Teda - Sociopolitical Organization



The patricians vary in rank and status according to traditions of length of residence in the Tibesti, conditions under which they settled there, or reputations in war. One clan usually claims the right to the office of paramount chief, or derdai, but it appears that this right has at times been held by other high-ranking clans. There is some suggestion that the transfer of the office from one clan to another has been the result of some strategic interclan marriages, which may explain the assertion by some authors that certain clans (presumably high-ranking ones) are preferentially endogamous. Apart from access to the office of chief, distinctions among clans seem to be matters of prestige rather than of power.

The office of derdai itself is almost exclusively that of chief arbitrator in disputes. No power of coercion accompanied the position under precolonial conditions, and relatively little income could be accrued from it. Taxes for the derdai's support were not levied until the Turkish occupation. Traditionally, the derdai derived his income as any other Teda man, with the additional rights to shares from passing caravans and war booty, one-tenth of the blood money paid to the family of a homicide victim, one-tenth of inherited wealth, all property of anyone who died without heirs, and a fine paid the new husband if a divorced woman should remarry before the prescribed period. Clearly, only a powerful and energetic leader could enforce these claims in so dispersed a society, and then only the first item is likely to have been lucrative.

In addition to the mainstream Teda clans, there are two Teda subgroups that are usually described as inferior castes. The Azza intermarry only occasionally and only with extremely impoverished Teda. Generally referred to as blacksmiths and hunters, these people seem to be the artisans of the population; they practice metalwork, leatherwork, pottery making, and hairdressing and perform as musicians and singers at Teda celebrations. In the past, their customary leather garments set them apart, and they tended to travel from one community to another, either singly or in small family groups.

The second caste group, the Kamaya, is comprised of freed slaves or their descendants. The French outlawed slavery during their occupation of the Tibesti, but until that time the Teda kept slaves, acquired either by purchase or capture, and employed them chiefly for the sedentary agricultural labor they themselves so despise. The term of bondage was limited to the individual's lifetime and did not extend to enslave his or her offspring. The Teda are reported in most sources to have treated their slaves reasonably well, given the constraints of their own poverty. Slaves were frequently permitted to accrue wealth with which to purchase their freedom and acquire means of independent livelihood, and it was not uncommon for a master to free a slave and make an additional present of income-producing property. Nevertheless, it has always been considered a great disgrace for a Teda to marry even a descendant of a slave.


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