Saturday, December 29, 2007

A flower in the desert: The Touareg

Geographical Magazine

Wandering west (and partially off-topic) for a moment, I thought that this article about the Touareg of the Sahara might be of interest to some visitors.

The Touareg roamed the Sahara for a millennium, fiercely protecting their way of life until 20th-century colonisation. An annual festival in northern Niger is helping to rejuvenate their ancient customs. Henrietta Butler reports

The Touareg first settled in the Sahara during the tenth century. Sharing a common ancestry with the Berbers of northern Africa, they were light-skinned and sometimes blue-eyed, and formed highly structured groups of nobles, warriors, blacksmiths, artisans and vassals, trading with agriculturalists of different ethnic origins.

Renowned for their ruthlessness, the Touareg governed all desert trade routes and were invincible for a millennium. With up to 20,000 camels, their great caravans set out across the desert in all directions, carrying salt to be traded for gold, cloth and corn. (Such was the shortage of salt outside the Sahara during the 15th century that it was exchanged for equal quantities of gold in areas south of the Sahara.)

During the 20th century, however, the Touareg’s fortunes began to change. In 1916, the French colonisation of Aïr saw them surrender control of Saharan trade. Then during the 1970s and ’80s, drought scorched their land and killed their animals. Left with no other option, many Touareg abandoned their nomadic lifestyle for a sedentary life. But in towns such as Agadez, they only encountered more hardship, with high unemployment and cultural conflict with the Hausa majority and, more recently, Islamic fundamentalism.

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