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Many stories are about spirits, called jinn, who are believed to play tricks on humans beings who are traveling alone in the desert. Most Tuareg are Muslims. But their traditional belief system and rituals overlap with Islam. For example, there is a widespread belief in spirits. Most spirits are considered evil and are believed to cause illnesses. Some Tuareg perform fortune-telling with cowrie shells, lizards, mirrors, and the Koran the sacred text of Islam.

Unlike women in many other Islamic societies, most Tuareg women do not wear veils in public. They may also independently inherit property and begin the process leading to a divorce. Islamic holy men, called marabouts, are believed to possess a special power of blessing, called al baraka. They educate children in verses from the Koran and they officiate at ceremonies marking rites of passage and Muslim holidays. The Tuareg celebrate Muslim holy days, as well as secular nonreligious state holidays. Tabaski commemorates the story of Abraham's willingess to sacrifice his son.

Each household slaughters a goat or ram, feasts on its meat, and prays at the prayer ground. The Tuareg celebrate Ganni also called Mouloud , the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, with special sacred and secular songs and camel races. The end of the month-long Ramadan fast is celebrated by animal sacrifice, feasting, prayer, and evening dancing festivals.

On these days, there are camel races and feasting in the countryside, and parades and speeches in the towns. Name day is held one week following a baby's birth. On the evening before the name day, the older female relatives carry the baby around the mother's tent. They give him or her a secret name in the Tamacheq language. The next day, the baby's hair is shaved in order to cut off the baby's ties to the spirit world. At the mosque, the marabout Islamic holy man and the father give the baby an Arabic name from the Koran.

As the marabout pronounces the baby's official Koranic name, he cuts the throat of a ram. Then there are feasts, camel races, and evening dancing festivals. Tuareg men begin to wear a veil over the face at approximately eighteen years of age.

2 • LOCATION

This signifies that they are adults and are ready to marry. The first veiling is performed in a special ritual by a marabout. He recites verses from the Koran as he wraps the veil around the young man's head. Weddings are very elaborate, lasting for seven days. There are camel races and evening festivals featuring songs and dances. The groom's family arrives in the bride's village on gaily decorated camels and donkeys. Older female relatives of the bride build her a special tent.

Burial takes place as soon as possible after a person has died. It is quickly concluded with a graveside prayer led by a marabout. Burial is followed by iwichken, or condolences. Relatives and friends gather at the home of the dead person, and the marabout offers a prayer and blessing. The guests eat a memorial feast. Like many other African societies, the Tuareg have very elaborate greetings. In the Air regional dialect, Oy ik? How is your work? The usual polite response to these questions is Alkher ghas, or "In health only. The Tuareg in rural areas still recognize social categories from the time before colonization.

These are based on family descent and inherited occupation. For example, imajeghen nobles refers to Tuareg of noble birth, while inaden refers to the smiths and artisans. In principle, people are supposed to marry within their own social category. However, this practice has been breaking down for some time, especially in the towns.

Compounds in the less nomadic rural communities may include several tents and a few cone-shaped grass buildings. Some of the wealthier Tuareg who have settled in oasis areas have adobe houses. Since the early s, when independent states were established in their regions, the Tuareg have lost economic power.

Who are the Tuareg

They tend to be underrepresented in city and town jobs, including government positions. In rural areas, their once-strong local economy has been weakened by drought and by the decreasing value of livestock and salt. In rural communities, a nuclear family parents and their children live in each tent or compound living area. Each compound is named for the married woman who owns the tent. She may make her husband leave the tent if she divorces him. Fathers are the disciplinarians of the family.

But other men, especially maternal uncles uncles on the mother's side , often play and joke with small children. Grandmothers also have a close, affectionate relationship with the children. Cousins have a relaxed relationship marked by teasing and joking. Relationships with in-laws are reserved, distant, and respectful. Traditionally, the Tuareg have married within their own social category, preferably to a close cousin.

Tuareg life in the Sahara desert – in pictures

In the towns, both of these traditions are breaking down. In rural areas, they remain strong. However, many individuals marry close relatives only to please their mothers. Later they divorce and marry nonrelatives. Some wealthy Tuareg men practice polygamy having more than one wife at the same time. Two-thirds of a family's property goes to the sons as an inheritance; one-third, to the daughters.

Distinct TUAREG TRIBE of SAHARA

A political office usually passes from father to son. Women who lack daughters of their own often adopt nieces to help with the housework. The veil that Tuareg men wear on their faces has several meanings. It is, first of all, a symbol of male identity. It is also thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits. In addition, it is considered an attractive adornment and can be worn in various styles. The face veil is worn differently in different social situations. It is worn highest covering the nose and mouth to express respect in the presence of chiefs, older persons, and in-laws.

Once they marry, Tuareg women wear a head scarf that covers their hair. In rural areas, Tuareg men wear long Islamic robes. Women wear wraparound skirts and embroidered blouses. In the towns, clothing is more varied. It includes West African tie-dyed cottons, and also fashionable European styles for some wealthier people. Almost 95 percent of the daily diet in rural areas consists of grains. Protein is added by dairy products milk and cheese. Fruits such as dates and melon are eaten in season.

Dried and pounded vegetables are added to sauces. Meat is eaten primarily on holidays and at rites of passage. A very sweet, thick beverage called eghajira is also consumed on special occasions. It consists of pounded millet, dates, and goat cheese mixed with water, and it is eaten with a ladle.


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In the towns, the diet is slightly more varied. However, it still consists mostly of nonmeat protein. Along the Niger River, some fish are caught and added to the diet. Until recently, many Tuareg resisted sending their children to secular nonreligious schools because they did not like or trust the government.

Nowadays, however, more Tuareg recognize the importance of formal education. Most rural residents finish at least primary school. Some continue on to junior and senior high schools in the towns. Very few Tuareg attend universities. Music and poetry are of great importance during courtship, rites of passage, and festivals. Distinctive styles of music and dance are associated with various social classes. Sacred music is performed on Muslim holidays. Secular music is performed on instruments including the anzad a bowed, one-stringed lute and the tende drum. Most camel herding and all caravan trade are still done by men.


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Men plant and irrigate gardens, and women harvest the crops. Because of natural disasters and political tensions, it is difficult to make a living only from nomadic herding. Most rural Tuareg today combine different occupations, including herding, oasis gardening, caravan trading, and migrant labor.

Tuaregs: 5 Things You Need to Know

Others produce arts and crafts for the tourist trade or work as security guards in the towns. In the towns, a few Tuareg have become businessmen or teachers. In the countryside, most everyday occupations involve hard physical labor. The Western concept of "exercise" as a separate category does not exist. In the towns, there are organized athletics at schools, including soccer and racing.

There is also traditional wrestling. In the towns, television, films, parades, and culture centers offer entertainment. Libya expelled thousands of Tuareg in the s, and the rebellion in ended in violence between Tuareg rebels and foreign jihadists. Negotiated settlements might prove more solid: Tuareg communities now enjoy some autonomy in Niger. Previous agreements with Mali fostered better relations with the army, and the new treaty promises the Tuareg a louder voice in government.

Other Tuareg, meanwhile, are hoisting a banner for their culture. The first Tuareg feature film was made in Tuareg bands are now popular internationally. Tinariwen, the most famous, performs in London and New York. Earning glamour abroad is one thing; Azawad in the desert remains a distant prospect.

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1 • INTRODUCTION

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