The Teda inhabit the Tibesti Massif, in northern Chad. They are generally considered to be part of a larger grouping of people known as "Tebu," "Tebou," "Tibbu," or "Toubou." Patterns of growth, intraethnic differentiation, and migration among the more widespread Tebu have left the Tibesti mainly to the Teda and to smaller numbers of Daza. Most of the Teda are isolated in the mountainous plateaus of the Tibesti.
The modern European occupation of the Tibesti put new pressures on old patterns. The Europeans arrived with different technology and objectives that were totally foreign to the Teda. There were three primary European objectives: pacification, sedentarization, and the abolition of slavery. Apart from these essentially political pressures, there is also evidence of climatic pressure, particularly the progressive desiccation of the area over a period of more than fifty years. The emancipation of the people upon whom the Teda relied for agricultural labor compelled the Teda to abandon cultivation rather than to sedentarize and take up a despised occupation. The slaves who were freed did not continue in their traditional line of work, that is, in agriculture, because they too shared the values of their culture, which gave little prestige to agricultural work. They, in fact, tended to become increasingly nomadic. The pacification achieved under European colonization also increased the attraction to travel by rendering it safer. Some of the traditional lifeways of the Teda, particularly a reluctance to rely on cultivation and a preference for migratory activities, have withstood the pressure to change, a demonstration of the tenacity of Teda culture.
In sum, important features of the Teda culture include their reliance on flexible subsistence strategies, a pattern of social stratification that discourages the accumulation of dependents and encourages flexible alliances, a property system that favors movable property over land and that fostered an ethos favoring mobility and military prowess over secure land tenure and intensive production, and a traditional history of small-group (clan) migration and predatory relations with adjacent communities. These features are common to groups that seek to avoid—at almost any cost—their own subjugation or taxation by wealthier predatory peoples.
The massif is centered in the southwestern corner of the Sahara. The people of the massif inhabit an area roughly between 15° and 22° E and 16° and 24° N. The population of the area was an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 in the early 1980s. There are 10,000 to 13,000 Teda in the Tibesti and another 3,000 in the southernmost oases of Libya. Others are scattered in Niger and Chad.
The Teda language includes dialects of the Tebu (Tubu, Tibbu, Toubou, Daza) and Teda or Tedaga (Tuda, Toda, Tugada, Tegada) languages, which belong to the Nilo-Saharan Language Group. The only people who speak Tedaga are the Teda of Tibesti. Daza or Dazaga is the language of the Tebu, and the language in which poetry and songs are composed even by the Teda, whose knowledge of Dazaga is often imperfect.
The climate of the Tibesti region is one of abrupt daily temperature fluctuations, long rainless seasons, and considerable variation according to elevation. Generally, however, it is extremely arid and follows a specific pattern of seasonal variation. December through February are cold and dry months, with violent northeast winds; March and April are hot and dry, but overcast; May and June are hot and dry, with maximum temperatures; July is humid with rainstorms and tornadoes; August and September are rainy and increasingly hot; and October and November are hot and dry, with extreme daily fluctuations in temperature. The greatest extremes for the region at different seasons and elevations are around 46° C. and -26° C, but a 17° daily fluctuation is not unusual.
Most of the massif is made up of steep plateaus dissected by many drainage channels. The west has narrower and more precipitous valleys, whereas the east has broader plateaus with more rounded peaks. Several summits are more than 3,000 meters high, and there are volcanoes on a sandstone plateau with elevations averaging 1,800 meters. The major mineral resource of Teda country is salt, which has long been exploited as a principal trade commodity. In addition, there are deposits of natron, sulphur, amazonite, and superficial deposits of hematite that have yielded sufficient iron ore for native use.
Apart from domesticated dogs, sheep, goats, camels, horses, and donkeys, the fauna includes gazelles, antelope, addaxes, oryx, wild sheep, ostriches, jackals, lizards, and even small numbers of fish and water fowl. There are also poisonous varieties of snakes and scorpions and seasonal swarms of locusts and beetles. Of the uncultivated plants, various shrubs—especially acacias—and grasses grow where and when moisture is sufficient. Doom and date palms are found at sites with permanent water.