Types of Art
Much Tuareg art is in the form of jewelry, leather and metal saddle decorations, and finely crafted swords.
Tuareg is a term used to identify numerous diverse groups of people who share a common language and a common history. Tuareg camel caravans played the primary role in trans-Saharan trade until the mid-20th century when European trains and trucks took over. Goods that once were brought north to the edge of the Sahara are now taken to the coast by train and then shipped to Europe and beyond. Tuareg history begins in northern Africa where their presence was recorded by Herodotus. Many groups have slowly moved southward over the last 2,000 years in response to pressures from the north and the promise of a more prosperous land in the south. Today, many Tuareg live in sedentary communities in the cities bordering the Sahara that once were the great centers of trade for western Africa. Although most Tuareg now practice some degree of Islam, they are not considered Arabic.
For thousands of years, Tuareg economy revolved around trans-Saharan trade. There are basically five trade routes which extend across the Sahara from the northern Mediterranean coast of Africa to the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara. Tuareg merchants were responsible for bringing goods from these cities to the north. From there they were distributed throughout the world. Because of the nature of transport and the limited space available in caravans, Tuareg usually traded in luxury items, things which took up little space and on which a large profit could be made. Tuareg were also responsible for bringing enslaved people north from west Africa to be sold to Europeans and Middle Easterners. Many Tuareg settled into the communities with which they traded, serving as local merchants and representatives for their friends and family who continued to trade.
Historically, Tuareg society was divided between those who tended the land and those who did not. At one time, tilling the land was considered the work of the lower classes, while the upper classes reaped the benefits of trading. Usually groups of sedentary Tuareg would pay allegience to a locally appointed headman, who in turn would report to the noble who considered the village his domain. As time has passed, however, these sedentary farmers have been able to accumulate wealth while the trans-Saharan trade routes diminished in importance. They were also given political status by colonial and postcolonial administrations.
Most, if not all, Tuareg are followers of Islam. Among many Tuareg this practice is nominal, and while daily prayers are made to Allah, strict adherance to other religious requirements is rare. Most of the feasts are observed and celebrated with relish, but the fasting that is required during Ramadan is often excused because Tuareg travel so much. Like most followers of Islam in northern Africa, Tuareg believe in the continuous presence of various djinns (spirits). Divination is accomplished through means of the Koran. Most men wear protective amulets which contain verses from the Koran. Men also begin wearing a veil at age 25 which conceals their entire face excluding their eyes. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members. Women are not veiled. Tuareg belong to the Maliki sect of Islam, resulting from the teachings of the great prophet, El Maghili, who came among them in the early 16th century.