Trail Africa: 5 Things You Should Know About The Tuareg People
You may have seen a certain automobile brand named Tuareg, but that’s not what I’m about to talk about. The real Tuaregs are descendants of North African Berbers found in Mali, Libya, Algeria, Niger, Nothern Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. They are often called “people of the veil” and their men, “blue men of the Sahara Desert.”
There are pictures and movies about them living in tents, herding livestock, riding camels or wielding takobas (a Tuareg sword), and swishing about in a swirling desert sandstorm. You may have heard or read about their separatist movement that makes news headlines from time to time. But beyond the attention-grabbing headlines associated with these wonderful people, there are things about them that will not only amaze you but will also enrich your perspective on life. That’s what we cover today!
Check out 5 interesting facts about the Tuareg people…
#1. They have a remarkable naming ceremony
Even though many Tuaregs speak Songhay, Hausa, French, and Arabic, their main language is Tamacheq. The Tuareg people have a fascinating custom of giving names to their babies one week after a baby is born. On the eve of the name day, the baby’s older female relations carry it around its mother’s tent. There, they give it a secret Tamacheq name.
A day after, the baby’s hair is completely shaved to cut off its ties with the spirit world. Thereafter, the family will take the baby and a ram to the mosque, where the marabout and the baby’s father will give it a name from the Koran. As the holy man announces the baby’s Koranic name, he slits the ram’s throat with a knife. A smith will grill the meat of the ram, and there will be a feast, dance, and camel races to celebrate this naming.
#2. They make impressive art and music
The Tuareg people are exceptional in both visual and aural arts. For the visual arts, Tuaregs produce delightful art in the form of ornate silver jewelry, carved camel saddles, ornate spoons and ladles, embroideries, and dyed fabrics. Tuaregs have also produced world-class musicians who have traveled the world to give well-received concerts. Famous among their native instruments are the Anzad (a bowed one-string instrument) and Tende (a traditional drum).
But Tuaregs have also incorporated Western musical instruments and traditions, pioneering a distinctive genre of music known as desert blues (or Tishoumaren in the Tamacheq language.) Desert blues is a fusion of blues and rock music with Tuareg, Malian, or North African music. Other names for desert blues are Tuareg rock, Saharan rock or desert rock, Mali blues, or Takamba. A foremost Tuareg rock band known as Tinariwen invented their sound in the 80s. The band has achieved international success and has been nominated for the Grammy Awards three times. This exceptional band has inspired and influenced more modern Tuareg bands such as Terakaft, Toumast, Kel Assouf, and Mdou Moctar.
#3. The men and their blue veil
Tuaregs are popular for their men’s custom of veiling their faces with a blue cloth dyed with indigo. This has earned them the name “Blue Men of the Sahara Desert.” Most of the men are tall and lean. At the age of 18, their men begin to wear veils. A ritual is performed by an Islamic holy man, known as a marabout, to mark the young man’s first veiling. He will recite some Koranic verses as he wraps the veil around the young man’s head. The blue or indigo veil of Tuareg men signifies maleness, protection from bad spirits, and respect for elders and people in authority.
#4. The power of their women
Tuareg women are highly regarded. They are usually independent and open-minded and are consulted on important matters. Most Tuareg women do not wear veils in public. They can marry the men of their choice and can initiate a divorce. They also own property and hold part of the family’s fortune in jewelry. While their husbands are out in caravans, they manage their households and care for the children and the livestock. A married woman owns her tent, and she can evict her husband if she divorces him.
#5. Their elaborate marriage custom
Tuareg weddings are very elaborate and feature singing and dancing, and camel racing. It also features large feasts of grilled meat, rice, and dates in tents pitched in the desert. But they are held when the rains have come and the desert is back to life. The bride is elaborately costumed and travels with her family on brightly decorated donkeys and camels through the desert to the groom’s camp. They will all be dressed in fine clothes. Before the wedding, female relations attend to the bride and braid her hair. Smiths believed to possess special spiritual powers will rub sweet-smelling black sand through her hair.
The groom, for his part, will rub henna on his feet to protect himself from djinns and also to symbolize fertility and purity. A marabout will perform the marriage rite in a mosque but this will be in the absence of the bride and groom. When the wedding is over, the newlyweds will move to the camp of the parents of the bride and live with them for a year. During this time, the man must work hard to earn the respect and adulation of his wife’s parents. Once this is achieved, he can take his bride to his own camp.
These five facts about Tuareg people are only the tip of the iceberg, but they certainly indicate how rich, colorful, and progressive the lives of these people are, and how our perspectives can be enriched by theirs.
Featured image: @middy.lynx/Instagram
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A writer fascinated by humanity and diversity. He is the author of Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country.