Wodaabe tribe and the Gerewol Festival
Wodaabe nomads spend most of the year in small and scattered family groups, criss-crossing the arid savannah of the Sahel with their herds of cattle. But they are keenly aware of their tribal heritage and come together from time to time for mass celebrations including the spectacular courtship rituals of the Gerewol Festival. Considered “wild and uncivilised” people by other Chadian tribes, the Wodaabe believe in animism and prize “beauty” as an essential part of their culture. The Gerewol festival enables young Wodaabe men to “show off” their beauty, with the intention of finding marriage partners. The extended ceremony involves hours of singing and dancing and lasts up to a week as young men of the tribe adorn themselves with elaborate make-up and costumes and perform for the watching women. Attending the Gerewol Festival is an exhilarating experience and while Gerewol Festivals also exist in neighbouring countries such as Niger, these are often “staged” to attract tourists. Very few foreigners venture into Chad and the Festivals held here are truly authentic.
The Ennedi Plateau lies in the northeast corner of Chad – a spectacular red sandstone massif that over thousands of years has been eroded and sculpted by wind and sand into a multitude of extraordinary and otherworldly rock formations. This is one of Chad’s most remote and beautiful areas – a huge expanse of natural arches, deep gorges and giant labyrinths dotted with isolated waterholes. In 2016, the Ennedi Massif was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to the uniquely sculpted landscape natural formations and ancient rock art widely found in caves and beneath overhanging rocks. The extraordinary history of human occupation in Ennedi dates back more than 7,000 years to the Neolithic period and is recorded through numerous preserved archaeological sites featuring engravings, rock paintings and mausoleums.
The Guelta d’Archei is the only permanent waterhole in the area and frequented by traditional Tubu nomads to water their camels. The Tubu – known as the “rock people” – are among Africa’s most traditional and secretive peoples. Reputedly the toughest of all desert dwellers, there are numerous stories of their ability to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
Thanks to its sporadic water sources, the Ennedi Plateau is also rich in biodiversity and home to a surprising amount of wildlife including gazelles, baboons and patas monkeys, herds of Barbary sheep as well as porcupines. honey badgers and desert crocodiles. Leopard and cheetah also survive in the more remote areas. A recent ornithological survey (September 2019) found more 185 species of bird and as many as 525 plant species have also been recorded.
The majestic Tibesti Mountains are frequently dubbed the “holy grail” of Saharan travel. These spectacular volcanic peaks include Emi Koussi, the highest mountain in the Sahara at 3,100m. Tibesti means “the place where the mountain people live” and is home to the fiercely-independent Tubu people who live in small settlements around the scattered desert oases. The Tibesti region has been out of bounds for some time but travel is now permitted and a smattering of foreigners have been able to explore this remote and isolated area.
Zakouma National Park
Zakouma National Park, located in the south of Chad, is the country’s oldest national park and one of the most heavily protected areas in Africa. Spanning over 3000km2 of shrub land, high grasses, marshes and Acacia forest, the park has a profusion of game and is one of Africa’s best kept wildlife secrets. Since the non-profit organisation African Parks took over the management of the park in 2010, it has become a haven for numerous endangered and iconic species including elephant, roan antelope, leopard, lion and buffalo and more than half the 2,000 Kordofan giraffe on earth. African Parks’ extensive law enforcement and community engagement has dramatically reduced poaching and Zakouma’s 500-strong elephant herd is thought that the largest single herd of elephants on the continent. Six black rhinos were also introduced into the park in 2018 after they became extinct here more than 50 years ago.