The Tuareg inhabit the Saharan regions of North Africa - Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso. Tuareg is an Arabic term meaning abandoned by God. They call themselves Imohag, translated as free men. No one knows the true origin of the Tuareg, where they came from or when they arrived in the Sahara. Reputedly of Berber descent, the language of the Tuareg is Tamachek, with their own script known as Tifinagh, thought to have ancient Libyan roots. Their numbers are unclear, but estimates run between 300,000 and 1 million. The Tuareg were recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th Century BC. The most striking attribute of the Tuareg is the indigo veil, worn by the men but not the women, giving rise to the popular name the Blue Men of the Sahara, or Men of the Veil. Men begin wearing a veil at the age 25. One of the traditional dances of the nomadic Tuareg is the 'Tam Tam' where the men on camel circle the women while they play drums and chant. The huts of the Tuareg nomad are easily constructed, and comprised of weaved matting and tradition fabrics on a timber frame.
Although most Tuareg now practice some degree of Islam - the Maliki sect of Islam, resulting from the teachings of the great prophet El Maghili from the early 16th century - they are not considered Arabic. They have preserved many pre-Islamic traditions and do not strictly follow many Islamic rituals. Among the Tuareg the women have a great freedom and participate in family and tribal decisions. Descent and inheritance are both through the maternal line. Tuareg camel caravans played the primary role in trans-Saharan trade until the mid-20th century when European colonial infrastructure - railways and roads - were introduced. Until then, there were five principal 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.
Tuareg crafts consist mainly of metalworking (silver jewelry), leather working (boxes and saddles for camels), and woodworking (delicately decorated spoons and ladles).
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