Toubou tribe: endurance champions in Africa

At the junction of three states – Libya, Niger, and Chad, in the heart of the Sahara Desert lives the Toubou (Tubu) – a mysterious tribe, one of the oldest in Africa. The most surprising thing is that these people, who live in harsh climatic conditions and eat very, very sparsely, manage to be real centenarians and endurance champions.

There have always been legends about the Toubou tribe. The people live on the almost waterless plateaus of Tibesti and Tenere, where there is not even sand — it is blown away by scorching winds. The surrounding landscapes resemble the frames of a fantastic movie: extinct volcanoes, rocks, bare earth, and in some places – high sand dunes. Oases are a rarity in this realm of sand and stones.

Life in such a place is difficult, but the people of the Toubou tribe have long adapted to extreme conditions and even make gigantic — up to 90 kilometers a day on foot. How do they do it? European researchers decided to explain this phenomenon.

More than a dozen scientists of different specialties went to the Sahara equipped with the latest technology: jeeps with air conditioning, portable refrigerators with autonomous power, and specially equipped tents.

Toubou tribe traveling through Sahara desert
Toubou tribe traveling through Sahara desert

Many doctors, ethnographers, and ecologists had considerable experience in such expeditions in the most remote corners of the world, for example, in the Amazon and New Guinea. But what they saw in the Sahara exceeded their expectations.

In the morning, the scientists had a hearty breakfast, sat in the jeeps, turned on the air conditioners, since it was 45 degrees outside the cars in the shade with a plus sign, and went after Toubou. The nomads drank only herbal decoction for breakfast, put bags of salt on the camels, and set off.

Salt is the most marketable commodity, it is readily bought in countries lying south of the Sahara, and since ancient times they sell salt to their neighbors, and with the money they get, they buy everything they need. The sun beat down mercilessly, and the Toubou kept walking and walking through the desert without stopping.

By noon, they had covered more than 40 kilometers. At lunchtime, they made a halt right under the open sky. Only jeeps and camels cast a shadow. Scientists fortified themselves with canned food and tea. The nomads ate a few dates, drank water, and were ready for a new transition.

By the evening, the Europeans were falling off their feet from the heat and fatigue, while the Toubou tribe held on like persistent tin soldiers, but they had traveled about 90 kilometers in the desert, and their heart rate and blood pressure were normal. For dinner, the aborigines cooked millet over the fire, and flavored it with palm oil and gravy from grated roots. They were content with that.

How do they manage to live to a very old age? Due to what, the body resists dehydration? Finally, what allows them to cover such huge distances on foot — long-term training, the gene of endurance inherited from their ancestors, or maybe a special way of life?

Nomads are a privileged part of the Tubu tribe. When they go with caravans to trade salt, this “upper caste” is supplied with everything they need – dates, millet, medicinal herbs, so they do not need anything on the way. The rest of the tribe does not see such diversity every day.

Therefore, the saying: “Toubou is content with one date a day. He eats the peel for breakfast, the pulp for lunch, and the bone for dinner,” is not far from the truth. To say that the daily diet of Toubou is very modest is to say nothing.

By the standards, it does not stand up to any criticism — solid dates from day to day. And only on big holidays – boiled barley, millet, wheat, and dairy products (Toubou tribe milked goats and camels). At the same time, no one falls down from lack of strength, on the contrary, everyone feels cheerful.

Toubou tribesmen with their livestock
Toubou tribesmen with their livestock

Infant mortality among the Toubou tribe is one of the lowest in Africa. The teeth of all the representatives of the tribe are just a sight to behold. Even the elderly have almost everything in place, strong and healthy. Toubou tribe does not have cardiovascular and oncological diseases.

But the tribe is in the sun all year round. What is the secret of such heroic health? Maybe it’s all about a special way of life? But it is not much different from the way of life that other African tribes lead, although there are some differences.

The mores in the tribe are quite harsh. Toubou women are real Amazons. All unmarried beauties carry a special knife similar to a sword – a sharpened antelope horn or a stick. Any Toubou girl skillfully wields a cold weapon because, at any moment, she can be kidnapped by men from a neighboring tribe.

A young woman is considered valuable prey, which gives a man weight in the eyes of his fellow tribesmen. However, there is one “but” – a woman can be abducted if his family is not familiar with her family. Every self-respecting man should marry a kidnapped charmer.

However, before they marry, he is obliged to appease her relatives with considerable gifts, and sometimes bends his back on future relatives. Sometimes the process of “buying out” a wife lasts a couple of years. If we consider that at the age of 15 the girl is already married, then by the age of 17-18 she is getting married.

If it is not possible to steal a girl, then it is enough to steal one of her pieces of jewelry. Thus, the guy makes it clear that he likes her. The wedding lasts a week, and the costs are high. So a guy and a girl, and at the same time, their parents need to think ten times before arranging to matchmake.

After the wedding, the young couple lives under the roof of the bride’s parents for about a year, and relatives look after the fact that the son-in-law does not offend their blood and the young cope with family responsibilities. After the trial period, the couple goes on a “free float”.

Family life presupposes equality. The decision is made by a man, but a woman has the right to vote. There is no point in raising her husband’s hand on her. A young wife can run away to relatives, and it is possible to lure her back only at the cost of serious conciliatory gifts.

The manner of communication in families is curious – the husband and wife talk, standing with their backs to each other, and after finishing the conversation, they disperse in different directions, without looking at each other. According to Muslim custom, men can have several wives, but this is very expensive, so they usually manage one.

The men of the tribe are engaged in grazing cattle on high—altitude pastures, and the women are engaged in household management. Their duties include putting up a hut or tent, looking after children, and harvesting crops. The main food of Toubou is dates. They eat these fruits at least three times a day, not even realizing that this fruit is a real storehouse of vitamins and trace elements.

Children form the Toubou tribe
Children form the Toubou tribe

Scientists have found that a person can fully live for several years, eating only dates and water. These fruits contain a significant amount of protein, they are easily digested, strengthen the immune system, increase resistance to various diseases and increase the overall endurance of the body. It is not for nothing that this fruit was called the bread of the desert in ancient times.

So it turns out that by eating this universal fruit three times a day, the Toubou tribe, without knowing it, turns into desert supermen. To date, there are more than 350 thousand Tubus in Central Sahara. Most of them live in Chad, a smaller part – in Libya and Niger.

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