A Sara girl
|3 to 4 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Chad, Central African Republic|
|Christianity, traditional African religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Sara (kameeni), descendants of the Sao, are the largest ethnic group in Chad. They are a mostly non-Muslim people — about a sixth of the ethnic group is estimated to be Christian, with most practicing traditional faiths i.e. worshipping the Sun.
Located in the south, especially in the Moyen-Chari, Logone Oriental, Logone Occidental, and parts of the Tandjile regions, they are Nilotic people who are believed to have migrated westwards to the Chad during the sixteenth century because of a constant threat from Muslim slave raiders.
The Sara is a patrilineal ethnic group. Its people speak a Nilo-Sudanic language and form some twelve tribes or clans, including the Ngambaye, the Mbaye, the Goulay, the Madjingaye, the Kaba, the Sara-Kaba, the Niellim, the Nar, the Dai and Ngama.
The Sara (Sa-Ra) designation appears to have been derived from Arabic, meaning the Sons of Ra, the ancient Egyptian Sun-God. The Sara lived in the north-east along the Nile River before they sought refuge in the south against northern Arab slave raids. Most Sara are Traditionalist in religion, some worshipping the sun. The Sara are agriculturalists; they form the backbone of the Chadian economy, producing cotton, rice, peanuts, corn, millet, sorghum, and cassava. They live in south Chad, the most well-watered part of the country, thus the most agriculturally productive part.
During the French colonial period, they became targets for forced labor and military recruitment. In fact, they were the largest group of Africans to fight in World War II. The French often romanticized their tall, physically powerful presence and referred to them as "La Belle Race" (The beautiful race).
The Sara people enthusiastically grasped the meagre educational and religious opportunities offered by the French. Educated Sara people are fluent in French as a second language today. In the 1970s, François Tombalbaye, the first President of Chad and from Sara origins, introduced an Africanization aim: the yondo initiation rites of the Sara for all those who wanted to obtain positions in the civil service and the army, rites that were seen as anti-Christian.
In the Central African Republic
The Sara people make up ten per cent of the population of the Central African Republic, making it the fourth largest ethnic group in the country.
Famous Sara people
- François Tombalbaye, first President of Chad
- Noël Milarew Odingar, who overthrew Tombalbaye during the 1975 coup
- Fidèle Moungar, Prime minister of Chad in 1993, president of Action for Unity and Socialism
- René Lemarchand, The Politics of Sara Ethnicity: A Note on the Origins of the Civil War in Chad, in: Cahiers d'Études africaines, Vol. 20, Cahier 80 (1980)
- René Lemarchand, Chad: The Misadventures of the North-South Dialectic, in: African Studies Review, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sept., 1986)
- Mario Azevedo, The Human Price of Development: The Brazzaville Railroad and the Sara of Chad, in: African Studies Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 1981)
- Mario Azevedo, Power and Slavery in Central Africa: Chad (1890-1925), in: The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Autumn, 1982)
- Robert Jaulin, La Mort Sara, Paris, 10/18, 1971 (1967)