The majority of Toubou live in the north of Chad around the Tibesti mountains ('Toubou' means 'man from Tibesti'). Numbering roughly 350,000, they are Muslim. Most Toubou are herders and nomads, though many are now semi-nomadic. Their society is clan-based, with each clan having certain oases, pastures and wells. They are divided in two closely-associated people, the Teda and the Daza.
The Toubou family is made up of parents, children, and another relative or two. Although the husband or father is the head of the household, he rarely makes decisions without consulting his wife. When he is absent, his wife often takes complete charge, moving family tents, changing pastures, and buying and selling cattle. Although Toubou men may have several wives, few do. Families gather in larger camps during the months of transhumance. Camp membership is fluid, sometimes changing during the season and almost never remaining the same from one season to the next.
After the family, the clan is the most stable Toubou institution. Individuals identify with their clan, which has a reputed founder, a name, a symbol, and associated taboos. Clans enjoy collective priority use of certain palm groves, cultivable land, springs, and pastures; outsiders may not use these resources without clan permission. Social relations are based on reciprocity, hospitality, and assistance. Theft and murder within the clan are forbidden, and stolen animals must be returned.
Within the overall context of clan identity, however, Toubou society is shaped by the individual. Jean Chapelle, a well-known observer of Chadian societies, notes that "it is not society that forms the individual, but the individual who constructs the society most useful" for him or her. Three features of Toubou social structure make this process possible. The first is residence. In general, clan members are scattered throughout a region; therefore, an individual is likely to find hospitable clans people in most settlements or camps of any size. A second factor is the maintenance of ties with the maternal clan. Although the maternal clan does not occupy the central place of the potential clan, it provides another universe of potential ties.
Marriage creates a third set of individual options. Although relatives and the immediate family influence decisions about a marriage partner, individual preference is recognized as important. In addition, once a marriage is contracted between individuals of two clans, other clan members are forbidden to change it. The Toubou proscribe marriage with any blood relative less than four generations removed - in the words of the Toubou recorded by Chapelle, "when there are only three grandfathers."
The ownership of land, animals, and resources takes several forms. Within an oasis or settled zone belonging to a particular clan, land, trees (usually date palms), and nearby wells may have different owners. Each family's rights to the use of particular plots of land are recognized by other clan members. Families also may have privileged access to certain wells and the right to a part of the harvest from the fields irrigated by their water. Within the clan and family contexts, individuals also may have personal claims to palm trees and animals. Toubou legal customs are based on restitution, indemnification, and revenge. Conflicts are resolved in several settings. Murder, for example, is settled directly between the families of the victim and the murderer. Toubou honor requires that someone from the victim's family try to kill the murderer or a relative; such efforts eventually end with negotiations to settle the matter. Reconciliation follows the payment of the goroga, or blood price, usually in the form of camels.
Despite shared linguistic heritage, few institutions among the Toubou generate a broader sense of identity than the clan. Regional divisions do exist, however. During the colonial period (and since independence in 1960), Chadian administrations have conferred legality and legitimacy on these regional groupings by dividing the Toubou and Daza regions into corresponding territorial units called cantons and appointing chiefs to administer them.
Only among the Teda of the Tibesti region have institutions evolved somewhat differently. Since the end of the 16th century, the derde (spiritual head) of the Tomagra clan has exercised authority over part of the massif and the other clans who live there. He is selected by a group of electors according to strict rules. The derde exercises judicial rather than executive power, arbitrating conflict and levying sanctions based on a code of compensations.
During the civil conflict in Chad (1966–1993), the derde came to occupy a more important position. In 1965 the Chadian government assumed direct authority over the Tibesti Mountains, sending a military garrison and administrators to Bardaï, the capital of Tibesti Subprefecture. Within a year, abuses of authority had roused considerable opposition among the Toubou. The derde, Oueddei Kichidemi, recognized but little respected up to that time, protested the excesses, went into exile in Libya, and, with the support of Toubou students at the Islamic University of Al Bayda, became a symbol of opposition to the Chadian government. This role enhanced the position of the derde among the Toubou. After 1967 the derde hoped to rally the Toubou to the National Liberation Front of Chad (FROLINAT). Moral authority became military authority shortly thereafter when his son, Goukouni Oueddei, became one of the leaders of the Second Liberation Army of FROLINAT. Goukouni was to become a national figure; he played an important role in the battles of N'Djamena in 1979 and 1980 and served as head of state for a time. Another northerner, Hissène Habré of the Daza Anakaza, replaced Goukouni in 1982, and lost eventually power to Idriss Dédy, a Zaghawa.
Among the Teda, there are four regional subgroups, the Teda of Tibesti Subprefecture being the largest. There are more than a dozen subgroups of Daza: the Kreda of Bahr el Ghazal are the largest; next in importance are the Daza of Kanem Prefecture.