A Closer Look into the Tuareg Of North Africa

 

 

The Tuareg of Northern Africa

 

The Tuareg (or Toureg) are a group of semi-nomadic, pastoralists inhabiting the Saharan interior of North-Western Africa – a region covering 5 countries which include Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso, with few living in Chad and Nigeria. The Tuareg call themselves imuhagh which means free men (a reference to Tuareg “nobility”). The true origin of the Tuareg is not fully known nor when or how they arrived at the Sahara, however, they are mostly Sunni Muslims known to be of Berber descent. The population of the Tuareg is about 4 million with three quarters of them living in Niger and Mali.

 

 

The Tuareg live in the Sahara Desert

 

The Tuareg live in the central part of the sahara desert, an area regarded as one of the world’s most inhospitable places on the planet. They have survived in this harsh environment for thousands of years with their daily living based on an overriding concern to protect and defend themselves from hostile supernatural forces they believe exists in their surrounding environment referred to as “Jinn” (Evil spirits that tend to trap travellers) as well as obtain protection from good genies.

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Tuareg men gathered near the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali

 

 

The Tuareg are known distinctly for the indigo coloured veil or turban called Tagelmust or litham worn by their men, which gave rise to popular names like the “Blue Men of the Sahara”or “Men of the Veil.” This veil are worn by men once they reach the age of 25. The veil completely covers the face except the eyes. Its primary function is to protect the mouth and nostrils (Regarded by the Tuareg as the “gates if the soul”) from the Jinn. Their main instrument of protection however are the amulets and talismans. Amulets are jewelleries produced in geometric and symmetrical designs and worn by every Tuareg, whether man or woman, boy or girl. These Amulets contain sacred objects and some with verses from the Quran. One stands out from them: the Tuareg Cross

The Cross of Agadez

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Traditional Tuareg Silver cross

 

The Tuareg Crosses are 21 in number according to the “official collection” of the Cooperative of Artisans of Agadez. Each of these crosses indicate a location of origin, except the Karaga Cross which draws its inspiration from the typical Tuareg bed.

Much of Tuareg art is in the form of metalwork (silver jewellery) and the Tuareg Cross is no different. The Cross must be made only of silver or silver alloy. In Islam, Silver is the metal of Allah and Gold is considered a demonic metal. All metals save silver is disapproved by Mohammed, so in Muslim tradition, rings, gold jewelleries, are prohibited.

The Cross of Agades is known as the progenitor of all Tuareg Crosses. That and those of Iférouane , Tahoua , Zinder and Gall are all considered to be “anciennes”, which means real, authentic or original. All the other crosses descend from these five.

Tuareg crosses are passed down from generation to generation. When a father passed the Tuareg cross to his son, he says these words to him: “I give you the four corners of the world, because one cannot know where one will die”.

The Tuareg Crosses are derived from the ancient Egyptian Ankh symbol and are a sex symbol, especially in Agades, Zinder and Gall. The crosses feature two elements which are stylized depictions of two sex symbols; the tip, symbol of male and the ring; symbol of women.

The Tuareg express their cultural and artistic identity through their jewellery making. They have become known globally for this skill and each piece contains a unique message and historical symbol that is passed from one generation to the other.

To explore our Tuareg silver collection, use the navigation menu to shop by North Africa region.

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