University of Sussex
Colosio, Valerio.pdf (1.87 MB)

‘The children of the people’: Integration and descent in a former slave reservoir in Chad

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posted on 2023-06-09, 15:35 authored by Valerio Colosio
The aim of this thesis is to explore the social legacies of slavery in the Guéra region, in central Chad. The topic of the legacy of slavery in the Sahel is receiving increasing attention from both local and global civil society, as well as from scholars. This thesis aims to contribute to these debates, connecting post-slavery issues with the new models of governance developed in the Sahel since the 1990s, and the increasing competition for resources through mobilising ethnic categories. It argues that as the recognition of citizenship rights tends to be related to specific identities, slave ancestry becomes a political tool that is used in different ways. Based on nine months of fieldwork in Guéra, the thesis explores the complex interactions between a group that is widely seen as slave descendants, Yalnas, meaning “the sons of the people” in Chadian Arabic, and their neighbours. Until it came under French rule in 1911 the Guéra region acted as an effective “reservoir” of slaves for the neighbouring Wadai sultanate, whose warriors regularly took captives from among the scattered groups of local farmers. After the colonial regime’s abolition of slavery, the opportunities for former slaves and the social dynamics related to this were different from those in areas inhabited by former slave-holders. In this context, the ethnonym Yalnas initially facilitated the integration of former slaves locally, whereas today it used to criticize the rights of its members, to the point that people called Yalnas are trying to get rid of this label. The thesis analyses the narratives of the past of both the Yalnas and other local groups. It brings together the stories recounted by elders and archival sources with contemporary political tensions, to explore the ongoing importance of the presumed past of the Yalnas as slaves. In Guéra, it was relatively easy for slave-descendants to be accepted among other local groups and intermarry with them. However, Yalnas’ integration has been built on contradictions that make their status ambiguous. This ambiguity is central to current contestations over land and citizenship. Since the reforms of the 1990s, a range of new local associations have formed in Guéra. These are used by local leaders to consolidate support and distribute resources on an ethnic basis. In this context, the past of the Yalnas as former slaves has been used as an argument to exclude them from the opportunities created by these associations. In these struggles, narratives about the past are used by all groups as political tools and are critical to secure citizenship rights. A focus on the label Yalnas and its changing uses over time provides important insights about the connection between slavery, identity and citizenship in a former slave


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