Toubou people

Last updated

Niger, Toubou people at Koulele (04).jpg
Traditional Toubou warriors
Total population
c.1,225,933 [1]
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Chad.svg  Chad 1,074,343 [1]
Flag of Niger.svg  Niger 101,590 [2]
Flag of Libya.svg  Libya 50,000 [3] –85,000 [4]
Tebu languages (Daza, Teda) [5] [6]
Arabic (Chadian Arabic, Libyan Arabic)
Islam (Sunni Islam) [7]
Related ethnic groups
Tuareg, Kanembu, Zaghawa

The Toubou or Tubu (from Old Tebu, meaning "rock people" [8] ) are an ethnic group native to the Tibesti Mountains [9] that inhabit the central Sahara in northern Chad, southern Libya, northeastern Niger and northwestern Sudan. They live either as herders and nomads or as farmers near oases. Their society is clan-based, with each clan having certain oases, pastures and wells. [10]


The Toubou are generally divided into two closely related groups: the Teda (or Tuda, Téda, Toda, Tirah) and the Daza (or Dazzaga, Dazagara, Dazagada). They are believed to share a common origin and speak the Tebu languages, which are from the Saharan branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. [11] Tebu is divided further into two closely related languages, called Tedaga (Téda Toubou) and Dazaga (Dazaga Gouran). Of the two groups, the Daza, found to the south of the Teda, are more numerous. [12]

The Toubou people are also referred to as the Tabu, Tebu, Tebou, Tibu, Tibbu, Toda, Todga, Todaga, Tubu, Tuda, Tudaga, or Gorane people. [6] [7] The Daza are sometimes referred to as Gouran (or Gorane, Goran, Gourane), an Arabian exonym. [13] Many of Chad's leaders have been Toubou (Gouran), including presidents Goukouni Oueddei and Hissène Habré. [14]


The Toubou people have historically lived in northern Chad, northeastern Niger, and southern Libya. [15] They have sometimes been called the "black nomads of the Sahara". [16] They are distributed across a large area in the central Sahara, as well as the north-central Sahel. They are particularly found north of the Tibesti mountains, which in Old Tebu means "Rocky Mountains". The first syllable "Tu" refers to the Tibesti mountains, as known by the natives (Tuda), and the second syllable "bo" refers to blood in the Kanembou language; thus, people from the Tibesti region are referred to as Tubou." Their name is derived from this. [17]

The Teda are found primarily in the Sahara regions around the borders of southeast Libya, northeast Niger and northern Chad. They consider themselves a warrior people. The Daza live towards the Sahel region and are spread over much of north-central Chad. The Daza consist of numerous clans. Some major tribes, clans, societies of the Daza, or Gouran, include the Alala, Anakaza, Choraga, Dazza, Djagada, Dogorda, Donza, Gaeda, Kamaya, Kara, Ketcherda, Kokorda, Mourdiya, Nara, Wandja, Yirah and many more. The Daza cover the northern regions of Chad such as the Bourkou, the Ennedi Plateau, the northern Kanem, the Bahr el Gazel in the south and also the Tibesti mountains and the neighbouring countries. There is a diaspora community of several thousand Daza living in Omdurman, Sudan and a couple of thousand working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.[ citation needed ]

Toubou map.svg
Massif du Tibesti topographic map-fr.svg
Toubou people's approximate distribution (left). They are found near the Tibesti massif in Chad, particularly to its north and west.


The zones occupied by the Toubou and, the local names of the tribal confederacies that occupy these zones. Toubou.png
The zones occupied by the Toubou and, the local names of the tribal confederacies that occupy these zones.

The ancient history of the Toubou people is unclear. They may be related to the 'Ethiopians' mentioned by Herodotus in 430 BCE, as a people being hunted by the Garamantes, but this is speculative, as Jean Chapelle argues. [18] [19] Furthermore, scholars such as Laurence P. Kirwan stress that the Garamantes and the Toubou seem to occupy the same lands. Which spans from the Fezzan (Phazania) as far south as Nubia. Further evidence is given by Harold MacMichael states that the Bayuda desert was still known as the desert of Goran; a name as MacMichael has shown, connected with the Kura'án of today. This reaffirms that the Kura'án (Goran) of today, occupy much of the same territory as the Garamantes once did. [20] [21]

In Islamic literature, the earliest mention as the Toubou people is perhaps that along with the Zaghawa people in an 8th-century text by Arabic scholar Ibn Qutaybah. [19] [22] The 9th century al-Khwarizmi mentions the Daza people (southern Teda). [22] [23]

During the expansive era of Trans-Saharan trade, the Toubou inhabited lands which were frequently used by merchant caravans, specifically along the Kufra oasis routes. It is unknown if the Toubou enganged with the caravans.


According to a study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics (Haber et al. 2016) that examined Y-DNA haplogroups from samples obtained from 75 Toubou men, haplogroups associated with paternal Eurasian ancestry were present at rates of 34% for R1b (R1b-V88), 31% for T1a, and 1% for J1. The North African associated haplogroup E-M78 were present at rates of 28%, while E-M81 appeared at a rate of 5%. [23] The study also found that 20-30% of Toubou autosomal DNA was Eurasian in origin, and their African ancestral component was best represented by Laal-speaking populations. The most likely source of this Eurasian DNA, according to the analysis, was central European Neolithic farmers (Linearbandkeramik culture). [24] Other ethnic groups in the Chad, such as the Sara people and the Laal speakers had considerably lower Eurasian admixture, at only 0.3%-2% (Sara) and 1.25%-4.5% (Laal). [23]


Toubou (Gorane) woman in traditional attire PhotoduTchad.jpg
Toubou (Gorane) woman in traditional attire
Toubou family in Chad Toubou people.jpg
Toubou family in Chad
Toubou camel riders north of N'Gourti, Niger Niger, Toubou people at Koulele (06).jpg
Toubou camel riders north of N'Gourti, Niger


Toubou life centers on raising and herding their livestock, or on farming the scattered oases where they cultivate dates and grain and legumes. Their herds include dromedaries, goats, cattle, donkeys and sheep. [7] The livestock is a major part of their wealth, and they trade the animals. [17] The livestock is also used as a part of dowry payment during marriage, either as one where the groom's family agrees to pay to the bride's family in exchange for the bride, [7] or, states Catherine Baroin, it is given by the bride's kin to supply the young couple with economic resources in order to start a family. [25]

In a few places, the Toubou also mine salt and natron, [26] a salt-like substance which is essential in nearly all components of Toubou life from medicinal purposes, as a mixture in chewing tobacco, preservation, tanning, soap production, textiles and for livestock. [27] Literacy rates among the Toubou are quite low. [28]


Many Toubou people still follow a semi-nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Those who prefer a settled life typically live in palm-thatched, rectangular or cylindrical mud houses. [7] The Toubou are patrilineal, with an elder male heading the lineage. The second order of Toubou kinship is to the clan. [29]

According to Jean Chapelle, a colonial officer of history specializing in Chadian ethnic groups (although his book in Borkou has caused a significant degree of wrongdoing), the clan system developed out of necessity. Nomadic life means being scattered throughout a region; therefore, belonging to a clan means that the individual is likely to find hospitable clan people in most settlements or camps of any size. [30]

A second factor is the maintenance of ties with the maternal clan. [30] Although the maternal clan does not occupy the central place of the parental clan, it provides ties. [30] The third factor is protective relationships at the primary residence. [31] [32]

Despite shared linguistic heritage, few institutions among the Toubou generate a broader sense of identity than the clan. [30] Regional divisions do exist, however. [30] During the colonial period (and since independence in 1960), Chadian administrations have conferred legality and legitimacy on these regional groupings by dividing the Teda and Daza regions into corresponding territorial units called cantons and appointing chiefs to administer them. [30]

Toubou legal customs are generally based on Islamic law, that allows restitution and revenge. [33] Murder, for example, is settled directly between the families of the victim and the murderer. [30] Toubou honour requires that someone from the victim's family try to kill the murderer or a relative; such efforts eventually end with negotiations to settle the matter. [30]

Reconciliation follows the payment of the Goroga (Islamic tenet of Diyya), or blood money. [30] [34] Among the Tumagra clan of the Teda people in the Tibesti region, there is a derde (spiritual head) who is recognized as the clan judge, and arbitrates conflict and levies sanctions. [35]

Social stratification

Toubou people in Qatrun, by George Francis Lyon, 1821 Tibboo of Gatrone.jpg
Toubou people in Qatrun, by George Francis Lyon, 1821

The Toubou people, states Jean Chapelle, have been socially stratified with an embedded caste system. [36] [37] The three strata have consisted of the freemen with a right to own property, the artisanal castes and the slaves. [38] [39]

The endogamous caste of Azza (or Aza) among Toubou have the artisanal occupations, such as metal work, leather work, salt mining, well digging, dates farming, pottery and tailoring, and they have traditionally been despised and segregated by other strata of the Toubou, much like the Hadahid caste in southeastern Chad among the Zaghawa people. [40] [41] According to Paul Lovejoy – a professor of African History, the 19th century records show that these segregated Toubou castes followed the same customs and traditions as the rest of the Toubou, but they were independent in their politics and beliefs, much like the artisan castes found in many ethnic groups of western Chad such as the Kanembou, Yedina, Arab, Kouri and Danawa. [41]

Marriage between a member of the Azza and a member from a different strata of the Toubou people has been culturally unacceptable. [38] [42] The Azza are Dazaga-speaking people who sprang from the Dazagara. The majority of Teda speak and understand Dazaga, however, the Dazagada do not always clearly grasp Tedaga. Dazaga is the most commonly used language in BET by all its inhabitants. [43]

The lowest social strata were the slaves (Agara). [37] [44] Slaves entered the Toubou Teda and Daza societies from raids and warfare on other ethnic groups in lands to their south. All slaves were the property of their masters, their caste was endogamous, and their status was inherited by birth.

In the year 1953, Al-Haj Kellei Chahami, a highly esteemed privileged chieftain of the Kamaya canton, an agreement with the French colonizers decreed the emancipation of all slaves and suppressed the use of captives in the Borkou region, while slaves from the contiguous regions, such as Tibesti and Ennedi, uncovered the liberation center situated in Borkou. Several of these slaves escaped and sought refuge in Borkou under the protection of the Kamaya canton and they were subsequently emancipated by the esteemed chief, Al-Haj Kellei Chahami, who granted them land that enabled them to settle, and this district was formerly referred to as "Ni-Agaranga" in Dazaga, which literally translates to "country of slaves" in the Faya-Largeau city. However, the Borkou municipality opted to rechristen it as "Quartier Huit" (Eighth Quarter) as a euphemistic expression. After the abolition of slavery in 1953, the chief Kellei Chahami admitted the descendants of former captives to the canton, where they were recognized as full members and can move around freely and in this way, the last fraction of the Kamaya canton thus was established. Not only the captives were attached to the Kamaya canton, but along with all foreigners who resided in Faya, including Fezzanais (Libyan refugees who fled Italian brutality in 1929 before the Italian colonialists' progression into southern Libya, the Fezzan region), Ouadaens from the Chad's Waddai region, prostitutes, blacksmiths and etc, were also attached to the Kamaya canton. All of these individuals' concerns were conveyed to the colonizers via the Kamaya canton.

The descendants of freed slaves who located in the Tibesti region for many years approach their former masters inquiring about their past. In response, the Teda deliberately allege their identity as "Kamadja" to their freed captives, who question about the significance of this designation. The Teda respond that they know the freed captives' people led them to assume this title. However, once the descendants of freed slaves embrace this belief and depart, the Teda proceed to use insulting terms such as "blind," "stupid," and "unintelligent," as well as other terms that are demeaning. The term "Kamadja" is a mispronunciation of Kamaya, and the Teda are grudgingly attempting to sabotage the Toubou Gourane Kamaya clans' federation reputation since the Kamaya's history was fabricated by the French colonists and Teda took advantage of the situation by misleading their freed slave descendants and the general public. The linguistic analysis reveals that the term "Kamadja" does not exist in either the Dazaga or Tedaga languages. The tone terms, namely "Kamadja" for the male plural and as general and "Kamadji" for the male singular, are used as generic phrases. It is worth noting that these terms lack inherent significance. The solitary form of the female term, "Kamadjedo" or "Kamadjero", might be seen as implausible and without coherence, whilst the plural form of the female term, "Kamadjeda", has an exceptionally peculiar and irrational quality. These terms are devoid of any discernible significance. The mispronunciation in question may be attributed to the challenges faced by French colonists while attempting to articulate the phoneme represented by the letter "Y" in the alphabet. As a replacement, they frequently resorted to apply the phonetic sounds of "Dj" or "J". Moreover, the explorers who visited Borkou before the French colonization made contributions to the misinterpretation of various expressions, as evidenced by Gustav Nichtigal's works. These inaccuracies include referring to the Yira clan as Jira, the Yenoa clan as Jenoa, the Yin oasis as Jin, the Yarda oasis as Jarda, the Faya oasis as Faja, the Bidayet community as Bidajet, and the Goli Yeskou as Goli Jeskou (Black snake), many more other carelessness. These oversights and misinterpretations are notable in the exploration literatures. The term "Kamadja" has become somewhat entrenched a certain level of permanence but is losing its relevance of the Kamaya ethnic group due to its lack of self-identification and it is important to note that this term was introduced and propagated by Europeans, and there is a belief that it has inaccurately misquoted, misconstrued, and distorted the sound of "Y" to "Dj" or "J" in the names of various clans, tribes, communities, rural areas, organisms, and numerous other entities throughout the entirety of Chad. On the other end of the spectrum, the nomenclature of Kamaya has signification, value, and historical origins rooted in the expression "Kama-Dro-Yédé". This expression pertains to the inhabitant of the Faya oasis in the accent of Kanem Dazaga, where "Kama" describes a valley, "Dro" implies interior, and "Yédé" denotes an occupant. In this context, "Yé" indicates the act of dwelling, while "Dé" stands as the indicator of a singular form. Thus, the expression "Kama-Dro-Yédé" may be interpreted as "the individual who dwells in the valley" of the palm grove situated in the Faya oasis. The ancient designation for the clans of Kamaya was "Kamayada", with "Ya" denoting habitation and "Da" indicating plurality. Conversely, "Kamayédé" is the singular and authentic noun used to refer to an occupant of the Faya palm grove oasis valley, since the suffix "Dé" is appended to the solitary form of "Yé". Therefore, the designation "Kamaya" refers to the natives of the valley that is situated in the palm grove of Faya oasis. In Dazaga, the community is called "Kama-Yanga" which means the Kamaya canton and together with the suffix "Ga" implies the dialect spoken by the Dazagada. In the linguistic context under consideration, the citizens of the aforementioned canton are referred to as "Kamay" in the singular form for males, while the singular form for females may be either "Kamaydo" or "Kamayro", with the vocalization of the suffix varying across specific regions and individuals' accents, ranging from "Do" to "Ro". The plural form of the noun "female" may be expressed as either "Kamayda" or "Kamayra", whereas the plural form for males and as a general reference is "Kamaya". [45]


The Teda, in particular, forbids marriage between cousins, up to 9 generations unrelated, a tradition prevalent with many Muslim ethnic groups in Africa, however, the Daza of Kanem, Bahr el-Ghazal, and certain clans of Borkou and Ennedi marry close cousins since it is not prohibited in the Quran, they also doubt the origins of individuals and misalliance. [46] A man may marry and have multiple wives according to Islamic tenets, however, this practice is only somewhat prevalent in Toubou society. [7]

The ownership of land, animals, and resources takes several forms. [30] Within an oasis or settled zone belonging to a particular clan, land, trees (usually date palms), and nearby wells may have different owners. [30] Each family's rights to the use of particular plots of land are recognized by other clan members. [30] Families also may have privileged access to certain wells and the right to a part of the harvest from the fields irrigated by their water. [30] Within the clan and family contexts, individuals also may have personal claims to palm trees and animals. [30]

Contemporary conditions

Toubou (Gorane) camel show Toubou camel show.jpg
Toubou (Gorane) camel show


Toubou (Gorane) camel rider in Ennedi plateau, Chad Toubou-nomad-ennedi-chad.jpg
Toubou (Gorane) camel rider in Ennedi plateau, Chad
Flag of the Toubou people used in Chad Flag of the Toubou people.svg
Flag of the Toubou people used in Chad

Much of the political class of Chad are drawn from Dazaga. During the First Chadian Civil War (1966-1979), the derde came to occupy a more important position. [30] In 1965 the Chadian government assumed direct authority over the Tibesti Mountains, sending a military garrison and administrators to Bardaï, the capital of Tibesti Sub-prefecture. [30] Within a year, abuses of authority had roused considerable opposition among the Toubou. [30] The derde, Oueddei Kichidemi, recognized but little respected up to that time, protested the excesses, went into exile in Libya, and, with the support of Toubou students at the Islamic University of Bayda, became a symbol of opposition to the Chadian government. [30] This role enhanced the position of the Derde from the Tumagra tribe of Toubou. [30] [47]

After 1967 the derde hoped to rally the Toubou to the National Liberation Front of Chad (FROLINAT). [30] Moral authority became military authority shortly thereafter when his son, Goukouni Oueddei, became one of the leaders of the Second Liberation Army of FROLINAT. [30] Goukouni was to become a national figure; he played an important role in the battles of N'Djamena in 1979 and 1980 and served as head of state for a time. [30] Another northerner, Hissène Habré of the Dazagra, replaced Goukouni of the Teda in 1982, and eventually lost power to the Zaghawa Idriss Déby after 8 years. [48]


Situation in Libya in May 2016 Situation in Libya (May 2016).svg
Situation in Libya in May 2016
Flag of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya Flag of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya.svg
Flag of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya

The Toubou minority in Libya suffered what has been described as "massive discrimination" [49] both under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi as well as after the Libyan civil war. [28]

In a report released by the UNHCR, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) reported "massive discrimination" against the Toubou minority, which resides in the southeastern corner of the country around the oasis town of Kufra. In December 2007, the Gaddafi government stripped Toubou Libyans of their citizenship, claiming that they were not Libyans, but rather Chadians. In addition, local authorities denied Toubou people access to education and healthcare. In response, an armed group called the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya (TFSL) staged an uprising in November 2008 which lasted for five days and claimed 33 lives before being crushed by government security forces. Despite resistance and public condemnation, the Gaddafi regime continued its persecution of the Toubou minority in Libya. Beginning in November 2009, the government began a program of forced eviction and demolition of Toubou homes, rendering many Toubou homeless. Several dozens who protested the destruction were arrested, and families who refused to leave their homes were beaten. [49]

In the Libyan Civil War, Toubou tribespeople in Libya sided with the rebel anti-Gaddafi forces and participated in the Fezzan campaign against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, briefly capturing the town of Qatrun [50] and claiming to capture Murzuk for the rebel movement a month later. [51]

In March 2012, bloody clashes broke out between Toubou and Arab tribesmen in the southern city of Sabha, Libya. In response, Issa Abdel Majid Mansour, the leader of the Toubou tribe in Libya threatened a separatist bid, decrying what he saw as "ethnic cleansing" against Toubou and declaring "We announce the reactivation of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya to protect the Toubou people from ethnic cleansing." The TFSL was the opposition group active in the unrest of 2007–2008 that was "ruthlessly persecuted" by the Gaddafi government. [52] [53]

See also

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