clans seem to be matters of prestige rather than of power.

The office of derdai itself is almost exclusively that of chief arbitrator in disputes. No power of coercion accompanied the position under precolonial conditions, and relatively little income could be accrued from it. Taxes for the derdai's support were not levied until the Turkish occupation. Traditionally, the derdai derived his income as any other Teda man, with the additional rights to shares from passing caravans and war booty, one-tenth of the blood money paid to the family of a homicide victim, one-tenth of inherited wealth, all property of anyone who died without heirs, and a fine paid the new husband if a divorced woman should remarry before the prescribed period. Clearly, only a powerful and energetic leader could enforce these claims in so dispersed a society, and then only the first item is likely to have been lucrative.

In addition to the mainstream Teda clans, there are two Teda subgroups that are usually described as inferior castes. The Azza intermarry only occasionally and only with extremely impoverished Teda. Generally referred to as blacksmiths and hunters, these people seem to be the artisans of the population; they practice metalwork, leatherwork, pottery making, and hairdressing and perform as musicians and singers at Teda celebrations. In the past, their customary leather garments set them apart, and they tended to travel from one community to another, either singly or in small family groups.

The second caste group, the Kamaya, is comprised of freed slaves or their descendants. The French outlawed slavery during their occupation of the Tibesti, but until that time the Teda kept slaves, acquired either by purchase or capture, and employed them chiefly for the sedentary agricultural labor they themselves so despise. The term of bondage was limited to the individual's lifetime and did not extend to enslave his or her offspring. The Teda are reported in most sources to have treated their slaves reasonably well, given the constraints of their own poverty. Slaves were frequently permitted to accrue wealth with which to purchase their freedom and acquire means of independent livelihood, and it was not uncommon for a master to free a slave and make an additional present of income-producing property. Nevertheless, it has always been considered a great disgrace for a Teda to marry even a descendant of a slave.

Religion and Expressive Culture

It is thought that all the Teda are Muslims. Their Islamization dates very probably to early in the Arab conquest, although most education in the Quran and in the intricacies of the legal system was a result of the establishment of Senusi schools in Libya and Chad within the last century. Although there are some traces of pre-Islamic belief, most of these have been incorporated into the Muslim system. The Islamic calendar is followed. Prayer is regularly practiced by both men and women, as is the Ramadan fast and zakat. Inheritance is Islamic. Although the Tibesti does not shelter many men educated in the Quran because few return to live permanently in the mountains, there are families boasting five generations of religiously learned men. In the late twentieth century more and more Teda, both men and women, have been able to perform the hajj.

The health status of the Teda as a group has generally been good. The principal problems are seasonal caloric deficiencies and periodic protein deficiency. In years when nutritional stress has been prolonged, susceptibility to respiratory infections has been a serious health problem. In the late twentieth century rheumatism, dental deterioration, and syphilis have become common.


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