I’ve been working on the children’s book, ONE DAY EVERYWHERE. This week, I’ve been trying to piece together the history of Chad. There’s no recent history of Chad in any language, as far as I can tell. So it’s not just a matter of going to the library and getting a book out about Chad and reading it. The last time anyone tried to write a real book-length history of Chad was in the 1960s, in the optimistic glow of Chad’s recent political (though not economic) independence from France.
Since then, it’s been one civil war after another, and nobody with the chops to get published in Europe or America dares to spend much time in Chad.
Online, you get sad remarks like, “In the economic circumstances, maintaining the two branches of the National Museum has been a very creditable achievement” and ““Many of its artifacts have been lost due to the instability in the country.” I read a bunch of short WIkipedia articles, and then realized they’d pretty much all been plagiarized from Jerry Sampson’s “Republic of Chad History, Early History…”. Which is a great source, as far as it goes, but it’s really only a few pages long.
Does this mean we really don’t know anything about the history of Chad? No, we really do know a lot! It’s just all in little pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle you haven’t put together yet.
That’s a lot of what I do: I take all those little pieces and try to assemble them into a simple story that people can learn something from. (Some of the pieces will turn out to be wrong: fake pieces, pieces that belong in other puzzles, mistakes of various kinds. I try to toss those out.)
About Chad, we know the names and a bit of the story of almost every ruler in the last thousand years. We have artwork and pottery and the remains of houses, city walls, and castles, going back more than a thousand years more.
The story’s slowly coming together. I’m beginning to be able to tie it to what’s going on at the same time in other parts of Afro-Eurasia.
Chadians in the Middle Ages are using the same kind of flooring that they use further west in Nigeria. They’re also using land to pay off their generals, just the way medieval French kings did, and weakening their own power accordingly.
Later on, in the 1700s, Mai (King) Idris IV relies on eunuch slave advisors, not so differently from Louis XIII and Richelieu, or Anne of Austria and Mazarin – how different really are celibate cardinals from eunuch slaves? They serve the same purpose for the rulers, as advisers who aren’t trying to pass on their power to their children.
When I get tired of Chad, I take a break and post articles from Quatr.us Study Guides on Twitter. I’m trying to post all of the articles in one year, which would mean averaging about seven articles a day. It takes longer than it sounds, because while I’m at it I also read them over and revise them, and sometimes add a new paragraph or two. Win, win, it updates the site and it gives my brain a rest from the Chad problem.
And who knows? Maybe one of these posts will inspire a lot of retweets, or get me an offer of a contract to write something else. On Thursday I finally finished the As. Today I’ve posted about the Babylonian Captivity, Euripides’ Bacchae, and the history of bananas.