1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tuat

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TUAT, a Berber word[1] sometimes applied generally to all the oases in the western part of the Algerian Sahara, i.e. between 2° W. and 2½° E. 26° and 30° N., sometimes restricted to a particular group which borders the east side of Wad Mzaud between 26⅛° and 27½° N. According to the first usage Tuat includes the oases of Gurara in the north and Tidikelt in the south with the important centre of Insalah. The three groups are spoken of collectively by the French as the Tuat archipelago. The district is comparatively fertile, being formed of recent alluvium extending along the base of the Tademait plateau (Cretaceous), and produces dates and some cereals and vegetables. The wadi Saura (known in its lower course as the Messaud), formed by the junction of the wadis Zusfana and Ghir, marks the north-western boundary of the oases. After the winter rains in the Atlas it carries a consider- able body of water in its upper course, but lower down its channel is choked by sand. Works were undertaken (1909) by the French to keep open the channel as it passes Tuat proper. At Gurara water is obtained from springs brought to the surface by the outcrop of impervious Devonian rocks. There is an extensive sebkha or salt lake at Gurara. The oases support a comparatively large population. The separate ksurs or hamlets, of which the district is said to contain over 300, are in Tuat proper placed close together. The political centre of Tuat is the oasis of Timmi, which has some forty ksurs. All the ksurs are strongly fortified, the walls of the citadels being of immense thickness. The whole region has been formed into an administrative unit known as territoire des oasis sahariennes, and comprising a native commune subdivided into the annexes of Tuat, Gurara and Tidikelt. In 1906 the commune had a population of 134 Europeans and 49,873[2] natives, of whom 112 enjoyed municipal rights. There were four places with over 2000 inhabitants: Adrar (Timmi), 2686, and Zaniet-Kunta, 3090, in Tuat; Insalah, 2837, in Tidikelt; and Timimun, 2330, in Gurara. Nine other places had between 1000 and 2000 inhabitants. By race (excluding the troops) there were 19,654 Arabs, 5470 Berbers, 4374 negroes, 191 Jews (professing Islam) and 19,412 persons of mixed blood. The district is of importance as commanding the routes southwards to Timbuktu from both Morocco and Algeria, and it is thus a great centre of trade. The oases appear to have been inhabited from a very early period. According to tradition numbers of Jews migrated thither in the 2nd century A.D. They were the predominant element in the oases when the conquests of Sidi Okba drove the Zenata south (7th century). These Berbers occupied Tuat and, to a large extent, absorbed the Jewish population. The Arabs took possession of the oases in the 10th century and imposed Islam upon the people. Thereafter the region was governed by Zenata Berbers or by Arab chieftains. In the 14th century the sultan of Morocco occupied the oases, which remained in political dependence upon Morocco. In the 17th century, however, the sovereignty of the sultan had become almost nominal and this state of quasi-independence continued. The treaty of 1845 between Morocco and France left the question of the possession of Tuat, Gurara and Tidikelt unsettled. After the murder in 1881 of the members of the Flatters mission — a French expedition sent into the Sahara — a measure concerted at Insalah, several of the Tuat headmen sought Moroccan protection, fearing the vengeance of France. A chief calling himself the Moroccan pasha established himself at Timmi, but Morocco took no active step to assert her sovereignty. In 1899 a French scientific mission, under Colonel Flamand, was despatched to the oasis of Tidikelt. The French were attacked by the natives (Dec. 28, 1899), whom they defeated, and the next day Insalah was occupied. This was the beginning of a serious campaign in which the French suffered severe losses, but by March 1901 the whole of the fortified places in the three oases had been captured. To cut off the oases from Morocco the town of Igli, 140 m. north-west of Gurara, was also annexed by the French (April 5, 1900). Igli (pop. 1057 in 1906) occupies an important position, being placed at the junction of the wadi Zusfana and the wadi Ghir. The French were not, however, left in peaceable possession of their newly acquired territory. Attacks by the nomad tribes, Moroccan and others, were made on the line of communications, and during 1903 the French troops suffered serious losses. To punish the tribes the town of Figig was bombarded by the French (June 8, 1903). On the 2nd of September following a band of nomads attacked, at a place called El Mungar, the escort of a convoy going to Taghit. After maintaining the fight 7½ hours the French were reinforced and their enemies drew off. Out of 115 combatants the French lost 38 killed and 47 wounded.

To consolidate their position the French authorities deter- mined to connect the oases with the Algerian Sahara proper by carriage roads and railways. One road goes north-east to El Golea, 150 m. distant from Insalah; another north from Igli to a post called Beni Ounif, 2½ m. south of Figig, to which point the railway from Ain Sefra, in the Oranese Sahara, was carried in 1903. The continuation of this railway to Igli was begun in the following year.

Major A. G. Laing visited the Tuat territory in 1825 on his way to Timbuktu, but his papers were lost. The next European to visit Tuat was Gerhard Rohlfs, who described his explorations and investigations in Tagebuch seiner Reise durch Marokko nach Tuat, 1864 (Gotha, 1865) and Reise durch Marokko . . . Exploration der Oasen von Tafilet, Tuat und Tidikelt . . . (Bremen, 1868). A. G. P. Martin's Les Oasis sahariennes (Algiers, 1908) gives an account of the history and economic condition of the oases. Consult also Commandant E. Laquière, Les Reconnaissances du Général Servière dans les oasis sahariennes (Paris, 1902), a valuable monograph by an officer who took part in the operations in 1900-1901; E. F. Gautier, Sahara algérien (Paris, 1908), and various contributions by G. B. M. Flamand in La Geographie and Annales géographiques for 1900, Comptes rendus (1902), Bull. géog. hist. et descriptive (1903), &c. (F. R. C.)


  1. The etymology of the word is doubtful; it is used in the sense of an inhabited district — hence an oasis.
  2. By a clerical error the native population in the census returns is given as 60,497.