1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tuareg

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TUAREG, or Tawarek (more properly Tawarik, the collective form of tarki, from Arabic terek, to give up), the name given to the western and central Saharan Berber peoples, in reference possibly to their abandonment of Christianity or their early home in Mauretania. They call themselves Imoshagh (“the noble people”), another form of Amazigh. They inhabit the desert from Tuat to Timbuktu and from Fezzan to Zinder. The Tuareg country covers about 1,500,000 sq. m., less than 3000 acres of which are cultivated. There are only some half-dozen commercial places in the whole Sahara to which the Tuareg resort. These are the centres from which the trade routes radiate, Wargla, Timbuktu, Ghat, Ghadames, Murzuk and Insalah.

The Tuareg, at any rate the noble class, are regarded as among the purest of the Berber stocks, but with the adoption of Islam they have become largely Arabized in manners and customs, though the nomad Tuareg preserve in singular purity the Tamashek dialect of the Berber language. Their general colour is the reddish yellow of southern Europeans, the uncovered parts of the body being, however, darker through exposure. Their hair is long, black, and silky, beards black and thin; eyes black, sometimes blue; noses small; hands delicate, but bodies muscular. They are a tall people, the chiefs being especially noted for their powerful build. They dress generally in a black tunic (some tribes wear white), trousers girt with a woollen belt, and wear as turban a cloth called litham, the end of which is drawn over the face, allowing nothing to be seen but the eyes and the tip of the nose. The purpose of this is to protect the throat and lungs from the sand. These cloths are dark blue or white: the former being worn most by the nobles, the latter by the common people. To this difference of colour is due the terms “black” and “white” Tuareg. The Tuareg seldom remove their masks or face-cloths. Even abroad they wear them, and have been seen so dressed in the streets of Paris. The Arabs call them “People of the Veil.”

The Tuareg are divided into five main tribes or confederations of tribes: the Azgar (Asjer) about Ghat and Ghadames; the Kelui around Air; the Hoggar (Ahaggar) in the mountains of that name and in the centre of the Sahara; the Awellimiden in the desert north and east of Timbuktu; and the Arrerf Ahnet, a recent offshoot of the Hoggars living in the Adrar'n Ahnet region north-west of the Hoggar massif. Owing to their nomadic life their political organization is not so democratic as that of other Berber peoples; chiefs and the members of the popular assembly are nominally elective; practically, however, the office of chief is hereditary in a ruling family. On a chief's death the office goes, with the approval of the tribesmen, to the eldest son of his eldest sister, in no case to any of his sons. The Tuareg are nominally Mahommedans, and belong to the Malikite section of the Sunnites. The Senussite sect, however, has many adherents, but more because of the Tuareg hatred of foreigners than from devoutness. A very few perform, by way of Tripoli, the pilgrimage to Mecca. They have not many mosques, and these are merely small stone enclosures a few feet high, with a niche at one end towards Mecca. There are a number of desert monasteries, huge camps pitched in a circle. Here the marabout lives surrounded by his followers, shifting the “monastery” as the requirements of his flocks compel. In these monasteries many Tuareg children receive their education.

Socially the Tuareg are divided into five classes, viz.: Thaggaren or nobles; Marabouts or priests; Imghad or serfs; Ireghenaten or cross-breeds; and the slaves. The nobles are all pure-blooded, and provide the tribal chiefs. They do no manual work, but almost live in the saddle, either convoying those caravans which have paid blackmail for safe passage, or making raids on trade-routes or even outlying Arab settlements. Before the French occupation they sometimes penetrated into the very heart of Algeria and Tunisia. Among the Imghad serfdom is hereditary, and whole tribes are vassals to the nobles. They cannot be sold or freed like slaves, though they may be inherited. Most of them have practical independence and act as “squires” to the nobles on their pillaging expeditions. The cross-breeds are the descendants of mixed marriages between the nobles and serfs. These follow their mother's status. The slaves are chiefly Sudanese negroes. They are well treated and are practically members of the Tuareg family, but the Tuareg never intermarry with them. The Tuareg weapons are a straight two-edged sword about 4 ft. long, a dagger bound to the left forearm by a leather ring, and a slender iron lance some 9 ft. long barbed for about a foot. On his right arm the Tuareg warrior wears a heavy stone to give increased weight to his lance and sword-play or to parry blows. Muskets are common, no noble or freedman being without one. Besides this the Tuareg carry leathern shields. In hunting, wooden missiles like boomerangs are used. Among the low-caste hill tribes of Hoggar bows and arrows are the only weapons.

Little is known of the history of the Tuareg. The name is that given them by the Arabs. They are the descendants of those Berbers who were driven into the desert by the great Arab invasion of North Africa in the 11th century. Ibn Khaldūn in the 14th century locates them to the south and west of Tunisia. They were constantly at war with the Arabs on the north, and the Negro peoples of the Sudan on the south. For their relations with the French, with whom they came into contact after the conquest of Algeria, see Sahara.

Authorities. — H. Duveyrier, Les Touaregs du Nord (Paris, 1864); Lieut. Hourst, The Exploration of the Niger (Eng. trans., London, 1898), pp. 199-249; W. J. Harding King, A Search for the Masked Tuaregs (London, 1903); M. Benhazera, Six Mois chez les Touareg du Ahaggar (Algiers, 1908); Lieut. C. Jean, Les Touareg du sud-est: l'Aïr, leur rôle dans la politique saharienne (Paris, 1909); E. Doutté, Magie et religion dans l'Afrique du nord (Algiers, 1909) ; “Essai de transcription méthodique des noms de lieux touareg” in Bull. soc. géog. d'Alger (1908).