In southernmost Libya live about 2,600 Tebu, part of a larger
grouping of around 215,000 Tebu in northern Chad, Niger, and Sudan.
Their ethnic identity and cohesion are defined by language, not
social organization or geography, although all Tebu share many
cultural traits. Their language, Tebu, is a member of the NiloSaharan
language family, not all dialects being mutually intelligible.
The basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into patrilineal
clans. The Tebu economy is a combination of pastoralism, farming,
and date cultivation. The Tebu are Muslim, their Islam being strongly
molded by Sanusi proselytizing in the nineteenth century (see
The Sanusis , this ch.). Neighboring peoples view them as tough,
solitary, desert and mountain people.
A significant number of sub-Saharan Africans live in desert and
coastal communities, mixed with Arabs and Berbers. Most of them
are descended from former slaves--the last slave caravan is said
to have reached Fezzan in 1929--but some immigrated to Tripoli
during World War II. In recent years, waves of migrant workers
from Mali, Niger, Sudan, and other Sahelian countries have arrived.
A majority work as farmers or sharecroppers in Fezzan, but some
have migrated to urban centers, where they are occupied in a variety
of jobs considered menial.
Another distinct but numerically small group of blacks, the harathin
(plowers, cultivators) have been in the Saharan oases for millennia.
Their origins are obscure, but they appear to have been subservient
to the Tuareg or other Libyan overlords for at least the last
millennium. As with other blacks, their status has traditionally
been quite low. In Libya as a whole, dark-skinned people are looked
down upon, the degree of discrimination increasing with the darkness
of the skin.
Data as of 1987