Prayer Profile
The Tamasheq of Mali

[IMAGE] The Tamasheq are a subgroup of the Tuareg peoples, who live in an area that stretches from the Sahara to Sudan. The 284,000 Tamasheq of Mali live in or near the city of Timbuktu. While the origin of the Tuareg is unclear, these 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.

The Tuareg founded the city of Timbuktu in the eleventh century. By the 1300's, it had become one of Mali's major commercial and cultural centers. Archeologists have studied the remains of large populations that formerly lived comfortably all over the ancient Sahara region. They believe it was once filled with low grass valleys, trees, shrubs, rivers, lakes, and swamps. Today, however, that is not the case. Although Timbuktu has been a highly romanticized city, it actually lies in one of the world's most desolate regions.

What are their lives like?
The entire Sahara region is very hot in the summer, reaching temperatures of 130 F. Violent winds are also very common and add to the discomfort of the climate. Sandstorms do much more damage than rain and are much more feared. Traveling is extremely hard under such conditions and most people spend the day in the shade of rocks and trees, sleeping and drinking water. Rain in the Sahara is irregular, and in some places it has not rained in six years.

The Tamasheq, like other Tuareg, have a highly complex social structure. The main division is between the Ihaggaren (upper class nobility) and the Imrad (lower class servants). In the past, each of the noble tribes and their servants formed a political unit under a chief. The chief's authority was symbolized by a drum. The "drum chief" held supreme political and judicial authority in the group, regulating relations between the nobles and the servants.

Among the Tamasheq, there are also whole tribes of Ineslemen or Marabouts. These are "holy people" who, like other tribes, are led by their own chiefs. All of the manual labor is performed by the lowest class, known as the Iklan. Many Iklan were originally slaves, either taken during warfare or bought at Indonesian slave markets. The Iklan take care of herding, cooking, and other domestic chores.

In direct contrast to Arab custom, the Tamasheq men wear veils called tidjelmousts; the women do not wear veils. The tidjelmousts are the most distinctive article of clothing worn by the men. The Tamasheq see it as shockingly indecent for a man's mouth to be seen by anyone to whom he owes formal respect. Therefore, he will always cover his face when in the presence of someone of higher social standing.

Catastrophic droughts in 1972 and 1982-1985 drove thousands of Tuareg from Mali and Niger into Algeria and Libya. Some of the unemployed Tuareg men left for Libya, where they received military training and weapons. In the early 1990's, they returned to their homes, demanding their independence. Since that time, there has been continuous guerrilla warfare in some regions of Mali and Niger. Some Tuareg have been forced into refugee camps in neighboring countries.

In 1987, Niger and Mali invited the Tuareg to return home. However, once they arrived, the governments failed to honor prior promises and kept them in detention camps. In 1990, there was a general Tuareg revolt; but it was brutally suppressed. When the revolt spread to Timbuktu, thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands fled to Algeria and Mauritania.

What are their beliefs?
The Tamasheq, like other Tuareg, are virtually all Sunni Muslim. However, they have a reputation among other Muslims for being lukewarm in their faith. They practice a passive form of Islam, infused with local superstitions and magic. Most do not even celebrate the most important Muslim fast of Ramadan.

What are their needs?
There are few known Tamasheq believers in Mali. There are seven missions agencies working among these people, but they are working with very few Christian resources in their language. Prayer is the key to reaching these people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that missions organizations and churches will accept the challenge of adopting and reaching the Tamasheq of Mali.
  • Pray that the Jesus film and Gospel broadcasts will soon be produced in the Tanslemt language.
  • Ask the Lord to send loving Christians from others parts of Africa to Mali to share the Gospel with the Tamasheq.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Tamasheq.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Tamasheq bound.
  • Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Tamasheq who will boldly declare the Gospel.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Tamasheq by the year 2000.

See also:
The Ahaggaren Tuareg of Algeria; The Air Tuareg of Niger;
The Tahoua of Mali, and Niger;
The Udalan Tuareg of Burkina Faso and Mali; The Tuareg of Nigeria.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Tamasheq
  • Country: Mali
  • Their language: Tanslemt
  • Population: (1990) 242,200
    (1995) 283,900
    (2000) 330,300
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 28
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 7
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 48,300 (17%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 8,500 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 39,800 (14%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 235,600 (83%)
  • Country: Mali
  • Population: (1990) 9,211,700
    (1995) 10,795,300
    (2000) 12,599,300
  • Major peoples in size order: Bambara 31.4%
    Fula Macina 9.6%
    Soninke 7.4%
    Sanghai 6.3%
  • Major religions: Muslim 85.3%
    Ethnic religionist 12%
    Christian 2.7%
  • Number of denominations: 18

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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