People & Culture

Nomadic or semi-nomadic cultures

Over 200 ethnic groups live within the borders of this vast country. Some can trace their ancestry back many hundreds of years.

  • Children performing a traditional dance
  • A girl leaning on a donkey in the desert


Holidays in Chad mostly centre around the main Muslim and Christian festivals. But local festivals are also held in certain areas. For example, in the farming regions of the south, annual celebrations take place during the harvest season. Nationally, there are also a number of public holidays which mark the country’s nationhood, for example Independence Day (August 11) and Freedom and Democracy Day (December 1), when President Idress Déby came to office – see History & Politics.

In the north, east and centre, many groups are nomadic or semi-nomadic, grazing livestock across large areas – see Pastoralism. These groups include the Fulani, Tubu (or Toubou), Maba/Ouaddai and Zaghawa peoples.

Islam is widely practised among these groups. It was spread by Arab traders and merchants from as early as the 11th century – see History & Politics. As well as speaking their local language, many Chadians also speak Arabic.

Islamic Sufi orders are popular in Chad. While many Chadians are practising Muslims, it is common for groups to retain some animist beliefs.

Southern cultures

Around half of Chad’s people live in the more fertile south of the country, where most people are settled. Here, the largest group is the Sara, who make up around a third of the population. Other groups in the centre or south of the country include the Massa, Barma, Buduma and Kotoko.

The impact of the French colonists was greatest in the south, where many people converted to Christianity. Some groups kept their traditional animist religions, which centre on a belief in the spirits of ancestors.

Family Life

Child marriage

Child marriage is common in Chad. More than a third of young women are married before the age of 15. Aid organisations working in the country are trying to raise awareness about the higher health risks for young girls when they become pregnant and also encourage education programmes which keep girls in school.

It is common in Chad for men to have more than one wife and large extended families of wives, children and other close relatives are the norm.

In nomadic societies, families often join up with others from different communities or clans. They will move around and set up camps in large groups for some of the year, then go their separate ways.

Early marriage is still extremely common in Chad and is one of the main reasons girls leave education. Over two-thirds of young women will have been married before the age of 18 years.