The Tuareg (also Twareg or Touareg, Amazigh: Imuhagh / Itargiyen, besides regional ethnyms) are a nomadic pastoralist people, and are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. They call themselves variously Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq ("Speakers of Tamasheq"), Imuhagh, Imazaghan or Imashaghen ("the Free people"), or Kel Tagelmust, i.e., "People of the Veil". The name Tuareg was applied to them by early explorers and historians (since Leo Africanus).
The origin and meaning of the name Twareg has long been debated with various etymologies advanced, although it would appear that Twārəg is derived from the "broken plural" of Tārgi, a name whose former meaning was "inhabitant of Targa" (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan. Targa in Berber means "(drainage) channel", see Alojali et al. 2003: 656, s.v. "Targa").
Descended from Berbers in the region that is now Libya, the Tuareg are descendants of ancient Saharan peoples described by Herodotus, who mentions the ancient Libyan people, the Garamantes. Archaeological testimony is the ruins of Germa. Later, they expanded southward, into the Sahel.
For over two millennia, the Tuareg operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade connecting the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern (Mediterranean) coast of Africa. The Tuareg adopted camel nomadism along with its distinctive form of social organization from camel-herding Arabs about two thousand years ago, when the camel was introduced to the Sahara from Arabia. Like numerous African and other groups in pre-modern times, the Tuareg once took captives, either for trade or for domestic purposes; those who were not sold became assimilated into the Tuareg community. Captive servants and herdsmen formed a component of the division of labor in camel nomadism.
In the late nineteenth century, the Tuareg resisted the French invasion of their Central Saharan homelands for the purpose of colonization. Tuareg broadswords were no match for the more advanced weapons of French squadrons, and after numerous massacres on both sides, the Tuareg were subdued and required to sign treaties in Mali 1905 and Niger 1917. In southern Algeria, the French met some of the strongest resistance from the Ahaggar Tuareg. Their Amenokal, traditional chief Moussa ag Amastan, fought numerous battles in defense of the region. Finally, Tuareg territories were taken under French governance and their confederations were largely dismantled and reorganized.
Before French colonization, the Tuareg were organized into loose confederations, each consisting of a dozen or so tribes. Each of the main groups had a traditional leader called Amenokal along with an assembly of tribal chiefs (imɤaran, singular amɤar). The groups were the Kel Ahaggar, Kel Ajjer, Kel Ayr, Adrar n Fughas, Iwəlləmədan, and Kel Gres.
Long-standing competition for resources in the Sahel has impacted Tuareg conflicts with neighboring African groups, especially after political disruption and economic constraints following French colonization and independence, tight restrictions placed on nomadization, high population growth, and desertification exacerbated by global warming and the increased firewood needs of growing cities. Today, some Tuareg are experimenting with farming; some have been forced to abandon herding, and seek jobs in towns and cities.
In Mali, a Tuareg uprising resurfaced in the Adrar N'Fughas mountains in the 1960s, following Mali's independence. Several tuareg joined, including eg tuareg from the Adrar des Iforas in northeastern Mali, ... The 1960 rebellion was a fight between a group of tuareg against the independent state of Mali, which was then only recently formed. The revolt was military suppressed by the Malian Army and this suppression created a resentment with the Tuareg which finally lead to the second uprising. This second uprising was in May 1990. At this time, in the aftermath of a clash between government soldiers and Tuareg outside a prison in Tchin-Tabaraden, Niger, Tuaregs in both Mali and Niger claimed autonomy for their traditional homeland: (Tenere, capital Agadez, in Niger and the Azawad and Kidal regions of Mali). Deadly clashes between Tuareg fighters (led by people as Mano Dayak) and the military of both countries followed, with deaths numbering well into the thousands. Negotiations initiated by France and Algeria led to peace agreements (January 11, 1992 in Mali and 1995 in Niger). Both agreements called for decentralization of national power and guaranteed the integration of Tuareg resistance fighters into the countries' respective national armies.
Major fighting between the Tuareg resistance and government security forces ended after the 1995 and 1996 agreements, but in 2004, sporadic fighting continued in Niger between government forces and groups struggling to obtain Tuareg independence. In 2007, a new surge in violence occurred.
Inhædˤæn (Inadan), were a blacksmith-client caste who fabricated and repaired the saddles, tools, household equipment and other material needs of the community. In most communities the Inadin were freedmen drawn from the servile éklan caste and considered outside the Tel, and thus outside Tuareg society proper.
The Tuareg people inhabit a large area covering almost all the middle and western Sahara and the north-central Sahel. In Tuareg terms, the Sahara is not one desert but many, so they call it Tinariwen ("the Deserts"). Among the many deserts in Africa there is the true desert Tenere. Then we can cite numerous deserts more and less arid, flat and mountainous: Adrar, Tagant, Tawat (Touat) Tanezruft, Adghagh n Fughas, Tamasna, Azawagh, Adar, Damargu, Tagama, Manga, Ayr, Tarramit (Termit), Kawar, Djado, Tadmait, Admer, Igharghar, Ahaggar, Tassili N'Ajjer, Tadrart, Idhan, Tanghart, Fezzan, Tibesti, Kalansho, Libyan Desert, etc.
The most famous Tuareg leader was a woman, Tin Hinan, heroine and spiritual leader, who founded a legendary kingdom in the Ahaggar mountains. Other confederation leaders followed under the title of Amenokal (Chief), of whom the most famous include:
The Tuareg are matrilineal, though not matriarchal. Unlike many Muslim societies, women do not traditionally wear the veil, whereas men do. The most famous Tuareg symbol is the Tagelmust(also called éghéwed in Malian Tamasheq, or referred to as a Cheche, pronounced: Shesh from Berber), an often blue indigo coloured veil called Alasho. The men's facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well; in any event, it is a firmly established tradition (as is the wearing of amulets containing verses from the Qur'an). Men begin wearing a veil when they reach maturity which usually conceals their entire face excluding their eyes and the top of the nose.
Tuareg people have a very personal wedding, there's an unspoken law about other people not interfering with marriage. The only tradition they know is a 'quarantine' period after one's husband's/wife's death. The widow is supposed to make something whereby her husband should be remembered during this period, and she's not to see other men. Men usually have to cleanse themselves physically and mentally. Nor was there a common punishment for women or men who were unfaithful Although Tuareg aren't supposed to have more than one lifepartner (a relationship is practically equal to an engagement and once you're a couple you're expected to get married) it is highly unusual for them to stay single. When a partner passes away, they are expected to get married again (when the quarantine is finished). If there are no potential partners or the widow or widower is too old to get married there are exceptions.
The Tuareg are sometimes called the "Blue People" because the indigo pigment in the cloth of their traditional robes and turbans stained the wearer's skin dark blue. Today, the traditional indigo turban is still preferred for celebrations, and generally Tuaregs wear clothing and turbans in a variety of colors.
Much Tuareg art is in the form of jewelry, leather and metal saddle decorations called Trik, and finally crafted swords. The Inadan community makes traditional handicrafts. Among their products are: Tanaghilt or Zakkat (the 'Agadez Cross' or 'Croix d'Agadez'); the Tuareg Takoba, many beautiful gold and silver-made necklaces called 'Takaza'; and earrings called 'Tizabaten'.
In 2007, Stanford's Cantor Arts Center opened an exhibition, "Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World," curated by Tom Seligman, Director of the center, who first spent time with the Tuareg in 1971 when he traveled through the Sahara after serving in the Peace Corps. The exhibition includes beautifully crafted and adorned functional objects such as camel saddles, tents, bags, swords, amulets, cushions, dresses, earrings, spoons and drums. The exhibition is also being shown at UCLA Fowler Museum in Los Angeles and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.
Across History the Tuareg are renowned and respected warriors. Their decline a military Might came with the introduction of the fire arms, weapons which the Tuareg do not possess. The Tuareg warrior attire consists of a Takoba (sword), Allagh (lance) and Aghar (shield) made of antelope's skin.
Tinariwen, a Tuareg band that fuses electric guitars and indigenous musical styles, was founded in the 1980s by rebel fighters. Tinariwen is one of the best known and authentic Tuareg bands. Especially in areas that were cut off during the Tuareg rebellion (eg Adrar des Iforas), they were practically the only music available, which made them locally famous and their songs/lyrics (eg Abaraybone, ...) are well known by the locals. They released their first CD in 2000, and toured in Europe and the United States in 2004. The Niger-based band Etran Finatawa combines Tuareg and Wodaabe members, playing a combination of traditional instruments and electric guitars.
Many music groups emerged after the 1980s cultural revival. Among them Tartit, Imaran and known artists are: Abdallah Oumbadougou from Ayr, Baly Othmany of Djanet.
Other festivals include:
The Tuareg are a pastoral people, having an economy based on livestock breeding, trading, and agriculture. A contemporary variant is occurring in northern Niger, in a traditionally Tuareg territory that comprises most of the uranium-rich land of the country. The central government in Niamey has shown itself unwilling to cede control of the highly profitable mining to indigenous clans; the Tuareg are determined not to relinquish the prospect of substantial economic benefit; the French government has independently entered the fray to defend a French firm, Areva, established in Niger for fifty years and now mining the massive Imouraren deposit. Tuareg are distinguished in their native language as the Imouhar, meaning the free people; the overlap of meaning has increased local cultural nationalism. Additional complaints against Areva are that it is: "...plundering...the natural resources and [draining] the fossil deposits. It is undoubtedly an ecological catastrophe."
These mines yield uranium ores, which are then processed to produce yellowcake, crucial to the nuclear power industry (as well as aspirational nuclear powers). Controversy in the United States erupted out of a report asserting that Saddam Hussein had not tried to buy yellowcake from Niger, partly on grounds that Nigerien uranium mines had closed. In fact, many are disused and lightly sealed, allowing individuals to enter and mine at will.
In 2007, some Tuareg people in Niger have allied themselves with the MNJ, the Niger Movement for Justice, a rebel group operating in the north of the country. During 2004-2007, U.S. Special Forces teams trained Tuareg units of the Nigerien Army in the Sahel region as part of the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership; some of these trainees are reputed to have gone on to fight in the 2007 rebellion within the MNJ. The goal of these Tuareg appears to be economic and political control of ancestral lands rather than being a confluence of religious and political ideologies.
The Tuareg are classified as a Berber group, and are closely related to both Northwest African Berbers and West Africans, in terms of culture and ethnicity. At least some sources argue that the Tuareg are defined by language and culture, not by ethnicity, and that predominantly Tamasheq speakers qualify as "Tuareg" (and, presumably, by implication, individuals of Tuareg descent but who have assimilated into various countries and do not speak Tamasheq languages). This is probably part of the reason for the widely varying estimates of the number of Tuareg in the world.
The Tuareg ethnic flag is red, white, and blue.
Bruce Sterling used a fictionalised Tuareg tribe in his novel Islands in the Net. The Tuareg were portrayed as post-pastoralist nomads who had renounced herding animals in favour of using solar power and eating single-celled protein, and as fine musicians.