Social Structure

Social Structure

The variety and number of languages in Chad are mirrored by the country's diversity of social structures. The colonial administration and independent governments have attempted to impose a "national" society on the citizenry, but for most Chadians the local or regional society remains the most important reference point outside the immediate family.

This diversity of social structure has several dimensions. For example, some social structures are small in scale, while others are huge. Among the Toubou and the Daza, some clans group only a hundred individuals. At the other extreme are the kingdoms and sultanates--found among the peoples of Ouaddaï Prefecture, the Moundang of Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture, the Barma of Chari-Baguirmi Prefecture, and the Kanembu of Kanem Prefecture, among others--which bring together thousands or even tens of thousands of people. Although these social units have enjoyed only limited formal legal recognition since the colonial epoch, they remain important institutions whose authority is recognized by their people.

Chadian social structures also differ in the way they locate people in their physical environment. Despite a sense of territory, even among such highly mobile peoples as the Toubou and Daza, the bond between an individual clan and its land is less specific than the link between the inhabitants of a densely settled farming village and its fields.

Diverse social structures foster variety in the relationships among members of a group and between people and their territory. Whereas a Toubou or a Daza is aware of her or his clan identity, she or he often lives as an individual among people of other clans. Among seminomadic Arabs of the Sahel, people identify most closely with the kashimbet, or "threshold of the house," a residential unit made up of an elder male or group of males, their wives, and descendants. Although the kashimbet does not preclude mobility, people reside most of the time with their kin. These three diversities--scale, relationships with the environment, and social links among group members--are highly conditioned by the environment and the way the society exploits it. Accordingly, the three major patterns of social structure correspond closely with the three major geographical regions of the country.

The remainder of this section examines a representative society from each region: the Toubou and Daza nomads of the Sahara, the Arab semisedentary herders of the sahelian zone, and the Sara farmers of the soudanian region.

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