We drape ourselves in Tuareg jewelry, romanticize their nomadic notions, dance to their desert blues music – hell, there’s even a car named after them! But how much do you really know about the Tuareg people and their culture? Here’s a three minute ethnography to broaden your cultural connections, whether it’s to be a more-informed global citizen or simply for a better appreciation of your costume trinkets!
The Tuaregs hail from the areas in northern central Africa, like Algeria, Libya, Mali and Niger, and they are most known for being one of the few indigineous groups that inhabit the Sahara Desert.
They are pastoralist nomads who once ruled the trade routes that passed from one end of Africa to the Middle East, as these desert routes are pretty much impassable unless you’re an expert at the Saharan lifestyle.
Thanks to author & photographer Henrietta Butler, we have some beautiful images and a deeper understanding of this once “mysterious” group who practice Islam but seem to be incredibly liberal – especially when it comes to women’s rights. Here are some tidbits she shares with us in her book that you might find interesting: Photo Credit: All of the following photos are from Henrietta Butler’s book from various photographers
5 Things You Should Know about Tuaregs:
- They’re super liberal with women’s rights: we’re talking prenups, divorces, divorce parties, property ownership and ancestry staying on the women’s side of things, and women are just as free as men to have multiple partners as long as they’re discreet. (They do marry and stay faithful to their husband sexually but are still welcome to hang out in the company of male friends…but divorce can be initiated by the wife and it happens pretty frequently)
- The MEN wear veils starting around puberty around elders and women other than their wife or girlfriend. ‘The women are beautiful. We would like to see their faces, ‘ says one man, interviewed for Butler’s book.
- They have been nicknamed the Indigo People because of the veils they wear being dyed deep indigo, which often stains their skin.
- Tuaregs have a deeply-rooted sense of personal dignity (like the discretion I mentioned before relating to….well… relations).This even translates into over-the-top hospitality to strangers and travelers.
- They love to write love poems to woo a lover… and thanks to some translators doing their best to capture the sentiment, we can see how good they are! Here’s an example:
The seated woman. (Poem by Souéloum Diagho, translated to English by BlaiseP)
Listen to the song, the wind’s murmur,
the seated woman waits before the dune
for sunset to launch his love song
song of pleasure,
the woman is allowed to explore his melancholy court,
she laughs, she cries her joy, sorrow,
the desire to share his life
she seeks the path that leads to unconsciousness,
and two opposites meet,
unconsciousness and consciousness,
the woman seeks the light that fuelled his desires,
their forms caress empty space
from which springs oblivion, the hazy universe
A peaceful world, odours multiply,
scent blown into in the wind,
his courting voice speaks of love, profound love,
The life force passing through all landscapes.
Landscapes of joy, the mixture of laughters,
landscapes melancholy and sad.
The woman is plunged into the black of night,
his only lover
the dune and grains of sand
rolling like tiny beads,
She fears the night, fears it all,
she hears her baby crying,
It is his beating heart.
Nothing to be done but to take courage
in the depths of his soul,
she strokes the soft sand,
but in vain,
there is no no cushion or bed nearby.
Suddenly, a light arises, revealing all
it is the moon come to keep him company,
the dune becomes as great as a tent,
sheltering the whole tribe,
The woman breathed in and spoke these words,
you are my baby girl and a new life is born
a life, a hope of survival,
The black curtain opens,
fear dissolves and the courting resumes its soft rhythm,
the woman sits waiting for the drumbeat
that opens the dawn
and says life hangs by a thread,
when the courtyard opens, he understands all.
Here are a few shops that specialize in Tuareg Jewelry if you’re looking to beef up your Everyday Tribal style game!