Introduction / History There are approximately 80,000 Tama people in Chad (nearly all in the Guereda/Biltine prefectures) and there were 90,000 in the Darfour region of Sudan. Many of the latter have fled to other parts of Sudan or into Chad. Famine and war cause frequent exchanges of refugees between Chad and Sudan.
Relationships between different ethnic and language groups across Chad and Sudan are complicated. An SIL computer analysis shows a probable correlation of some 90-95% between the Tama and Assangori languages, thus a Tama and an Assangori can speak together, each using their own language and understanding most of what the other is saying. Yet, according to most people, neither of the two tribes claim common ancestry, particular friendship, special trading relationships, or even to have lived near each other in the past. Fascinating. Tama is a tonal language and stress and length may also carry meaning. It quickly becomes evident to the language learner that there are many dialects with quite confusing differences. There are variations even in the numbers one to ten across dialects! In fact some dialects of Tama seem closer to certain dialects of Assangori than to certain other dialects of Tama. The Tama language is part of a whole network of related languages spoken by different tribes in Chad and Sudan. The Marrarit and Ab Charib languages are reported to be closely linked and to come from the same root as Tama. Many Chadian Arabic words are now an integral part of Tama and have even been substantially modified into the complicated Tama verbs. All of the Tama interviewed during the linguistic survey had married only Tama and spoke with their spouses almost exclusively in Tama with the occasional Arabic word thrown in.
When doing a language survey we received some entertaining answers to some questions as the women have trouble thinking in abstract terms when their lives are so based on the concrete. For example, in determining someone's level of Chadian Arabic we asked for directions in Arabic to the next village. One lady said, "I don't know how to tell you. Allah will lead you. "We asked whether they thought the children would still be speaking their tribal language in 20 years time. One lady said, "How should I know? I'm only an old lady. Only Allah knows that!"
The national Chadian system + the religious authorities + the traditional leaders. The chief of the traditional leaders is a sultan who is based in Guereda. He consults with a council of elders. He also has a number of Chadian government soldiers under his command. The sultan's successor will be chosen from among his sons. The clan of the sultan, the Oroguk, claim to be descended from the prophet Mohammed and to originate in Iraq. The rest of the Tama clans are said to have originated in the vicinity of Nyere (a mountain which is considered sacred and is located between Guereda and Am Zoer). The Assangori people claim to have come originally from Yemen.
In general both the current Sultan and his father before him, as well as others to whom we have spoken, seem very open to development projects. A Catholic development organization and a German government agency have projects in the Am Zoer region and the Catholic group has a branch in Guereda. The Sultan would like to see the development of a better educational system (teacher training plus school buildings), medical dispensaries established and staffed, roads improved (so that products can be transported to larger markets and sold at higher prices), training for women in marketable skills, wells dug in or near villages and towns, and construction of dams to conserve water. Lack of water for people and animals is a real problem in the area. During a good rainy season, however, many of the roads in the region become impassable. Even the major road between Guereda and Abeche requires 4-6 hours to travel its 164kms in the dry season, often longer in the wet. There are some Tama villages accessible only by foot or by donkey, not by vehicle.
Finding trained teachers willing to work in isolated regions is very difficult and often schools are left without teachers or with sub-standard teachers. The school year is often only 4 or 5 months long due to strikes and the late arrival of teachers. There is a lower secondary school in Guereda but never nearly enough teachers. Those interviewed during the linguistic survey all said that it would be good to have initial primary schooling in Tama, with Chadian Arabic as a second choice. Currently all schooling is done in French which most children rarely hear outside of the school buildings. With 120 children in a year 1 class it is difficult for students to get a good educational foundation and after 4 years of school many cannot even read and write their own name.
Most Tama are sedentary and cultivate small fields, mainly millet but some sorghum, peanuts and beans. Some own mango or guava trees or cultivate gardens of tomatoes, onions and garlic. Some have cattle, sheep and goats but many of these have been stolen in recent years. In the past the Tama had many more camels and cattle but as another people group has moved into the Tama region many have been stolen to the point that camels owned by Tamas are now very rare. Some have a rainy season hut close to their fields and another hut in or near their garden as well as their hut in their village or town. Often the men travel with their animals to find grass during part of the year. Village houses and fences are built with straw or grass with mud brick constructions normally only seen in towns. Extreme poverty and lack of hope means that alcohol (millet beer) is a big problem for many Tama. Farming is very much at a subsistence level with all hoeing, weeding and harvesting done by hand. There is rarely enough surplus to last a second year if the rains do not come. I have met families who faced surviving on millet and dirty water only for many months until the next rains. There was no money to buy oil, tomatoes, onions, salt or soap. And then, tragically, the rains didn't come the following year either. People were forced to move away.
The majority of Tama men have lived an average of 4-5 years outside of their traditional region, while women often don't go further a field than their nearest big market unless they become refugees in times of drought or war. Many people moved and many died during the great famines of 1912-13 (when many villages were totally wiped out), 1950 (called "his family doesn't want him"), 1973 ("they were driven out"), and 1984 ("black cat"). Again in 1997 much of the population left the region due to a poor harvest one year followed by drought the next. During the civil war from 1979-1987 there was also much suffering and many died.
A WEC couple started working with the Tama in the 70s, but left after their first term due to major illness. From then until 2002 when Dawn, a WEC missionary, moved to Guereda there were no missionaries resident among the Tama. There were only occasional trips by the orphanage team from Abeche to visit the families of orphans in the Am Zoer region or do midwifery training in Guereda and then visits by Dawn to work with women in Guereda for several weeks at a time. Now Dawn is living in Guéréda and was also there for 3 years 2002- 2004. She uses medical care, tree-planting, sewing classes for ladies, care of orphans and a reading room amongst other activities to reach out in friendship to the local people. About 60% of Guéréda residents are Tama but people also come from up to 60kms around.
While Guéréda is calm at the moment the whole of the east of Chad is rather unstable and one never knows when and where rebels or bandits will strike next. There is a heavy military presence in the region. Many young people relish the power they have as soldiers. On the missions' scene there is great excitement ahead as a team from another mission prepares to move to Guéréda to work amongst the Tama. Thank You, Lord. There will be 8 adults and 7 children coming over a period of time as they finish French studies in France. The first family plans to move to Abéché later in 2007 to commence Chadian Arabic study. The doors are wide open for entry to work with the people of the Guéréda region who are so needy in every way. Potential fields of work include medical work, teaching French, English or computing skills, agricultural development, tree planting, youth activities, translation and literacy, training mechanics.
What are their beliefs? The Tama have been virtually all Muslim since the 1600s. As is usual in Chad this religion is mixed with animistic practices such as amulets for protection against evil spirits.
North, Darfur. Masalit [mls] south, Arabic-speakers north. Mileere is in Jabal Muun area, Western Darfur, main town Salia, and west of Nyala; Erenga in Sirba area, Abu Suruj, Saraf Jidad, Bir Dagig, Kondobe villages (Source: Ethnologue 2010)