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George P. Murdock (1897-1985)
Africa. Its Peoples and their Culture History
Part Eleven
North and West African Pastoralism
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SemanticVocabAfrica. Tuareg
MindNode Mapping diagram. Tuareg

The Hilalian immigration of Bedouin Arabs in the eleventh century resulted in the displacement of many Berber groups, some of whom sought refuge in the oases of the Sahara and adopted there a nomadic and predatory mode of life modeled on that of the invaders. The principal body of these refugees, stemming for the most part from Tripolitania, gave rise to the modern Tuareg nation. Though long since completely islamized, the Tuareg still bear witness to their Christian past in the retention of the cross as their favorite decorative motif. They fall into the following seven major divisions.

  1. Ahaggaren (Ihaggaren, Kel Ahaggar). They inhabit the Hoggar region in the northwestern portion of the Tuareg country and number about 5,000.
  2. Antessar (Kel Antessar), with the Tengeredief. They occupy the hinterland of Timbukru in the extreme southwestern section of the Tuareg country and number about 40,000.
  3. Asben (Kel Air), embracing the Itesan (Kel Ceres), Owey (Kel Oui), Tadele (Kel Tadele), and other tribes of the Air region in the southeastern part of the Tuareg country. They number about 30,000.
  4. Aulliminden (Awellimiden, Iullemmeden, Oulliminden). They are located in the south central section of the Tuareg country and number about 100,000.
  5. Azjer (Adjeur, Ajjer, Ashar, Kel Azdjer), with the Ihajenen of the oasis of Gat. They occupy the northeastern portion of the Tuareg country and number about 6,000.
  6. Ifora. They inhabit the Iforas region in the western part of the Tuareg country and number about 5,000.
  7. Udalan (Oudalen, Madalen), with the Gossi (Kel Gossi), Igwadaren, Imedreden, Irreganaten, Logomaren, Tingeregdech, and other lesser tribes. They reside south of the Niger River and number about 100,000.

Since we have already become acquainted with the original culture of the Berbers in Chapter 15 and with that of the indigenous Saharan Negroes in Chapter 16, we shall view the Tuareg primarily from the point of view of the processes of culture change which they exemplify. They retain the language and many of the most distinctive customs of their Berber ancestors. In other respects, however, they have completely abandoned their ancestral way of life and have adopted that of the invading Arabs. In still other respects their culture is neither Berber nor Arab, nor a blend of both, but represents a genuine creative synthesis. The resulting combination, moreover, is a relatively stable one, revealing only relatively slight regional variation.
The economic life conforms closely to the pattern introduced into North Africa by the Bedouin Arabs. The Tuareg are camel nomads. They despise agriculture and leave it exclusively in the hands of the subjugated indigenous Negroes. Except for herding, they have abandoned productive enterprise and live off the tribute extorted from their subjects and the “protection” exacted from caravans. They are organized in migratory bands rather than settled villages, and they live in tents. The latter, however, differ markedly from those of the Arabs. They are covered with tanned sheep or goat hides rather than with cloth, and these are dyed red rather than black.
Political organization represents a fusion of Berber and Arab elements. In general, each band and subtribe has an assembly or council, as among the Berbers, and also a chief, comparable to the sheikhs of the Arabs. Chiefs are sometimes elected by the council in Berber fashion, but are sometimes hereditary. The Aulliminden follow the Arab rule of patrilineal succession, but this is exceptional. Most Tuareg tribes with hereditary chiefship adhere to the matrilineal principle of succession, thus deviating sharply from both Berber and Arab practice.
The system of property and inheritance is likewise unique. The form in which it appears among the Azjer may be briefly summarized, both because it is the most adequately described and because it seems to be typical for at least the northern Tuareg. The Azjer divide property into two categories—“personal” and “illegitimate.” Personal property includes everything which an individual acquires through his own economic effort, e.g., money, livestock, and purchased weapons and slaves. Whether owned by men or women, it is always inherited by their children, who receive equal shares regardless of sex. So-called “illegitimate” property includes whatever has been acquired by force, e.g., rights to land and water sources, customary fees exacted from caravans and travelers, “protection” paid by other groups to avoid being raided, personal and property privileges with respect to vassals and serfs, and the authority to command and exact obedience from political subordinates. Such rights are held collectively by lineages rather than by individuals, are administered by the head of the lineage, and are transmitted on his death, without partition, to his eldest sister's eldest son, who succeeds him.
In sharp contrast to other Berber peoples, most of whom are strongly democratic and egalitarian, the Tuareg have adopted the caste system of the Arabs in its fulJest range. In addition to Marabouts, or religious nobles, five separate castes are clearly differentiated:

  1. the Imochar, or ruling Tuareg, who lead a strictly parasitic life of warfare and political domination
  2. the Imrad, or vassal Tuareg, who engage in herding, bear arms in support of the Imochar groups to which they are attached, and render regular tribute to the latter
  3. the Bella or Haratin, Negro serfs who cultivate the land and are attached and pay tribute to particular groups of Imochar or Imrad
  4. the Iklan, privately owned Negro slaves who are obtained from the Sudan through purchase or capture and who are employed in domestic service and other menial labor
  5. the Inaden, outcaste groups of Negro artisans, especially smiths and leatherworkers. A woman is permitted to marry a man only of her own or a higher caste, whereas a man may marry a woman only of his own or a lower caste. Since social status is transmitted through women, this rule of caste hypergamy has protected the dominant Imochar, and with insignificant exception also the vassal Imrad, from any infusion of Negro blood. The sources suggest, indeed, that it was instituted for this purpose.