Teda-Tubu

Teda-Tubu

The Teda, also known as Tubu or Toubou (also spelled Tibu or Tebu) are found in northern Chad, southern Libya, and eastern Niger. Their name, in Kanuri,“means inhabitants of Tu,” “Tu” meaning “rocks” and “Bu” meaning “a person” or “people of the Rocks.” The word “Tu” is also used to mean the Tibesti Mountains; thus their name means “people of the Tibesti,” a remote, inaccessible area that remains today a major Tubu stronghold.

They are predominantly pastoralists, raising camels and other livestock, and cultivating date palms and small gardens where water sup-plies permit. Some scholars have proposed that the Tubu are among the most ancient of the Sahara’s inhabitants.

The Tubu is divided into two major branches, the Teda and Daza. The Teda are the core of the Tubu of today, centered on the Tibesti and adjoining areas north and east and are primarily camel nomads and cultivating dates in the oases. The southern Daza are cattle herders, given that their area is Sahel rather than Saharan in climate.

The Daza are generally consid-ered a separate group, are clustered toward the southwest, but they speak a dialect of (not a separate language from) that of the Teda. Some have said the Teda are the Tubu of the desert and the Daza are the Tubu of the steppe. Both the Teda and Daza are further subdivided into a number of clans, the more effective unit of iden-tity; in the 1990s, the total population was estimated at 250,000, with about a half in Chad, a third in Libya, and the remainder in Niger.

The area where the Tubu live is not good for settled agricul-ture, and all Tubu, whether belonging to the Teda, Daza, or the Bediyat (a division of the Zaghawa) “are either camel or cat-tle pastoralists” (Prussin, 108). The area they inhabit is immense, covering much of the south central Sahara and the northern parts of Kanem and Borku in Chad, where they have intermarried with the Kanuri. The two speak closely related dialects; the Teda call their dialect Tedaga, and the Daza call theirs Dazaga. Both lan-guages belong to the Western branch of the Nilo-Saharan phylum, making claims of Berber origins doubtful.

Some scholars still hold that the Tubu may be of at least partial Berber origin (though now dark-skinned, reflecting cen-turies of intermixture with other groups), perhaps having migrated from the Nile Valley in the late first millennium CE. Tubu pushed both north into Fezzan in Libya and south toward Kanem after 1000. Although linked to the founding of the kingdom of Kanem, they were being pushed back toward the north by the early 13th century. Their northern limits were set by their need for Savannah pastures, reinforced by Ottoman (after the 16th cen-tury) pressures from Libya.

The Tubu have been Muslim for centu-ries, although still retaining certain pre-Islamic spirit beliefs and practices. As warrior nomads, they were able to exact protection rents both from caravans and from sedentary settlements in the vicinity of their territories. Subservient to the Daza are a craft-making people called the Azza. The Azza work wood, metal, and leather and provide the tent poles for the Tubu.

The Azza are, or were, hunters who sold to the Tubu a number of items from their hunting, including finely tanned leather bags as well as fresh and dried meat. The Azza hunting abilities are held in a degree of awe, and the skins of animals they pro-vide are used for a number of magical items by the Tubu. The most important are the charms suspended at the head of the bed and on camel palanquins called kubu, odri,ordela. The charms are made from finely tanned leather decorated with designs in cowrie shells and are similar to thesametypecharmsamongtheBeja.

The Azza hunters, unlike the Tubu who have taboos against wearing leather clothes, are clad in leather when hunting and which they wear at celebrations. The Azza also provide music and entertain-ment for the “more noble” Tubu. Prussin notes, that like many other African soci-eties, as blacksmiths, the Azza occupy an “outsiders” place among the Tubu, which is referred to as mellen or vassals (110).

TheAzzamakethetent polesusedby the Tubu out of acacia trees and acacia roots. The poles are carved and shaped, and holes are drilled where they come together to allow ties to bind the structure together. Tubu women also make some of the poles; especially the ridge poles made from bent acacia roots.

The acacia roots are pulled out while alive and are bent into the needed shape and allowed to dry. Tubu tents are covered with mats made from doum palm, and generally Tubu women make them. Tubu women have a reputa-tionfor being“free” and are knownto embarrass their husbands by stripping in public. Azza women make a number of items used by the pastoralist, including woven baskets, leather containers, and items made from calabash (dried gourds).

Despite the existence of a titular tradi-tional head among the Teda, called the Derdei, the Tubu have remained highly decentralized. By the 19th century, how-ever, they had established a Sultanate at Kaouar (in present-day Niger), replacing the Kanem-Bornu Kingdom as overlords of the oases and salt pans around Bilma. At the same time, they themselves became subject to the even more powerful Tuareg.

At the onset of colonial penetration, the Tubu allied themselves with the Sanu-siyah, a reformist Sufi Muslim order, based in Libya, strongly opposed to for-eign rule. The Teda, particularly, played a leading role in ongoing anti-French resis-tance in both Niger and Chad, with the Tibesti regaining an effective indepen-dence between 1914 and 1930.

Only lightly controlled, at best, during the colonial period, the Tubu have been involved in a series of rebellions against the various governments of Chad that fol-lowed independence in 1960. The Tubu were also impacted in the 1980s by con-flicts between Libya and Chad, focused on control of the “Aozou Strip” along Chad’s northern border and more recently the conflict in Sudan’s Dar Fur.

The Tubu have produced a number of important political figures in Chad, such as Gou-kouni Oueddai, son the Teda derdei who was Chad’s chief of state from 1979 to 1982; and Hisse`ne Habre, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. Habre was overthrown by Idriss Deby, with Libyan help, who belongs to the Bediyat of the Zaghawa. In Niger, the Tubu, like the Tuareg, have been involved in various armed resistance movements since the early 1990s.

K. P. Moseley

Further Reading

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Niger. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

Novaresio, Paolo. The Sahara Desert: From the Pyramids of Egypt to the Mountains of Morocco. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2003.