The Tuareg of the Sahara
The Tuareg can be found in the Saharan and Sahelian regions in countries such as Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Being semi-nomadic, they travel with their herds on a seasonal basis. It is believed that the Tuareg are descendants of the North African Berbers, and that they originated in the Fezzan region of Libya. Due to their semi-nomadic nature, the Tuareg display diverse physical and cultural traits ranging from Arabic influences to influences stemming from south of the Sahara.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the Tuareg lies in the existence of a highly matrilineal society where descent is traditionally traced only through female lines. The women are thus respected members of society, who own the homes and the animals which the tribe relies on to survive.
The Tuareg men are often referred to as the “Blue men of the Sahara” due to the ancient practice of veiling their faces with a blue cloth dyed with indigo. This dye rubs off onto their faces, leaving a mysterious air about them.
The men begin to cover their faces at puberty, and will keep them covered in front of their elders and most women, with the exception of their wives or girlfriends. It is believed that the Tuareg men don their veils to protect themselves from bad spirits.
In the face of globalization, drought and government policy, the Tuareg have been abandoning their traditional and nomadic way of life for a more modern and sedentary lifestyle. However, they are a proud race of people and numerous semi-nomadicTuareg and their camel caravans can still be found living and thriving in the Sahara desert.
Written for KANGA by Rita Osakwe