Kel Ayr

Kel Ayr (also Kel Aïr) were a semi-nomadic Tuareg tribal confederation which ruled an area centered on the Aïr Mountians in what is today Niger.

Forming sometime after the 11th century CE, the Kel Ayr were one of the earlier Tuareg groups to arrive in the Aïr, helping to push out the Hausa, later to become identified with Gobir (the Gobirawa) and other states to the south. Kel Ayr controlled the sendetary populations of the trading and farming centers in Assodé, Agadez, Ingall, Timia and Iferouane. The Songhay Empire seized Agadez, Ingall, and centers to the south and west in 1500, but lost control before the end of the century. Along with the Kel Gress, Tesen and Issandalan confederations, the Kel Ayr controlled the region and helped found the Sultanate in Agadez. In 1740 the large Kel Owey destroyed the town of Assodé, sacked Agadez, placed the Sultanate of Agadez under their control, and dispersed the Kel Ayer to the south and west. The confederation was then under the direct suzerainary of the Anastafidet, lord of the Kel Owey. Between the 1850s and the 1890s, the Kel Owey and the central Aïr again fell under control of the Key Ayr, and the Ayr again retained control of Agadez, the Kouar oases, and the Azalai salt caravans, which they continue to operate.

As of the 1980s, population estimates for the Kel Ayr range from 55,000 to 20,000, in part because of the decision of which tribes to include, and whether to include the sedentary population (the Ikelan or Bella) whom the Tuareg groups ruled until at least independence.

Existing Kel Ayr groups

To the west of Aïr in the Tamesna plain:

To the southwest of Aïr :

  • Kel Fadey (centered at Tchimoumenene; nomadize in regions around In Gall) ~1780 in 1979.
  • Igdalen (part). Igdalen sub groups form a religious class in many Tuareg confederatons
  • Kel Ferwan (or Kel Ferouane) To the south of Aïr, but originally migrating to Air in the 14th century CE. ~6000 in 1979.

In the colonial period the Kel Ayr led a large confederation which included most of these groups, but also held sway over the Kel Owey and Kel Tamat in the central Aïr Massif.


  • Samuel Decalo. Historical Dictionary of Niger. Scarecrow Press, London and New Jersey (1979). ISBN 0810812290
  • Jolijn Geels. Niger. Bradt London and Globe Pequot New York (2006). ISBN 1841621528.
  • French Language Wikipedia entry


  • Bernus E. 1981. Touareg nigériens: Unité culturelle et diversité régionale d'un peuple pasteur. ORSTOM, Paris. This is the source of the 55,000 population figure.
  • Karl G. Prasse. The Tuaregs: The Blue People. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1995. ISBN 978-87-7289-313-6.

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