POPULATION: 6.1 million

LANGUAGE: French, Arabic (official languages); more than 100 local languages

RELIGION: Traditional African religion; Islam; Christianity


In the eleventh century, traders from north Africa were searching for gold and slaves. They came to the area that is Chad, and introduced the religion of Islam. In the early twelfth century, one region of present-day Chad had a Muslim king. His kingdom, known as Kanem, remained powerful until the French explorers arrived in the late 1800s.

French won control over Chad in the Battle of Kousseri in 1900. But Chad was a low colonial priority for the French. They made only halfhearted attempts to develop it. Chad won its independence in 1960. A few years later, Muslims from the north fought against the government. France sent troops to support the Christian government, but neither side has won control. Chad remains in turmoil.


Chad is a landlocked country, far from oceans and seas. It has an area roughly equal to Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona combined, stretching over 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) from north to south. The middle of the country is a region called the Sahel. The Sahel is semi-desert. Lake Chad forms part of Chad's border with its neighbors, Niger and Nigeria, and is the fourth-largest lake in Africa. Magnificent sand dunes cover the land in the north. Mountain ranges cover stretches of the southwest, east, and far northwest.

The population of Chad is over 6 million. There are about 200 ethnic groups that speak more than one hundred distinct languages.


French and Arabic are Chad's official languages, but more than one hundred local languages are spoken. Chadian Arabic includes more than thirty dialects that people throughout the country use to communicate with each other.


Many Chadians revere the World War II (1939–45) hero Félix Eboué (1884–1944), in whose memory was erected a magnificent monument in the city of N'Djamena.

The earliest settlers around Lake Chad were the Sao. Legends held that the Sao were giants possessing great strength. They could run long distances in just hours and pull up trees like blades of grass. Sao women could lift huge ceramic granaries (jugs to hold grain), holding an entire year's harvest with a single hand.


Chadians follow three religious traditions: traditional African religion that focuses on ancestors (35 percent), Islam (55 percent), or Christianity (10 percent). In Chad, Islam and Christianity have absorbed a number of beliefs from traditional African religion. Although Islam has been influenced by traditional African religion, Chadian Muslims are strict in their beliefs. For example, during the holy month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast (don't eat or drink) during daylight hours. Chadian Muslims do not even swallow their own saliva from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.


Traditional holidays having to do with seasons and harvesting are festive occasions. For example, in the southern farming region, festivals are held during the millet harvest in September to November and again during the New Year in December. At New Year, the chief appears after a month of confinement in his lodge. In his regal dress, the chief marches slowly, accompanied by dignitaries. Musicians play long horns made from gourds, and dancers perform. Afterward, the local hosts serve a splendid meal to visitors who come from great distances to join the celebration. Secular (nonreligious) holidays such as Independence Day generally hold less interest for Chadians than do Muslim and Christian holidays.


The Sara yondo is a ceremony held to help a young man from southern Chad achieve adulthood. Every six or seven years, older men gather with boys for several weeks during school vacations. During these meetings, the men teach the youths about authority so that they can assume the men's role. When the process is complete, the boys are considered men. They no longer associate with their mothers and sisters as before, and must eat and live separately. Similar ceremonies for girls teach them household responsibilities and respect for male authority.


As in other regions of Africa, greeting and leave-taking are important parts of human relations. Muslims exchange a standard series of greetings. They ask about the other person's well-being, and that of his wife and family, too. After each exchange, the listener touches a hand to his or her chest. This signals gratitude that all is well with the other person.

It is an honor to receive visitors. Chadian hosts always offer the visitor something to eat—or at least a glass of water—as a sign of hospitality. In the dusty Sahel region, hosts usually offer visitors water to wash their faces, hands, and feet. In the south, visitors may be welcomed by a large container of millet beer. It is considered impolite to leave before the beer has been drunk.


Living conditions are very harsh in most rural areas of the country. In 1995, life expectancy in Chad was forty-seven years.

In towns in the semi-desert region, the Sahel, homes are built inside walled compounds. Mud bricks held together with straw and camel dung are used to make the walls and the roofs. Houses consist of one or two rooms. The interior is dark, because the houses typically have only one or two small windows. Houses are used mainly only for sleeping in the cooler and rainy seasons, and for storage. Kitchen rooms are often separate. Meals may be cooked outdoors.


The Toubou and Daza people of the Sahara Desert are nomads (people who move frequently, carrying their homes with them). The main social unit of nomads is the clan. It is not uncommon for people from more than one clan to live together in groups of around one hundred people. Camps—groups of families—form when they need to work together during the growing season, and they disband later. Clan members are scattered everywhere, so people usually find kinsmen (relatives or others from their clan) in most camps.

By contrast, the more settled people of the Sahel identify with the kashimbet. This is a unit composed of an elder male or group of males, their wives, and descendants. Unlike the nomads, these extended families stay together.


Clothing styles vary according to climate zone and ethnic group. The sun, heat, and blowing sand in the north require clothing that covers the entire body except for the face. Men often wear light cotton pants under white cotton robes. They wrap a white or red-and-white scarf around their heads in the form of a turban. Women wear robes that cover the entire body except face, hands, and feet. Boys wear simply cut cloth shirts and pants, while girls may wear cotton shirts with wraparound cloth skirts.


Millet Porridge


  • 1 cup millet (available at health food stores)
  • 1¾ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • sugar or honey


  1. Place millet in a strainer and rinse. Allow to drain until water is no longer dripping.
  2. Heat water and salt in a saucepan until it boils. Add millet.
  3. Lower heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until millet is soft (about 20 to 30 minutes).

Serve sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with honey.

Adapted from Harris, Colin. A Taste of West Africa, New York: Thomson Learning, 1995.

In the south, people dress like Central Africans—colorful cotton print shirts and pants for men, and wraparound skirts and tailored shirts for women.

Many ethnic groups distinguish themselves with decorative facial and body tattoos.

12 • FOOD

Despite the harsh climate, Chadians grow a large variety of food. The staples are sorghum and millet. The millet is pounded into flour. Dough, shaped into a ball, boule (bOOl), is made by combining boiling water and millet flour. Millet also makes a delicious porridge. It is sweetened and eaten to break the fast during Ramadan. Chadians in the Sahel are fond of okra and meat sauce. Travelers find grilled goat meat with dried hot pepper and freshly squeezed lime at "truck stop" eateries in Sahelian roadside villages.


The effects of the war, limited financing, overcrowding, and the classical French curriculum have combined to make it difficult for Chadian children to excel in school. Primary school is compulsory, although only one in four children actually attends. There are far more elementary and high schools in the south than in the north. Students who make it to high school attend either a four-year program (collége) or a seven-year program (lycée). To get a diploma, students must take a state exam, the bac , which is passed by only about a third of those who take it.

Ten years after independence, Chad opened its first university for the 1971–72 academic year.


Many Chadians express their cultural heritage through ceremonial dress, music, and dance. The Chadian national folkloric ballet is particularly popular.

Among the principal musical instruments are tam-tams, pottery drums, goat-horn whistles and flutes, and gourd-cala-bash horns. Chadians also excel at making five-stringed harps and balafons , which are similar to xylophones.


More than 80 percent of Chadians are engaged in subsistence farming, herding, and fishing. Cotton is the biggest cash crop, providing more than 50 percent of the country's foreign earnings. Industries include textiles, meatpacking, beer brewing, and the manufacture of soap, cigarettes, and construction materials.


Children and young people play organized soccer, European handball, and basketball. In the cities, soccer club teams compete with one another. The game is played wherever space permits. Horse racing is practiced in the Sahel, northeast of N'Djamena.


With the exception of a small urban elite, Chad remains one of the few places in the world insulated from Western pop culture. In contrast to American teenagers, most Chadian young people have never seen a movie, either at the theater or on a video cassette recorder. Many have never seen television. Chadian entertainment consists of social and cultural events and ceremonies, which include dancing, drumming, and musical performance ( see Cultural Heritage).


Traditional folk art in Chad has a long history, dating to the iron age. Artists and craftsmen learn and master the techniques of their craft and pass on the traditions to their sons and daughters. Articles produced by Chadian artists include masks, jewelry, ceramic pots, and bronze statuettes and figurines. Craftspeople spin cotton fabrics and weave strips of cloth that are sewn together to make durable garments. They also fashion leather goods including sandals and amulets.

Chadian craftsmen produce musical instruments of extremely high quality using materials such as wood, animal guts and horns, and calabashes.


As Chad modernizes, traditional social networks have been disrupted. Its people must also cope with other problems that come from urbanization, such as crime and pollution. The political anarchy (disorder) of the 1970s and 1980s has led to lawlessness in parts of the country.


Azavedo, Mario, ed. Cameroon and Chad in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1990.

Harris, Colin. A Taste of West Africa. New York: Thomson Learning, 1995.

Works, John Arthur. Pilgrims in a Strange Land: Hausa Communities in Chad. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1976.


World Travel Guide. Chad. [Online] Available , 1998.

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