Nomads of the Sahara Desert

Generally, the Touareg of Algeria, or Tuareg, are of Berber descent, but being a Touareg is not limited to a certain race or family tree. As long as the lifestyle, traditions and language are accepted, people are seen as Touareg. Living mostly in the West African regions, this nomadic tribe of the Sahara once traveled the desert in great numbers, but after invasions and wars they have been reduced to small groups, scattered across the sandy hills of the unforgiving desert.

At the start of the seventh century, Arabs started moving into the coastal regions of Algeria, pushing the Touareg into the Sahara Desert. There were approximately three million Touareg at this time, who took on the role as trans-Saharan camel traders, traveling across the desert plains from one destination to the next. Setting up tents along the way, the caravans of camels and tribe members were a common sight on the ever changing landscape of the Sahara Desert.

In the traditional Touareg culture, woman have an important role within the community, with some being tribe leaders, such as the legendary leader Tin Hinan. She founded a kingdom at the foot of the Ahaggar Mountains, and during the nineteenth century the Ahaggar Mountains became a site of fierce fighting. The French came up against savage resistance as they tried to invade the Ahaggar Mountains. The Blue Men, as they were nicknamed because of their indigo clothing and headscarves, became famous for their valiant efforts to hold off the French forces. However, the French eventually overwhelmed the Touareg, forcing them to sign treaties, which saw to them being relocated and communities broken.

After many years of war and fighting in Algeria, the Tuareg never fully recovered, with only a few original and traditional tribes remaining. It is also known that the religious leader, Charles Eugene de Foucauld, lived and traveled with the Touareg for some time. Studying their challenges, culture, traditions and language gave him the opportunity to write a comprehensive dictionary in regard to the tribe.

The Touareg are still known for camel trading, but have also evolved into cattle breeders and blacksmiths. Their crafted swords, jewelry, leather work and metal craft have become sought after items. There have even been exhibitions of their works, such as the Art of Being Touareg at the Stanford Cantor Arts Center, displaying swords, amulets, drums, dresses, saddles and tents. Traditional Touareg music can still be heard at festivals and events, but bands like Tinariwen have added a few modern instruments and have brought this genre of music to the modern world. Even though much is known about the Touareg today, they still remain a mysterious part of Algeria’s culture and the nomads of the great Sahara desert.