Toubou people

The Toubou, or Tubu (from Old Tebu, meaning "rock people"[4]), are a Saharan ethnic group inhabiting 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.[5]

Niger, Toubou people at Koulélé (04).jpg
Traditional Toubou warriors
Total population
c. 725,000
Regions with significant populations
Chad Chad375,000
Libya Libya52,000
Niger Niger125,710
Sudan Sudan150,000
Tebu languages
Chadian Arabic
Islam (Sunni)[3]

The Toubou are generally divided into two closely related groups: the Teda (or Téda, Toda) and the Dazagara (or Dazzaga, Dazagada, Daza). 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.[6] Tebu is divided further into two closely related languages, called Tedaga (Téda Toubou) and Dazaga (Dazaga Gouran).

The Teda of the Toubou live in the far north of Chad, around the borders of Libya and Niger and the Tibesti Mountains. people are found in northern Chad and part of eastern Niger and northwestern Sudan.[7] Of the two groups, found to the south of the Teda, are more numerous with a population of 358,000, while the Teda number only 47,000.[8]

The Toubou people are also referred to as the Tabu, Tebu, Tebou, Tibu, Tibbu, Toda, Todga, Todaga, Tubu, Tuda, Tudaga, and Umbararo people.[2][3] The Dazaga are sometimes referred to as Gouran (or Gorane, Goran, Gourane), an Arabian exonym.[9] Many of Chad's leaders have been Toubou (Gouran), including presidents Goukouni Oueddei and Hissène Habré.[10]


The Toubou people have historically lived in northern Chad, northeastern Niger, and southern Libya.[11] They have sometimes been called the "black nomads of the Sahara".[12] 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 (Teda), and the second syllable "bo" refers to blood in the Kanembou language; thus, people from the Tibesti mountains are referred to as Tubou." Their name is derived from this.[13]

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 Dazagra live towards the Sahel region and are spread over much of north-central Chad. The Dazagra consist of numerous clans. Some major clans of the Dazagara, or Gouran, include the Anakaza, Choraga, Dazza, Djagada, Dogorda, Donza, Gaida, Kamaya, Karra, Ketcherda, Kokorda, Mourdiya, Salmah, Wandja, Yierah and many more. The Dazagra cover the northern regions of Bourkou, the Ennedi Plateau, the Tibesti Mountains and Bahr el Gazel in the south. There is a diaspora community of several thousand Dazaga living in Omdurman, Sudan and a couple of thousand working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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.

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.[14][15] 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.[16][17]

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.[15][18] The 9th century al-Khwarizmi mentions the Daza people (southern Toubou).[18][19] They represent 2.9% of the total population of Chad.


According to a 2016 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, 31% for T1a, and 1% for J1. The African associated haplogroup E-M78 were present at rates of 28%, while E-M81 appeared at a rate of 5%.[19] The study also showed that roughly 20-30% of Toubou autosomal DNA was Eurasian in origin, with the remainder being of indigenous African origin (70% to 80%). The mostly likely source of this Eurasian DNA, according to the study, would be a population originating among Near Eastern farmers during the Neolithic Revolution. In contrast, Near Eastern populations scored African ancestry at a rate of 7-14%, which largely predated the Neolithic Revolution in the Middle East. Other ethnic groups in the Chad, such as the Sara people or the Laal speakers had considerable lower Eurasian admixture, at only 0.3%-4.5%[19]


Toubou (Gorane) woman in traditional attire
Toubou family in Chad
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.[3] The livestock is a major part of their wealth, and they trade the animals.[13] 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,[3] 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.[20]

In a few places, the Toubou also mine salt and natron,[21] 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.[22] Literacy rates among the Toubou are quite low.[23]

Family and clanEdit

Many Toubou people still follow a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Those who prefer a settled life typically live in palm-thatched, rectangular or cylindrical mud houses.[3] The Toubou are patrilineal, with an elder male heading the lineage. The second order of Toubou kinship is to the clan.[24]

According to Jean Chapelle who has troubled many in his book in Borkou, a colonial officer of History specializing in Chadian ethnic groups, 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.[25] A second factor is the maintenance of ties with the maternal clan.[25] Although the maternal clan does not occupy the central place of the parental clan, it provides ties.[25] The third factor is protective relationships at the primary residence.[26][27]

Despite shared linguistic heritage, few institutions among the Toubou generate a broader sense of identity than the clan.[25] Regional divisions do exist, however.[25] During the colonial period (and since independence in 1960), Chadian administrations have conferred legality and legitimacy on these regional groupings by dividing the Toubou and Daza regions into corresponding territorial units called cantons and appointing chiefs to administer them.[25]

Toubou legal customs are generally based on Islamic law, that allows restitution and revenge.[28] Murder, for example, is settled directly between the families of the victim and the murderer.[25] 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.[25] Reconciliation follows the payment of the Goroga (Islamic tenet of Diyya), or blood money.[25][29] Among the Tomagra 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.[30]

Social stratificationEdit

Toubou people in Qatrun, by George Francis Lyon, 1821

The Toubou people, states Jean Chapelle, have been socially stratified with an embedded caste system.[31][32] The three strata have consisted of the freemen with a right to own property, the artisanal castes and the slaves.[33][34]

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.[35][36] 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.[36]

Marriage between a member of the Azza and a member from a different strata of the Toubou people has been culturally unacceptable.[33][37] The language used by the Azza people is a variant of the Tubou (Teda) language.[38]

The lowest social strata were the slaves (Aggara).[32][39] Slaves entered Toubou Teda and Gourane Dazagara 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 1953, the noble chief Kellei Chahami of Kamaya declared the emancipation of all slaves in Borkou region, while slaves from the contiguous regions, such as Tibesti and Ennedi, uncovered the emancipation centre located in Borkou. These slaves escaped and sought refuge in Borkou under the Kamaya, where they were liberated by the esteemed chief Kellei Chahami, who granted them their own zone neighbourhood, which has been originally named Ni-Agaranga, which literally translates to the country of slaves in Faya-Largeau city; however, the Borkou municipality rechristened it to the district of eight for euphemism. Toubou Teda dwellers of the Tibesti region, in particular, allege and refer to their slaves as Kamadja, their authentic designation, which is a mistranslation of Kamaya, who are grudgingly and despairingly attempting to derogate the Gourane Kamaya clans’ federation due to the honourable chief's commendable humanitarian decree of the liberation. The researchers (historians) mistranslated and misread the letters "y" to "j" in the names of several clans and rural areas. As a result, the term "Kamadja" does not exist in the Tedaga nor Dazaga language. Kamaya is derived from "Kama dro yeda" in the Kanem Dazaga language, which effectively states to "one who lives in the valley" of Faya. Traditionally, the clans of the Kamaya were known as Kama-yanga. However, it has been subsequently transformed into Kamaya. Kamaya is the plural, Kamaye is the male singular, and Kamaydo is the female singular.[40]


The Toubou culture forbids marriage between cousins, a practice common among many Muslim ethnic groups in Africa.[41] A man may marry and have multiple wives according to Islamic tenets, however, this practice is only somewhat prevalent in Toubou society.[3]

The ownership of land, animals, and resources takes several forms.[25] Within an oasis or settled zone belonging to a particular clan, land, trees (usually date palms), and nearby wells may have different owners.[25] Each family's rights to the use of particular plots of land are recognized by other clan members.[25] 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.[25] Within the clan and family contexts, individuals also may have personal claims to palm trees and animals.[25]

Contemporary conditionsEdit

Toubou camel show


Toubou camel rider in Chad

Much of the political class of Chad are drawn from Dazagra. During the First Chadian Civil War (1966-1979), the derde came to occupy a more important position.[25] 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.[25] Within a year, abuses of authority had roused considerable opposition among the Toubou.[25] 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.[25] This role enhanced the position of the derde among the Toubou.[25][42]

After 1967 the derde hoped to rally the Toubou to the National Liberation Front of Chad (FROLINAT).[25] Moral authority became military authority shortly thereafter when his son, Goukouni Oueddei, became one of the leaders of the Second Liberation Army of FROLINAT.[25] 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.[25] Another northerner, Hissène Habré of the Dazagra, replaced Goukouni of the Teda in 1982, and lost eventually power to the Zaghawa Idriss Déby after 8 years.[43]


Situation in Libya in May 2016

The Toubou minority in Libya suffered what has been described as "massive discrimination"[44] both under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi as well as after the Libyan civil war.[23]

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.[44]

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[45] and claiming to capture Murzuk for the rebel movement a month later.[46]

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.[47]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dazaga: A language of Chad, Ethnologue
  2. ^ a b Tedaga: A language of Chad, Ethnologue
  3. ^ a b c d e f Teda people, Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ MacMichael, Harold: A history of the Arabs in the Sudan and some account of the people who preceded them and of the tribes inhabiting Darfur. 1922.
  5. ^ Copson, Raymond W. (1 January 1994). Africa's Wars and Prospects for Peace. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 9781563243004.
  6. ^ International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford University Press. 1 January 2003. ISBN 9780195139778.
  7. ^ Smith, Andrew Brown (1 January 2005). African Herders: Emergence of Pastoral Traditions. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 9780759107489.
  8. ^ Olson, James Stuart (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 978-0313279188.
  9. ^ First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913-1936. BRILL. 1993. p. 818. ISBN 978-9004097964.
  10. ^ Young, Tom (1 January 2003). Readings in African Politics. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253216465.
  11. ^ Brachet, Julien; Scheele, Judith (2019). The Value of Disorder : Autonomy, Prosperity, and Plunder in the Chadian Sahara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 10. ISBN 9781108566315.
  12. ^ Catherine Baroin (1997). Tubu: The Teda and the Dazagra(kreda/anakaza/daza). The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-8239-2000-6.
  13. ^ a b Gertel, Prof Dr Jörg; Heron, Professor Richard Le (28 November 2012). Economic Spaces of Pastoral Production and Commodity Systems: Markets and Livelihoods. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9781409490364.
  14. ^ Zweig, Paul (1 January 1976). Three journeys: an automythology. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465086108.
  15. ^ a b Smith, Andrew Brown (2005). African Herders: Emergence of Pastoral Traditions. Rowman Altamira. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-0759107489.
  16. ^ Kirwan, L. P. (1934). "Christianity and the Ḳura'án". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 20 (3/4): 201–203. doi:10.2307/3854742. ISSN 0307-5133.
  17. ^ MacMichael, Harold Alfred (1912). The tribes of Northern and Central Kordofán. Robarts - University of Toronto. Cambridge : University Press.
  18. ^ a b J. D. Fage; Roland Oliver (1975). The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge University Press. pp. 287–289. ISBN 978-0-521-20981-6.
  19. ^ a b c Haber, Marc; Mezzavilla, Massimo; Bergström, Anders; Prado-Martinez, Javier; Hallast, Pille; Saif-Ali, Riyadh; Al-Habori, Molham; Dedoussis, George; Zeggini, Eleftheria; Blue-Smith, Jason; Wells, R. Spencer; Xue, Yali; Zalloua, Pierre A.; Tyler-Smith, Chris (December 2016). "Chad Genetic Diversity Reveals an African History Marked by Multiple Holocene Eurasian Migrations". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 99 (6): 1316–1324. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2016.10.012. PMC 5142112. PMID 27889059. S2CID 38169172.
  20. ^ Baroin, Catherine (1987). "The position of Tubu women in pastoral production: Daza Kesherda, Republic of Niger" (PDF). Ethnos. 52 (1–2): 137–155. doi:10.1080/00141844.1987.9981339.
  21. ^ Brachet, Julien; Scheele, Judith (2019). The Value of Disorder : Autonomy, Prosperity, and Plunder in the Chadian Sahara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 191-196. ISBN 9781108566315.
  22. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E. (1986). Salt of the Desert Sun: A History of Salt Production and Trade in the Central Sudan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-30182-4.[page needed]
  23. ^ a b Cole, Peter; McQuinn, Brian (2015). The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-021096-0.[page needed]
  24. ^ Le Cœur, Ch. (1960). "Nomades Noirs du Sahara de Jean Chapelle" [Black Nomads of the Sahara by Jean Chapelle] (PDF). Annales de Géographie (in French). 69 (376): 632–635. doi:10.3406/geo.1960.14782. JSTOR 23445165.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Chad: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. 1988. Toubou and Daza: Nomads of the Sahara.
  26. ^ Chapelle, Jean (1982). Nomades noirs du Sahara: les Toubous (in French). Editions L'Harmattan. ISBN 9782858022212.
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  28. ^ Scheele, Judith (March 2015). "The values of 'anarchy': moral autonomy among Tubu‐speakers in northern Chad". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 21 (1): 32–48. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12141.
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  30. ^ Rights, African Commission on Human and Peoples' (2009). Rapport Du Groupe de Travail de la Commission Africaine Sur Les Populations/communautes Autochtones : Mission en Republique de Niger 14–24 Février 2006 (in French). IWGIA. ISBN 978-8791563485.
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  33. ^ a b Andrew B. Smith (2005). African Herders: Emergence of Pastoral Traditions. Rowman Altamira. pp. 135, 142. ISBN 978-0-7591-1502-6., Quote: ""Like the Tuareg, the Toubous have a distinct hierarchy, with three separate levels: Teda/Daza, Aza artisans and slaves. (...) [There] the blacksmiths were segregated from the larger populace and seen as contemptible. (...) No Teda/Daza would think of marrying a blacksmith. They are a caste apart, marrying only among themselves."
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  48. ^ Haber, Marc; Mezzavilla, Massimo; Bergström, Anders; Prado-Martinez, Javier; Hallast, Pille; Saif-Ali, Riyadh; Al-Habori, Molham; Dedoussis, George; Zeggini, Eleftheria; Blue-Smith, Jason; Wells, R. Spencer; Xue, Yali; Zalloua, Pierre A.; Tyler-Smith, Chris (December 2016). "Chad Genetic Diversity Reveals an African History Marked by Multiple Holocene Eurasian Migrations". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 99 (6): 1316–1324. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2016.10.012. PMC 5142112. PMID 27889059.