Sara - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There was no differential access to the major productive resource, land. Recruitment to the few ritual positions that conferred distinction was restricted to those satisfying the rules of their inheritance. There was no ranking, even within descent groups. Hence, precolonial Sara society appears to have been rather egalitarian, with some ranking. Cultural notions pertaining to age, gender, and kinship influenced most social activities. The Sara lacked the age grades and sets found in Nilotic populations. Nevertheless, they strongly believed that juniors should defer to elders. They also generally felt that women involved in social relations with men should defer to the men, although the capacity of this attitude to affect action may have been restrained by attitudes pertaining to appropriate kin behavior. All kin—especially close agnates—owed each other assistance. A husband might therefore refrain from exercising excessive authority over his wife for fear of losing support from her relatives.

Political Organization. Most precolonial Sara tribes were highly acephalous; however, incessant raiding by the more northerly states had transformed nineteenth-century Sara lands into a laboratory of incipient centralization. Chiefdoms had begun to emerge among certain Sar, Nar, and Gulay. The most highly elaborated of these, organized around a person called the mbang (the Barma postindependence term for "sovereign"), was that of the Sar near the town of Bedaya.

The Sara have been extremely important in postindependence Chad. The first president, François Tombalbaye, was a Sar, and he and other Sara completely dominated the government, a reality that non-Sara—especially northerners—bitterly resented. Civil war began in 1966. In 1973 an increasingly hard-pressed and authoritarian Tombalbaye, in a bid to strengthen his legitimacy by reinstating certain, "traditional" Sara institutions, created the Mouvement National pour la Révolution Culturelle et Sociale. For example, officials were supposed to participate in male initiation. Tombalbaye was assassinated in 1975 in a southern coup. By 1978, power had passed from the south to the north. The 1980s were a time of difficulty for the Sara: famine was exacerbated by oppression.

Social Control. No courts existed among precolonial Sara at any level. Family disputes were not settled by elders, or the village "owners" (kwa begi). In fact, there appear to have been no peaceable conflict-resolution mechanisms in either the clan village or tribe. Disputes tended to be settled by some form of self-help. Divination may be performed at the death of a person to discover the cause. Should the divination indicate that a particular individual was responsible for the death, then a vengeance party—largely composed of the deceased's agnates—might be formed.

Conflict. Two major types of extrasocietal conflict dominate Sara history. Both have north-south dimensions. Precolonial wars were fought between Muslim emirates and the Sara as the former sought slaves among the latter. Since Chadian independence, the Sara and more northerly peoples have contested for control over the central government. An important form of contemporary intrasocietal conflict pits government officials against traditional religious specialists in local communities.

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