Sara people

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A Sara girl
Total population
(3 to 4 million)
Regions with significant populations
Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan
Sara languages
Christianity, traditional African religion, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Nilotic peoples

The Sara people, also called Kirdi, are an African ethnic group found in southern Chad, northwestern Central African Republic and southern border of Sudan.[1] With origins in the Nile valley (Nilotic), they speak the Sara languages, which belong to the Nilo-Saharan family.[2] They are the largest ethnic group in Chad.[3][4]

During the medieval and colonial era, the Sara people were victims of repeated slave raids by the Fulani and Arab ethnic groups, which has been one of the roots of the historic animosity between them.[5][6][7] Many Sara people have retained their Animist faith, but some have converted to Christianity or Islam.[5]


The Sara people have lived in the region southeast of Lake Chad, one irrigated by the Chari and Logone rivers of Sahel and north-central Africa.[5]

In Chad[edit]

The Sara (kameeni), descendants of the Sao, are the largest ethnic group in Chad. Located in the south, especially in the Moyen-Chari, Logone Oriental, Logone Occidental, and parts of the Tandjile regions, they are Nilotic people (or from the Nile) who are believed to have migrated westwards to the Chad during the sixteenth century, as they sought refuge in the south against northern Muslim slave raiders.[8] After their arrival, they continued to be the subject of violent slave raids by northern Fulani and Arabic people.[5][6][7]

Body scaring rituals to create lifelong body art, has been a part of the Sara people culture and a means of affirming solidarity; both men and women subscribe to it.[9]

They were called "Kirdi" by the Chad ethnic groups that raided them for slaves, with the term "Kirdi" meaning a non-Muslim person. The raiders were called "Bagirmi", and this geo-political conflict between the Kirdi and the Bagirmi continued through the nineteenth century.[10][11]

French colonial empire entered the ongoing hostilities in the early twentieth century, and the Sara people became a part of the French Equatorial Africa, more specifically as part of the "1e Tchad utile". The Sara society were transformed by this development, both in terms of opportunities such as education and training, but also exploited as forced labor and with conscription during the World Wars.[10] At the time of independence from French colonialism in 1960, the Sara were more aligned with Western institutions, than did the northern populations that had formerly viewed them as a source of slaves and raided them.[10] This and their being the largest ethnic group led to their dominance in Chad politics after independence. They were also a party to the civil war with the Islamic populations of the north and central Chad, each with a different ideology.[11]

In the Central African Republic[edit]

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. They live in the northwest part of CAR.


The Sara people natively speak the Sara languages. This dialect cluster belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family.


Analysis of classic genetic markers and DNA polymorphisms by Excoffier et al. (1987) found that the Sara are most closely related to the Kunama people of Eritrea. Both populations speak languages from the Nilo-Saharan family. They are also similar to West African populations, but biologically distinct from the surrounding Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups.[12]

Famous Sara people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sara people, Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ Sara languages, Ethnologue
  3. ^ Chad: Society and People, CIA Factbook, US Government
  4. ^ Christine Zuchora-Walske (2009). Chad in Pictures. Twenty-First Century. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-57505-956-3. 
  5. ^ a b c d James Stuart Olson (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood. p. 510. ISBN 978-0-313-27918-8. 
  6. ^ a b M. J. Azevedo (2005). The Roots of Violence: A History of War in Chad. Routledge. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-1-135-30080-7. 
  7. ^ a b Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 228. ISBN 978-1-135-45670-2. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Mario Zamora et al (1981), Image and Reality in African Interethnic Relations: The Fulbe and their Neighbors, US Department of Education, pages 136-137, 162-167
  10. ^ a b c David Levinson (1996). "Sara". The Encyclopedia of World Cultures - 10 Volume set, 1st Edition. Gale. ISBN 978-0816118403. 
  11. ^ a b Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. pp. 253–256. ISBN 978-0-19-533770-9. 
  12. ^ Excoffier, Laurent et al. (1987). "Genetics and history of sub-Saharan Africa". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 30: 151–194. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 


  • 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)