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Chad - Culture

Chad Culture

With over 100 languages spoken, three major religions, three climatic zones and an ancient history, the culture of Chad is rich, diverse and complex. This complexity makes it extremely difficult to make general statements about the nation's culture as what is important for one group or region may not hold for another.

In the northern third of the country, in the heart of the Sahara, the Toubou people are in the majority. They are descendents of Berber migrants and are, like the Arabs to the south, Muslim. They are herders and nomads, fiercely independent, strong in battle and extremely clan-oriented. Each clan has access to specific wells, pastures and oases. Despite only numbering 150,000 people, the Toubou have controlled Chad since 1982.

Another broad grouping with a distinct cultural influence is the Arabs, concentrated in the middle third of Chad and making up a third of Chad's population. Chadian Arabs are mostly seminomads, grazing their herds over the Sahel. There are many diverse ethnic subgroups under the 'Arab' banner. The Maba people have a unique form of social structure originating in pre-Islamic times, based on four age grades. Cutting across kin and class divisions, people born within a certain time-frame move from one grade to another, bound by friendships and obligations for mutual aid. In the capital, you might be lucky enough to hear Arabic musicians playing traditional music. These people are usually from the griot caste and are professional musicians. They are the living archive of the Arab people's traditions, performing songs and epic narrations.

In the far south, another distinct set of cultural practices dominate. The people here are mostly Black African and non-Muslim. About a sixth of these people are Catholic, with most practicing traditional faiths. About 30% of Chad's population is made up of the Sara from this region. Over the past 500 years, these people have been subjected to some of the most inhumane treatment of any Africans on the continent. Many traditional cultural systems broke down over centuries of forced labour, mono-crop cotton farming and tax collection that undermined village chiefs. Yet the Sara have exhibited fierce survival skills - the women used to artificially elongate their lips to make themselves unattractive to slave raiders, and the Saran people enthusiastically grasped the meagre educational opportunities offered by the French - and now occupy most positions in the civil service.

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