Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Territoriality through Migration: Cases among the Tubu Teda Guna (Niger)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Territoriality through Migration: Cases among the Tubu Teda Guna (Niger)

Article excerpt


The present article discusses whether migration can be a means in order to realize territoriality. It is based on pre-colonial, colonial and recent cases found among the Tubu Teda who live in eastern Niger and western Chad. It will be argued here that migration, in these cases, does not mean the uprooting of persons and the loss of a territory, but can lead to the amelioration of the territorial situation for the migrating group, including the enhancement of its socio-political status and economic situation.

Keywords: Tubu, Teda, Niger, Chad, migration, territoriality


According to rather 'classical' viewpoints which may be considered as 'sedentary perspectives', migration often means the loss of a territory and the uprooting of persons. The present article, (1) on the contrary, tries to show how migration can become a means to realize territoriality and enhance the socio-political status of a group and its economic situation. The history and the present of the Tubu Teda Guna (2) in eastern Niger and western Chad provide several examples to illustrate this approach.

After a brief discussion concerning the theoretical framework of territoriality and migration, the article starts with the migration of the Teda Guna separating them from the Tomagra of the Tibesti and leading the group to a kind of political and economic independence in the Kawar. Then, it will be shown how the pastoral mobility of the Guna concerned the French colonial rulers when reorganizing the colonial border between present-day Niger and Chad, and how the highly mobile Guna played off French colonial administrations against each other in the matter of territoriality. Finally there will be a discussion of the case of the Tarduga--a Guna sub-group--who acquired their current territorial and social position as the holders of administrative chieftaincy by migration and by their loyalty to the state.

Territoriality and Migration--a Contradiction?

According to Chapelle, the connection between the Tubu and 'their' space is relatively weak: territories are vaguely defined as 'customary grazing areas', and their borders are subjected to modifications by other groups) But may one thus conclude that the territorial organization of the Tubu is weak, as Chapelle seems to do? This would mean adopting a rather sedentary perspective which is questioned in current migration studies--the fact that territorial modifications may occur frequently should not exclude territorial organization. On the contrary, the modifiability and negotiability of territories indicate rather strong dynamics in territorial relations and a clear sense of ownership in matters of territoriality.

As this article aims to investigate historical and contemporary processes of social territoriality among the Tubu Teda Guna of eastern Niger, an overview of literature is necessary. How is territoriality described? Sack considers it as 'the attempt by an individual or a group to affect, influence or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area' (Sack 1986: 19). Controlling a territory is not an aim in itself but a means to influence--or rule--humans. This definition already emphasizes the fact that territoriality is not only linked to space but, furthermore, to people and social relations. However, Sack's definition does not fully convey the dynamic nature of territoriality.

As territoriality is closely linked to social and political processes, territories should not be considered as stable, but rather as defined by perpetual dynamics: they are 'social processes in which social space and social action are inseparable. Territories are not frozen frameworks where social life occurs. Rather, they are made, given meanings, and destroyed in social and individual action. Hence, they are typically contested and actively negotiated' (Paasi 2003: 110). …

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