Congo-Kordofanian Languages

Congo-Kordofanian Languages

Classified as belonging to the Niger-Congo subfamily of the Congo-Kordofanian family, languages in the Moundang-Toupouri-Mboum groups are spoken by a variety of populations in Mayo-Kebbi and Logone Oriental prefectures. These languages may be divided into seven subgroups: Moundang, Toupouri, Mboum/Laka, Kera, Mongbai, Kim, and Mesme. Speakers of Moundang, Toupouri, and Mboum/Laka are by far the most numerous of this group. Despite belonging to the same language group, these three populations have very different social structures, life-styles, and myths of origin.

Moundang is spoken by more than 100,000 people in Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture; numerous Moundang speakers also live in Cameroon. The Moundang people raise millet for food and cotton for sale. They also own cattle, which are used for marriage payments, religious sacrifices, and payment of fines. Bororo herders live in the same region and often take care of Moundang livestock.

On the broadest level, the Moundang still belong to a kingdom founded two centuries ago. Although the French colonial administration and the independent Chadian governments undermined the military power of the gon lere (king), he continued to wield influence in the 1980s from his capital at Léré. On a smaller scale, clan institutions remain important. Associated with particular territories, taboos, totem animals, and marriage rules, clan government, which predates the kingdom, is much less centralized. In some respects, the two sets of institutions act as checks on each other. For example, the clans allow the king to organize manhood initiation ceremonies, central to the maintenance of Moundang identity; however, the councils of elders of each clan may offer advice to the ruler.

In the nineteenth century, the Moundang suffered frequent attacks by Fulani invaders from the west. They were never subjugated, but the close contact has resulted in the adoption of Fulani principles of political organization and dress.

Mboum/Laka speakers live in southern Logone Oriental Prefecture. About 100,000 Mboum/Laka speakers lived in Chad in the 1980s; a larger population lived across the border in Cameroon and Central African Republic. Sedentary farmers, the Mboum and the Laka probably were pushed east and south by the expansion of the Fulani over the past two centuries.

The Toupouri language and people are found in Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture around the town of Fianga. Almost all of their land is cultivated, and productivity is enhanced by the use of animal fertilizer and double cropping. During the rainy season, the Toupouri raise sorghum. Berebere, a kind of millet, is grown in the drier part of the year. Cattle and fish provide additional food resources. Numbering about 100,000, the Toupouri live in the most densely populated part of Chad; some cantons reach densities of twelve people per square kilometer. Overcrowding has promoted emigration, primarily to N'Djamena and Nigeria.


Fulani speakers are not very numerous in Chad. Part of the West Atlantic subfamily of the Congo-Kordofanian family of languages, Fulani (called Peul by the French) first appeared in the Senegal River Valley in West Africa. Population growth and the vagaries of climate encouraged the eastward drift of Fulani-speaking herders through the Sahel. Some Fulani speakers adopted Islam and became very important actors in the spread of the religion and the rise of Muslim states west of Chad. Many of these people settled, taking up village or urban life and abandoning nomadism. Other Fulani speakers, however, remained loyal to their pre-Islamic faith and their nomadic life-style.

Fulani speakers arrived in Chad only in the past two centuries. In the mid-1960s, about 32,000 Fulani lived in Kanem, southern Batha, and northern Chari-Baguirmi prefectures, where they raised mainly cattle and sheep. Many of the Fulani are fervent Muslims, and some are teachers of the Quran.

Related to the Fulani ethnically and linguistically--but refusing contact--are the nomadic Bororo of western Chad. In the dry season, the Bororo pasture their animals around wells and pools in northern Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture near Bongor. After the first major rains, they leave for Kanem Prefecture, north of Lake Chad.


Also members of the Niger-Congo subfamily of the Congo-Kordofanian languages, Banda-Ngbaka languages are located in Guéra, Salamat, and Moyen-Chari prefectures. Subgroups include Sango, Bolgo, Goula, and Goula Iro. Although not spoken as a first language in Chad, Sango has been particularly important because it served as a trade language during the colonial era. Although most Banda-Ngbaka languages are found farther south in Central African Republic, the presence of these subgroups in Chad suggests that Banda-Ngbaka speakers were once much more numerous in Chad. Bolgo, found with Hajerai and Goula languages in the vicinity of Lake Iro and Lake Mamoun, is spoken by refugee populations. Populations speaking these languages are very diverse. Although the Goula speak a Banda-Ngbaka language, for example, their culture resembles that of the Sara.

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