Touareg women (I)

Touareg women have traditionally enjoyed a privileged position upon the women of other societies - including other berber peoples -, belonging to one of the few matrilineal societies of the past. The origin of the targui culture can be tracked back at least to the times of the consolidation of the Christianism, a fact proved by the study of the tomb of Tin Hinan found in a village of the Ahaggar.

In touareg society, women are in charge to build the tents, by using skins or woven basketry, and they are the owners of them. They have authority in the camps, for men are often absent, due to their activities as herders, traders or warriors. Generally, women know to write and are more cultivated than their spouses; they participate in councils and assemblies of their lineage and is consulted in the issues of the tribe. Women transmit the ancestral heritage by reciting (singing) poems while playing the imzad, instrument reserved to them and built by them. In the courtship between women an men (singles, divorced or widowed) women have the last word to say. If the woman accepts the wooer, he will pay a marriage portion, generally cattle. Women carry their own cattle to their new home and can divorce if they feel abused by their spouse.

Touareg woman from Mali.

A targui girl from Mali. The headdress ornamented with numerous trinkets is typical from Mali.

The touareg, which in origen were animists, embraced the Islam (or were forced to) and this made some impact on their uses. The women that are married to priests must not be seen outside their tents without being covered, nor traveling without a bunk with bows of a white fabric. Besides Islam, matrilineality and animist beliefs (such as talismans) are still largely observed in the touareg society. The position of Amghar, maximum autorithy who lead the clans that compose a confederation, is hereditary through a matrilineal principle; it is usual for the son of a sister of the incumbent chieftain to succeed to his position.

Touareg women from Djanet.

Touareg women from Djanet, in Tassili-n-Ajjer, Algeria.

Touareg women have a variety of dressing styles depending on their area of origin. In Algeria or Libya, they often wear large, ostentatious jewelry, earrings and pendants that are typically triangle-shaped, along with numerous bracelets and big rings, and they cover their heads with mantles that they simply let rest on their shoulders. In Mali it is typical a headdressing ornamented with numerous trinkets, the use of jewelry is more sober and they often pass their mantles under their chin to the opposite shoulder, a typical arab custom. In Niger touareg women often wear the most sophisticated hairstyles, including always braids and specially the braid that goes from the center of the head to the left ear. Their headdressings are sophisticated as well, for the women of the Air often have imaginative ways to turn a mantle into some kind of fancy turban. Clothes are usually decorated with rich embroidery, being typical a golden symbol that reminds of a sun with many rays. In so far as in Mali the outfit of touareg women is somewhat affected by the sobriety of arab style, in Niger it is clearly influenced by the bizarre style of the peuls, from who touareg women have taken as well the custom of painting their faces. The use of facial veils is traditionally not observed by the immense majority of touareg women.

Touareg women from Niger.

Touareg girls from Niger, easily recognizable due to their fancy headdressing, among other features.

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