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A ‘DESPICABLE SHAMBLES’: LABOUR, PROPERTY AND STATUS IN FAYA-LARGEAU, NORTHERN CHAD

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2016

Abstract

Faya-Largeau, the largest oasis in northern Chad, seems to present a classic picture of Saharan labour relations and status groups. Colonial officers spoke of nomadic ‘overlords’ who used to exploit sedentary ‘serfs’ of slave descent, but indirectly favoured the latter; today, former status relations are renegotiated, at times violently so. Access to vital resources, and especially agricultural land, is the focus of much contemporary conflict. Yet, on a closer look, this picture becomes less familiar: local agriculture requires little labour, property rights are uncertain, bilateral descent, exogamy and a high degree of mobility blur boundaries, while state involvement remains limited and ambiguous, and education little valued. Status, property and labour hence emerge as contextual categories that depend on as much as they constitute a historically specific and inherently unstable mode of production.

Résumé

La plus grande oasis du Tchad, Faya-Largeau, semble présenter un tableau classique des études sahariennes en matière de relations de travail et de hiérarchies entre groupes statutaires. Les officiers coloniaux y décrivaient la présence de « suzerains » nomades qui exploitaient leurs « serfs » sédentaires supposés descendants d'esclaves. Aujourd'hui, les statuts des uns et des autres semblent en perpétuelle renégociation, parfois avec violence. Pourtant, en y regardant de plus près, ce tableau bien connu devient moins familier : localement, l'agriculture nécessite peu de travail, les droits de propriété sont instables et incertains, tandis que la filiation cognatique, l'exogamie et la grande mobilité des populations brouillent les limites des groupes sociaux. Dans le même temps, la présence de l’État reste limitée et ambiguë. Statuts, propriété et travail apparaissent ainsi comme étant des catégories intrinsèquement contextuelles qui à la fois reflètent et constituent un mode de production économique et social instable et historiquement marqué.

Type
The Politics of Labour
Information
Africa , Volume 86 , Issue 1 , February 2016 , pp. 122 - 141
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2016 

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A ‘DESPICABLE SHAMBLES’: LABOUR, PROPERTY AND STATUS IN FAYA-LARGEAU, NORTHERN CHAD
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