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Chad Table of Contents


Ouaddaïan Languages

The origins of Ouaddaïan languages remain obscure, although their distribution implies origins farther east, an interpretation supported by oral traditions. Speakers of Ouaddaïan languages may have moved westward to avoid Arab immigration from the east. Another theory suggests that speakers of Ouaddaïan languages once were continuously distributed throughout the region but subsequently lost ground as the population accepted Arabic.

Although some authorities separate Tama, Dadjo, and Mimi, others consider them to be part of a larger Ouaddaïan group, a linguistic archipelago stretching from western Sudan to central Chad. In Chad they are found in Biltine, Ouaddaï, and Guéra prefectures.

Tama languages are spoken in Biltine and northern Ouaddaï Prefectures, and include Tama, Marari (Abou Charib), Sungor, Kibet, Mourro, and Dagel. The Tama speakers, who live in eastern Biltine Prefecture near the Sudanese border, are the largest of these groups. Although they live in the arid Sahel, crop rotation has allowed them to settle in permanent villages. The Tama live in cantons of several thousand people, each administered by a canton chief. For several centuries, central authority has been vested in sultans believed to be of Dadjo origin, who are enthroned in ceremonies at the ruins of Nir, the precolonial capital.

The Marari and Abou Charib, sedentary peoples sharing a Tama language, live south and west, respectively, of the Tama in Ouaddaï Prefecture. Although they speak a Tama language, their traditions suggest descent from the Tunjur, migrants from Sudan who once ruled the sultanate of Wadai (see Bagirmi and Wadai , ch. 1). To the west of the Tama and northwest of the Marari and Abou Charib are the Sungor, another sedentary population. The Sungor consider themselves to be of Yemeni ancestry, a popular and prestigious Islamic pedigree among Muslims of the region. Despite speaking a Tama language, Sungor society and customs most resemble those of the Maba.

The Dadjo language has eastern and western dialects. Once the rulers of the sultanate of Wadai, the Dadjo people were separated into two groups during the fifteenth century. At that time, the Tunjur conquered Wadai, and some Dadjo people fled west. The eastern Dadjo remained in southern present-day Ouaddaï Prefecture and, following defeat by the Tunjur, founded a new sultanate with its capital at Goz Béïda. Their descendants are primarily farmers. The western Dadjo live among the Hajerai peoples of northern Guéra Prefecture. Cognizant of their common origin, the eastern and western groups permit intermarriage.

Mimi is the least frequently spoken Ouaddaïan language. Mimi speakers who live in the plains use Arabic to communicate with their neighbors; Mimi speakers who live in the mountains generally speak Zaghawa with other highland dwellers.

Data as of December 1988