Chad Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite being one of the largest countries in Africa, Chad's population is relatively concentrated in the south. However, that does not mean that there is not an incredible amount of diversity in this country.

Ethnicity in Chad

If you look at the country of Chad on a map, you'll find it is a massive country. As you might expect for a country that size, there is a significant amount of ethnic (as well as religious) diversity. In this lesson, we're going to take a look at the largest ethnic groups within Chad, making special note of where they live and the implications of that on their characteristics.

Map of Chad


Just under 30% of the people of Chad identify with the Sara ethnic group, making it the largest ethnic group in the country. They tend to live in the extreme southern regions, where the sands of the Sahara give way to the tropics of central Africa. They originally lived closer to the Nile River, but are rumored to have left the region in order to escape slave traders. While some Sara are Christian, the majority practice traditional religions, worshiping ancestors and supernatural forces that control the weather.

Flag of Chad
Chad Flag


The descendants of many of those slave traders that the Sara were trying to escape are now their countrymen. Arabs make up the second largest portion of Chad's citizens, at 12% of the population. They tend to live in the central part of the country. However, given the fact that the northern part of the country is entirely the Sahara Desert, some nomadic Arabs are also found there. Overwhelmingly, the Arabs of Chad are Muslim.

Mayo-Kebbi and Kanem-Bornou

Two other groups that live near the Sara are the Mayo-Kebbi and Kanem-Bornou. They make up 11% and 9% of the population of Chad, respectively. They live in the southwestern part of the country. In fact, the Mayo-Kebbi are named for the river valley that they occupy. Meanwhile, the Kanem-Bornou live further north, especially near Lake Chad. Neither group is strongly Muslim, with the Mayo-Kibbi adhering largely to indigenous belief, while the Kanem-Bornou mix Islam with local beliefs similar to the ones listed earlier.

Maba and Hadjarai

The Maba, who make up around 9% of Chad's population, are also known as the Ouaddai, after the empire that they created in the 1600s (also known as the Wadai Empire). They were central merchants on the trade routes from West Africa to the Nile. As a result of this trade, they quickly converted to Islam, and to this day have a heritage of Islamic education.

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