The Air Tuareg of Niger
Although the origin and early history of the Tuareg are cloudy, these tribal nomads appear to have traveled down from North Africa in a series of migrations as early as the seventh century. By the end of the 1300's, Tuareg tribes had established themselves as far south as the Nigerian border. As they advanced, they came into contact with the Songhai and the Hausa.
By the 1400's, Air had become an important center in the caravan trade. It was often fought over and conquered by various local rulers. In 1515, the Air Tuareg were conquered by the Songhai, and a century of prosperity followed. However, shortly before 1700, the Air region was again conquered—this time by the Hausa.
What are their lives like?
Although most of the Air Tuareg live in nomadic camps, there are a number of permanent villages as well. The village houses are usually rectangular in shape and are built with flat roofs and stone walls. The nomads live in portable, rectangular tents with walls made of tanned hides.
The Tuareg have a highly complex social structure. The main division is between the Ihaggaren (upper class nobility) and the Imrad (lower class servants). There are also whole tribes of Marabouts, or "holy people," who are led by their own chiefs. In the past, each of the noble tribes and their servants formed a political unit under a chief whose authority was symbolized by a drum. The "drum chief" held supreme political and judicial authority in the group.
Those in the lowest class do the manual and domestic labor. This class is made up of ethnically mixed peoples who live in a cooperative relationship with their masters. Many were originally slaves, either taken during war or bought at Indonesian slave markets. There are three slave groups in the lower class: the iklan, the inaden, and the harratin. The iklan take care of herding, cooking, and other domestic chores. The inaden work as artisans and blacksmiths. The harratin are Negroid tenant farmers who work as share-croppers.
Both the Tuareg and the Negro classes speak the Tuareg language, which forms part of the Berber language group. The Tuareg men are usually bi- or trilingual.
In direct contrast to Arab custom, the Tuareg men wear veils called tidjelmousts; the women do not wear veils. To show respect, the men always cover their mouths, noses, and foreheads while in the presence of foreigners or their in-laws. The most preferred veils are dyed indigo.
Marriage always requires the payment of a bride price, which consists of camels, money, or other livestock. A household is made up of the nuclear family and their house slaves. Couples generally live near the groom's parents.
What are their beliefs?
It is very common for the Tuareg to wear protective charms. Many also believe in jinnis, which are—according to Muslim legend—spirits capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.
What are their needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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