TRIBAL AFRICAN ART
Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Libya, Burkina Faso and Niger
The Tuareg are a tribal people of the Sahara numbering today more than 300,000.
They speak a Berber language, Tamarshak, and have their own alphabet. In ancient times,
the Tuareg controlled the trans-Sahara caravan routes, taxing the goods they helped to
convey and raiding neighboring tribes. In modern times, their raiding was subdued by the
French who ruled Algeria. The political division of Saharan Africa since the 1960s has
made it increasingly difficult for the Tuareg to maintain their pastoral traditions.
Tuareg society distinguishes among nobles, vassals, and serfs. Slave-stealing expeditions have been abolished, but the black descendants of former slaves still perform the menial tasks. Social status is determined through matrilineal descent. Converted by the Arabs to Islam, the Tuareg have retained some of their older rites. Among the Tuareg, for example, men -- not women -- wear a headdress with a veil.
Many Tuareg starved in droughts in the 1970s, and others have migrated to cities. After leather, wood is perhaps the most important material in Saharan daily life, and is used for the poles and beams of the nomads tents on which are hung bags, saddles, bows and whips, as well as bed frames, dishes, cups, milking bowls, spoons, mortars and pestles. Among the Tuareg elegantly sculpted cushion supports (ehel) are important items in any well-appointed household. They were carved by members of the guild known as enaden, blacksmiths who have been instrumental in the creation of precisely those things that have forever distinguished the upper classes of the society from the many vassal populations of the Tuareg world. Ehel form part of the basic furnishing found in any upper-class Tuaregs tent. Ehel are used to pin the mat-woven walls against the exterior tent-poles.
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