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CHAD

From Toumai to Evapotranspiration


By Jheri St. James

 

The ancient land called Chad was inhabited over one million years ago, at a time when much of it was only water. In modern Chad, precious water is often difficult to find. Famine and war seem everywhere. Over the centuries Chad served as the stomping-ground for a litany of cultures and kingdoms, and when the French arrived in 1891, they subsequently controlled it until Chad gained its independence in 1960. Decades of ethnic warfare followed, as well as invasions from Libya, its most powerful neighbor. A certain level of peace was restored in 1990, but local power struggles continue, and the future of this unstable land is uncertain at best. The capital is N’Djamena. Since the expulsions of residents from Darfur in 2003 by Janijawid armed militia and Sudanese military, about 200,000 refugees remain in eastern Chad; Chad remains an important mediator in the Sudanese civil conflict, reducing tensions with Sudan arising from cross-border banditry; Chadian Aozou reels reside in southern Libya; only Nigeria and Cameroon have heeded the Lake Chad Commission’s admonition to ratify the delimitation treaty, which also includes the Chad-Niger and Niger-Nigeria boundaries.

The ancient land called Chad was inhabited over one million years ago, at a time when much of it was only water. In modern Chad, precious water is often difficult to find. Famine and war seem everywhere. Over the centuries Chad served as the stomping-ground for a litany of cultures and kingdoms, and when the French arrived in 1891, they subsequently controlled it until Chad gained its independence in 1960. Decades of ethnic warfare followed, as well as invasions from Libya, its most powerful neighbor. A certain level of peace was restored in 1990, but local power struggles continue, and the future of this unstable land is uncertain at best. The capital is N’Djamena. Since the expulsions of residents from Darfur in 2003 by Janijawid armed militia and Sudanese military, about 200,000 refugees remain in eastern Chad; Chad remains an important mediator in the Sudanese civil conflict, reducing tensions with Sudan arising from cross-border banditry; Chadian Aozou reels reside in southern Libya; only Nigeria and Cameroon have heeded the Lake Chad Commission’s admonition to ratify the delimitation treaty, which also includes the Chad-Niger and Niger-Nigeria boundaries.

Long-term weaknesses include its landlocked position, oppressive poverty, the shrinking of Lake Chad, and the ever increasing expansion of the Sahara Desert. Desertification is a process involving the progressive destruction or degradation of existing vegetative cover to form desert. This can occur due to overgrazing, deforestation, drought, and the burning of extensive areas. Once formed, deserts can only support a sparse range of vegetation, and the new conditions typically include a significantly lowered water table, a reduced supply of surface water, increased salinity in natural waters and soils, progressive destruction of native vegetation, and an accelerated rate of erosion.

Desertification has been recognized at an international level as a major threat to biodiversity. Consequently, numerous countries have developed biodiversity action plans to counter its effects, particularly in relation to the protection of endangered flora and fauna. A number of solutions have been tried in order to reduce the rate of desertification and regain lost land. Leguminous plants, which extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, can be planted to restore fertility. Stones stacked around the base of trees collect morning dew and help retain soil moisture. Artificial grooves can be dug in the ground to retain rainfall and trap wind-blown seeds. In Iran, petroleum is being sprayed over semi-arid land with crops. This coats seedlings to prevent moisture loss and stop them being blown away. Windbreaks made from trees and bushes to reduce soil erosion and evapotranspiration was widely encouraged by development agencies from the middle of the 1980s in the Sahel area of Africa. With many of the local people using trees for firewood and cooking the problem has become acute. In order to gain further supplies of fuel the local population add more pressure to the depleted forests; thus adding to the desertification process. Solar ovens are being advocated as a means to relieving some of this pressure upon the environment.


N’Goura Landscape

At the local level, individuals and governments can help to reclaim and protect their lands. In areas of sand dunes, covering the dunes with large boulders or petroleum will interrupt the wind regime near the face of the dunes and prevent the sand from moving. Sand fences are used throughout the Middle East and the United States, in the same way snow fences are used in the north. Placement of straw grids, each up to a square meter in area, will also decrease the surface wind velocity. Shrubs and trees planted within the grids are protected by the straw until they take root. However, some studies suggest that planting of trees actually depletes water supplies in the area. In areas where some water is available for irrigation, shrubs planted on the lower one-third of a dune's windward side will stabilize the dune. This vegetation decreases the wind velocity near the base of the dune and prevents much of the sand from moving. Higher velocity winds at the top of the dune level it off and trees can be planted atop these flattened surfaces. Oases and farmlands in windy regions can be protected by planting tree fences or grass belts. Sand that manages to pass through the grass belts can be caught in strips of trees planted as wind breaks 50 to 100 meters apart adjacent to the belts. Small plots of trees may also be scattered inside oases to stabilize the area. On a much larger scale, a "Green Wall," which will eventually stretch more than 5,700 kilometers in length, nearly as long as the Great Wall of China, is being planted in north-eastern China to protect "sandy lands"--deserts believed to have been created by human activity.

More efficient use of existing water resources and control of salinization are other effective tools for improving arid lands. New ways are being sought to use surface-water resources such as rain water harvesting or irrigating with seasonal runoff from adjacent highlands. New ways also being sought to find and tap groundwater resources and to develop more effective ways of irrigating arid and semiarid lands. Research on the reclamation of deserts also is focusing on discovering proper crop rotation to protect the fragile soil, on understanding how sand-fixing plants can be adapted to local environments, and on how grazing lands and water resources can be developed effectively without being overused.


Shrinking Lake Chad

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Toumai: Oldest ancestor? Image: MPFT

This is a picture of the recently unearthed human-like skull which is being described as the most important find of its type in living memory. It was found in the desert in Chad by an international team and is thought to be approximately seven million years old. "I knew I would one day find it... I've been looking for 25 years," said Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers, France. Scientists say it is the most important discovery in the search for the origins of humankind since the first Australopithecus "ape-man" remains were found in Africa in the 1920s. The newly discovered skull finally puts to rest any idea that there might be a single "missing link" between humans and chimpanzees, they say.

Analysis of the ancient find is not yet complete, but already it is clear that it has an apparently puzzling combination of modern and ancient features.

The hominid's jaw was found later

Henry Gee, senior editor at the scientific journal Nature, said that the fossil made it clear how messy the process of evolution had been. "It shows us there wasn't a nice steady progression from ancient hominids to what we are today," he told BBC News Online. "It's the most important find in living memory, the most important since the australopithecines in the 1920s. It's amazing to find such a wonderful skull that's so old," he said. The skull is so old that it comes from a time when the creatures which were to become modern humans had not long diverged from the line that would become chimpanzees. There were very few of these creatures around relative to the number of people in the world today, and only a tiny percentage of them were ever fossilized. So despite all the false starts, failed experiments and ultimate winners produced by evolution, the evidence for what went on between 10 and five million years ago is very scarce.

There will be plenty of debate about where the Chad skull fits into the incomplete and sketchy picture researchers have drawn for the origins of the human species. Sahelanthropus tchadensis, as the find has been named, may turn out to be a direct human ancestor or it may prove to be a member of a side branch of our family tree. The team which found the skull believes it is that of a male, but even that is not 100% clear. Future finds may make the whole picture of human evolution clearer. The Sahelanthropus has been nicknamed Toumai, a name often given to children born in the dry season in Chad. The scientist who led the team which found the Toumai skull has described his delight. "It's a lot of emotion to have in my hand - the beginning of the human lineage," said Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers, France. "I have been looking for this for so long. I knew I would one day find it... I've been looking for 25 years," he told reporters in Chad. "Toumai is arguably the most important fossil discovery in living memory, rivaling the discovery of the first 'ape-man' 77 years ago - the find which effectively founded the modern science of palaeoanthropology," he said. Professor Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London, UK, said that the discovery of Toumai was "very significant". "First, because of its location in what is now desert, over a thousand miles away from the sites in East Africa that have featured in the search for our origins so far. "Second, because it is the only relatively complete skull so far discovered in a 'fossil gap' of five million years between the ancestral apes of nine million years ago and the australopithecines, generally regarded as our close relatives, from four million years onwards," he said.

Sahelanthropus tchadensis, to give Toumai its scientific name, had a mixture of features: "It had an ape-like brain size and skull shape, combined with a more human-like face and teeth. "It also sported a remarkably large brow-ridge, more like that of younger human species. Its discovery shows how much evidence has been missing up to now," Professor Stringer said. The number of precursors of modern humans living at the time of Toumai might well be as high as the number of modern ape species alive today. Researchers would be looking for gorilla and chimpanzee ancestors from Toumai's time, too, he added.

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An archeological site was also the location of the soil collection from Chad. “The Sao site in Walia, N’Djamena was the home of the Sao people, who lived along the Chari River for thousands of years before disappearing altogether. They are supposedly the ancestors of modern day Chadians,” wrote Felix Mbatalbaye, of the public affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena. His supervisor asked him to make this collection for us. Chad is one of the more difficult countries from which to obtain this precious dirt, so we are particularly grateful for Mr. Mbatalbaye’s efforts on our behalf. Perhaps his actions will never find their way into any international archeology magazines, but they will always rest in our hearts as generous and good-spirited.

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Chad is an ethnically diverse West African country. Each of its regions boasts its own unique varieties of music and dance. The Fulani people, for example, use single-reeded flutes, while the ancient griot tradition uses five-string kinde and various kinds of horns, and the Tibesti region uses lutes and fiddles. Musical ensembles playing horns and trumpets such as the long royal trumpets known as waza or kakaki are used in coronations and other upper-class ceremonies throughout both Chad and Sudan. Traditional Chadian instruments include the hu hu (string instrument with calabash loudspeakers), kakaki (a tin horn), maracas, lute, kinde (a bow harp) and various kinds of horns. Other instruments include the flute and drums music of the Kanembu and the balaphone, whistle, harp and kodjo drums of the Sara people, while the Baguirmians are known for drum and zither music, as well as a folk dance in which a mock battle is conducted between dancers wielding large pestles. The national anthem of Chad is La Tchadienne, written in 1960 by Paul Villard and Louis Gidrol with help from Gidrol’s student group. The Teda live in the area around the Tibesti Mountains. Their folk music revolves around men’s string instruments and women’s vocal music. String instruments like the keleli are used to “speak for” male performers, since it is considered inappropriate for a man to sing in front of an adult woman.

Following independence, Chad, like most other African countries, quickly began producing some popular music, primarily in a style similar to the soukous music of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Styles of Chadian popular music include sai, which uses rhythms from the southern part of Chad – this style was popularized by a group called Tibesti. Other bands include the Sahel’s International Challal and African Melody, while musicians include the Sudanese-music-influenced guitarist Ahmed Pecos and Chadian-French musician Clément Masdongar.

Chad has produced several important writers. The tales of Joseph Brahim Seid, including Au Tchad sous les étoiles (1962) and the autobiographical Un enfant du Tchad (1967) are Chadian classics. Baba Moustapha, who died in 1982 at the age of 30, left several notable works, one of which, Le Commandant Chaka (published posthumously in 1983), denounces military dictatorships. Poetry is a popular form of expression in the north.

Chadian handicrafts include carpets, woven mats, fabric, jewelry, wool rugs, beads, leather products and wood carvings. Calabashes (a type of gourd) are shaped and engraved to serve many household purposes and to make musical instruments. The village of Gaoui, a short distance from N’Djamena, is known for its fine pottery. Generally, each village has its own distinctive shapes for water jars and pottery.

Live theatre in Chad is often satirical and performers poke fun at people in the news. The Cheikh Anta Diop theatre group is popular and performer Haikal Zakaria, who plays the character “Commandant Al Kanto,” is often featured on television. Mahamat Saleh’s feature film Bye Bye Africa, a Franco-Chadian co-production about a Chadian who returns to the country, has been shown at international festivals, including the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival.

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The Save Darfur Coalition is an alliance of over 175 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian organizations whose mission is to raise public awareness about the ongoing genocide in Darfur and to mobilize a unified response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of more than two milllion people in the Darfur region. To learn more, please visit http://www.SaveDarfur.org. David Rubenstein, of the coalition, wrote: “Accompanied by acclaimed actress Mia Farrow, I traveled to the region to learn about the lives of those displaced by violence, to tell them that the world will not forget them, and to gather their stories . . . posted photos and documentary film footage from the tip on our website. . . all the people we met believed that the world community would end the violence and allow them to recover their lives and return to their homes. We met real people struggling to get through each day, grinding grain, and taking care of children. The children wanted to meet us and play with us. The adults had smiles for us. Most of all, they wanted us to tell the world that they were waiting to go home.”

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Evapotranspiration is the term for loss of moisture both from the soil in evaporation, and from plants in transpiration. Moisture is a big issue in Chad, both evapotranspiration and the tears shed by so many millions of refugees and grieving Chadians due to all the political conflicts and genocide. From the time of Toumai, (a child born in the dry season) until the present, man has shed tears, and the water level in Chad has diminished. Could Mother Earth, creator of the soil of Chad, be symbolically losing her moisture in reaction to all those tears? It’s a strange thought, but we are inextricably linked to our Mother and she does care for us, each of us, as we care for each other. People like David Rubenstein express their caring in action, looking at the tears, wiping the tears, and helping to stop the tears. Let us hope and pray that some day Chad will be a land of only music and culture and no more weeping. With great respect we add the soil of Chad to our collection. There are two words for peace in Chad—la paix and salaam.




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