Tuareg

Tuareg or Touareg (both: twäˈrĕg) [key], Berbers of the Sahara, numbering c.2 million. They have preserved their ancient alphabet, which is related to that used by ancient Libyans. The Tuaregs traditionally maintained a feudal system consisting of a small number of noble families, a large majority of vassals, and a lower class of black non-Tuareg serfs, who performed the agricultural tasks. The upper classes, organized in tribes, convoyed caravans and, until subdued by France, were feared as raiders. The fiercely independent Tuareg resented European hegemony in Africa, and they long resisted conquest.

Tuareg men go veiled, while the women are unveiled. Women enjoy respect and freedom, and descent and inheritance are through the female line. Though nominally Muslim, the people still retain many pre-Islamic rites and customs, but the traditional way of life for the Tuaregs (e.g., raiding neighboring tribes, leading caravans, and exacting taxes from trans-Sahara travelers) has changed. Since the 1970s droughts and famines have forced many Tuaregs from their desert homes into urban areas; many have become farmers.

In the 1990s political tensions caused further relocation. Groups of Tuaregs fought for autonomy from Niger and Mali, but cease-fires were signed in both nations in the mid-1990s and largely held in the following decade. Beginning in 2006, however, there were Tuareg attacks against government forces in Mali despite cease-fires in subequent years; in early 2009 Mali's military gained significant victories against the rebels. The collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya (2011) revived Mali's Tuareg rebels when Tuaregs who had fought in Qaddafi's army returned to Mali. Following the 2012 coup in Mali Tuareg and Islamist rebels seized control of much of N Mali. In 2007 a new Tuareg rebel group began mounting attacks in Niger, claiming that the government had failed to honor promises made in the 1995 peace accord. In 2009 negotiations with two of the three Tuareg rebel groups in Niger led to a cease-fire.

See F. J. Rennell, People of the Veil (1926, repr. 1966); P. Fuchs, The Land of Veiled Men (tr. 1956).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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