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:: MAURITANIA ETHNOGRAPHY ::
Total population: +/- 3,1 millions.
Saharan population: +/- 1,7 millions (55%).
Total population density: 3 hab/km2.
Saharan population density: 1,9 hab/km2.
Ethnics: Berbers (known as moors or bidane), haratins, mandes and fulas.
Languages: Arabic and french.
Religions: 99% islamic, 1% christians and animists.
Life expectancy: 60 years.
Mauritania is a nexus between the black Africa and the white Africa, between the arab-berbers masters and their black-skinned slaves. Slavery and poverty go hand in hand; traditionally, both conditions have spreaded extensively along the country. Recently a new legislation is intended to help decrease this practice.
Arabic culture is predominant in Mauritania; although arab-berbers are a minority among the population, they dominate the society. At the present, black people groups start pressing to revert this, while other sectors in society claim for a more pluralist society. Despite this situation, Mauritania has been generally a quiet country, with no extended war present, beyond some occassional outbreaks of social violence and putschs.
In a more intimate aspect of society, Mauritania is remarkable for being a country where a bizarre concept on feminine beauty leads to a percentage of girls being forced to ingest even so much as 16000 calories per day, so they get obese and therefore more desirable for men. Though this sickening practice is decreasing in modern times, it is still ingrained in rural areas.
The moors or bidane, are the result of a secular miscegenation; they can have clear skin and eyes, or be more dark-skinned as an heritage from the negroid types. The term bidane designates the mauritanians that are culturally arabized. Adapted to the environment, moors live from herding, cattle and small bussiness. Still, nomads have reduced their numbers drastically along the last decades, to a great extent because of the droughts. Generally these nomads were settled in the southern country during winter, the dry season, moving towards the north during summer, the wet season.
The khaima, nomads' shelter, is a tent knitted by the women, using wool and camel hair. It shelters around five to eight people, that lie in the ground, upon sters and carpets. Apart from textile activities, women are also dedicated to leatherwork, while craftmanship based on metal and wood is done by male artisans. Artisans traditionally belonged to the lowest caste on society.
Nomads only eat meat in notable occasions; rest of the time they would feed themselves with milk, millet and dates. In their spare time, they would engage in long discussions, while taking their three glasses of green tea. Each one of these glasses would contain the same tea in a different proportion; firstly a strong, bitter tea, followed by an intermediate, less saturated tea, and finally a soft, sweet tea.
Though most people would think about the drinking of green tea as being an ancient tradition among the nomads of the Sahara, it isn't. Tea wasn't introduced in the Sahara until the beginning of the XX century, and it took some decades to be spread totally among the population, that became quite addicted to this drink. But what is true, is that the ceremony of the three glasses is unique of the saharan nomads, while the number three would remain a mystery; a nomad woman asked about this fact only argued that their ancestors set this number on their minds.
In the following image, a berber woman and her daughter selling some trinkets in the Adrar region. Within their belongings, it can be seen a teapot.
Left image: with its five pinnacles crowned by the traditional ostrich eggs, the old minaret of Chinguetti overlook the ancient mosque that the devotees tirelessly dispute to the sands of the desert. In this town, founded in the late VIII century as a point in several transaharan routes, some dwellings have been abandoned because of the invasion of sand. Chinguetti still attracts many visitors, because it is one of the sacred towns of the islam, and also because of its architecture made of adobe and masonry, and the old libraries full of medieval manuscripts.
Right image: a black-skinned woman from Chinguetti. Mauritania has been traditionally a country of slavery, where the dark-skinned people had to serve the moors, white-skinned arabic-berbers. Although the present legislation has prohibited slavery in Mauritania, the reality is that slavery still continues, since the enslaved usually have no chance to make a living without their masters. They own no home and many of them don't even are aware of their new legal situation, because of the extended illiteracy. So slavery continues to work, in a more veiled manner, with the enslaved workers now receiving salaries, which obviously are ridiculously low.
In the image below, a street in Ualata, a humble village where the reddish houses, built around inner courtyards, are ornamented with white decorative motifs, arabesques painted with lime around doors and windows, executed by women and repainted each year. Ualata was in the past the rival of Tombuctu, but today it is a small village of no economic importance, but gifted with an interesting architectural style that looks more charming that Tombuctu.
In past times, the moorish warrior tribes effectuated razzias in the southern lands to loot goods and grain, and for kidnapping slaves.
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|:: Sahara Territory by Sakhal 2011-2014 ::|