The nomadic inhabitants of the Saharan regions of north Africa are commonly known with the name of Tuareg. Most people call them the “Blue Men” because of their deep indigo robes and turbans, but they prefer to call themselves Imohag, “free men”. No one knows their true origin but they are very ancient people, whose existence had already been recorded by Greek historian Herodotous in the 5bh Century BC. At that time, Tuaregs were known for organizing caravans across the desert. Today, after thousands of years, they still do the same, wandering through the desert, free from the limitations of the contemporary society. They are a beautiful and romantic anachronism in the modern age.
Tuaregs use the clan as political organization of their society. Each Tuareg clan is made up of family groups constituting a tribe; every tribe is led by its chief, the amghar. A series of clans may bond together under an Amenokal, forming a sort of tribal confederation. In their society, the women have freedom and they actively participate in the tribal decision.
Tuaregs have a lot of ancestral traditions, the most famous one is the Tea Ceremony. This ceremony is central to Tuareg social life. Three shots of mint tea must be drunk at each sitting: the first bitter cup is said to be “as harsh as death;” the second “as sweet as life;” and the third “as light as love.” The Tea Ceremony is an ancient way to show hospitality and prepare alliances. But is not the only one. Music and poetry are a very important element of their culture, and they are used in various rites. One of the most important rite is the one called “the rite of passage”, in which boys, at 18 years old, take the veil. In Tuareg society, the men cover their faces, believing evil spirits enter the body through facial orifices, while the women go uncovered. The veiling ceremony is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
There is magic in the way Tuaregs live. They move following the sun and stars, but they are also capable to orientate themselves through the shifting of the sand dunes and the feel of the wind on their skin. They can follow a track in the sand long after it has vanished. Differently than people in the modern society, they do not always know where they are, but are never lost.
“The desert guides us and speaks to us. Sometimes, it sends us visions, mirages. And sometimes, it sends people—people with a message.”
— the Amenokal Takama to Balthasar, “Pipi and the Midnight Express“
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