The essential social unit of Sara society is the lineage. Called the qir ka among the eastern Sara, qin ka among those of the center, and qel ka among the western subgroups, the term actually refers to the male ancestor from whom members of the lineage believe they descend. Within the context of the qir ka, an individual identifies patrilineally. Legal identity and rights to land are determined by membership in the patrilineage. The mother's lineage, however, is not disregarded; it may offer shelter and support, when the individual is cut off from the paternal lineage, or benefit from certain kinds of labor obligations.
Although the basic social group is the lineage, the basic residential unit is the village. In general, local government takes two forms. If the villagers all belong to the same lineage, the village is governed by lineage institutions whereby the elders make important decisions, preside over important cultural rites (such as manhood initiation), and play an important role in agricultural rituals. If villagers are divided among several lineages, however, elders from the different groups may meet together to resolve common problems. In such encounters, elders of the lineage that first settled the territory preside as "first among equals."
During the colonial era, the French superimposed a territorially based administration over precolonial Sara social and political institutions. On the local level, this took the form of the canton (or county). The canton was headed by a chief named by the central government, who in turn named "village chiefs." Although candidates for such positions existed among the traditional Sara authorities, the French generally preferred to appoint collaborators who had no independent base of support. Apart from creating new political structures, the French also sought to reorganize Sara society spatially. They forced people to regroup in more compact villages along roads, causing lineages to abandon traditional lands. Despite considerable initial resistance, the colonial administration eventually succeeded in imposing these new settlement patterns and new chiefs, thus undermining Sara political and social structures. Since independence, efforts by the Chadian government to centralize authority have continued. Nonetheless, Sara institutions have retained influence, and the Sara have added new structures to reinforce Sara solidarity.
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