Touareg women (II)

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.

Tin Hinan, queen of the touareg

A legend among the touareg people, Tin Hinan was a prestigious woman that lived during the 4th century AC, also known as the tamenoukalt (the queen or leader) of the Hoggar. Tin Hinan means literally "she of the tents" or methaforically "mother of the tribe" or "queen of the camp". Uncertain legends tell that she was a muslim berber maiden who emigrated from the Tafilalt oasis in the moroccan Atlas, accompanied by her maidservant Takamat, crossing nearly 1400 kilometers across the Sahara riding a white camel, to finally settle in the Abalessa oasis, today a village west of Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria. She was a hero, according to what legend says, and the founder of the touareg people, whose ancestors would be the daughter of Tin Hinan (named Kella) and the two daughters of Takamat. Another version is that Tin Hinan had three daughters, named with totemic names referring to desert animals, who were the tribal ancestors of the touareg.

Tin Hinan, queen of the touareg. Tin Hinan, queen of the touareg.

Her muslim religion in the legends is of course anachronistic, as is the statement that Kella was her daughter or granddaughter, because the historical figure and real tribal matriarch Kella lived during the 17th century. The rumors about the existence in Abalessa of the tomb of a notorious woman attracted the attention of archaeologists. The tomb at Abalessa was opened in 1925 and a deeper examination took place in 1933. It was found to contain the skeleton of a woman on a wooden litter, lying on her back with her head facing east. She was accompanied by heavy gold and silver jewellery, some of it adorned with pearls. On her right forearm she wore seven silver bracelets while on her left she had seven gold bracelets. Another silver bracelet and a gold ring were placed with the body. Remains of a complex piecework necklace of gold and pearls (real and artificial) were also present. A number of funerary objects were also found; these included a Venus statue in Aurignacian style, a glass goblet (lost during World War II), and gold foil which bore the imprint of a Roman coin of Constantine I issued between 308 and 324 AD. A 4th to 5th century AD date is consistent with carbon dating of the wooden bed and also with the style of pottery and other tomb furniture. The tomb itself is constructed in a style that is widespread in the Sahara.

Tin Hinan, queen of the touareg.

An anthropological study of the remains published in 1968 concluded that the skeleton was from of a woman that was 1.72 to 1.76 meters tall, belonging to a mediterranean race, who probably never had children and who probably was lame, given the deformation of the lumbar and sacral areas. The body is now in the Bardo Museum in Algiers. This of course negates the legends of a muslim Tin Hinan; the woman buried at Abalessa lived during the last breath of the Roman Empire, when berbers were animist or romanized christians, before the arab invasion of North Africa and the arrival of Islam.

Dassine, poetess of the touareg

Dassine Oult Yemma was a targui poetess. Queen of the desert, she was the greatest “Queen of Love”. She was a messenger of peace between feuding groups of touareg.

“Water itself whispers ‘I love you’ as it touches our lips with the lightest of kisses."

“What’s the point of these veils under which you hide yourself – I shrug them aside just as the sun shrugs off the clouds; your real thoughts come always from your heart and in your breath.”

Dassine, poetess of the touareg.

Charles de Foulcault wrote about Dassine:

“Dassine Ult Lhemma is the older sister of Axamuk. She is married to a man called Afelan. Throughout the Ahaggar, there is no woman who surpasses Dassine. She is a tall woman, with a fair light-brown complexion. Her face is beautiful. Her eyes are magnificent; laughing, and full of expression. She has brilliant white teeth. She is stylish and elegant. She is a great imzad player. She makes pleasant conversation. She is extremely intelligent. There is no – or scarcely any – man in the Ahaggar who has as much spirit as Dassine. She is a real queen. Before she got married, she was the only one that all the men sought. And even now that she is married, there are many who still have a secret passion for her. Moreover, no one has ever heard it said that she ever did anything wrong: she was afraid of dishonour.

Before her marriage, Musa Ag Amastan was in love with Dassine. He hoped to marry her. He was among the Adghag of Ifoghas when he learned that she had got married. Musa also loved a woman of the Ifoghas; she was very beautiful, and her name was Lalla Ult Illi. Her father was Amenukal of the Ifoghas. When Musa fell in love with her, she was already married; her husband was Etteyub."

Axamuk Ag Lhemma was one of the chiefs of the Kel-Ghela, the foremost noble tribe of the Ahaggar. He had been ‘amenukal’ from 1921 to 1941. His son Bey Ag Axamuk was the last ‘amenukal’ of the Ahaggar from 1950 to 1975, date of his death. Mira Ag Amastan was currently ‘amenukal’ of the Ahaggar, first cousin of Dassine. Musa and Dassine remained, for the first half of the 20th century, the best exemplars of the traditional warrior, chivalrous and literary values of the civilization of the touareg of the Ahaggar. Many poems were dedicated to Dassine.

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