Speaker: Judith Steele (Oxford)
Faya-Largeau, the largest oasis in northern Chad, at first seems to present a classic picture of Saharan labour relations and status groups. Colonial sources speak happily about nomadic ‘overlords’ who used to exploit sedentary ‘serfs’, while today, with education and growing state involvement, the latter seem to be taking over. Yet at a closer look, this picture becomes less familiar: local agriculture requires little labour, past dependency is more often expressed in terms of property rights rather than status, bilateral descent, exogamy and a high degree of mobility blur boundaries, while state involvement remains limited and ambiguous. High levels of violence, meanwhile, seem to indicate a low degree of institutionalisation. This paper seeks to point out some of these incoherencies, stressing the need for a careful contextualisation of notions of dependency, status, labour and property.