Whenever we come across the word ‘tribe’, there are certain images and opinions which come to our mind – backward, rigid rules, suppressed women, patriarchy, etc. The general opinion is people dressed up in very basic colours, unique jewellery, multiple piercings, tattoos and more often than not, painted faces. While some of them may be true, all of them are not, especially for one specific tribe – Tuareg.
The Tuareg Tribe lives in the Sahara, mostly across Libya, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. They are the descendants of the Berbers of North Africa. With the trade routes in the fourteenth century, they became rich with livestock. However, the French exploited them in the nineteenth century. Tuareg people are mostly nomadic. They are often referred to as the ‘blue people’ because of their clothes which are dyed in indigo and that leaves the blue colour on their skin.
Even though they are Muslims, many of their beliefs are quite contrary to the Islamic traditions. Where the entire world hasn’t still taken adequate measures to complete empower women, this tribe has done just that! Yes, you read that right – the Tuareg tribe has empowered women fully and even more than men!
Here are some more interesting Tuareg tribe facts-
#1 Freedom to Date
The women are allowed to have as many sexual partners as they want before they settle down to marry and no judgement is passed. It is the norm in that tribe. As a result, they end up marrying later than as compared to other tribes. All of this is fine as long as both of the partners respect the one important rule of the tribe – privacy. The man can go to the girl’s tent at night and the girl’s parents will politely turn a blind eye to uphold their privacy but, the man has to be out of there with his camel before sunrise. It is socially unacceptable to come out late if you are not married! The same girl can welcome another man inside her tent the next night if she wants! She is not bound to one man as long as she is single! Yes, she can practice polygamy.
#2 Freedom to Choose Life Partner
The next step in their tribe is marriage. In that too, the power is with the girls. The men write beautiful poems to woo the love of their lives but the end decision rests with the women themselves! While you may think this means that only the men know how to read and write, well, weren’t you paying attention? The tribe has empowered women more! This means that the women of the tribe also know how to read and write! The girls are taught by their mothers. They believe in educating all the members of their tribe including the teachings from the Kuran.
Marriages are a week long event, where the groom goes to the bride’s home and a tent is set up by the older Tuareg women for the couple. After the marriage, the tent where the couple live is in the name of the woman. Thus, after a divorce she can take the tent with her.
#3 Men Cover Faces
What’s more interesting is that, it is the men of the tribe who cover their faces, not the women. Women are greatly revered so much so that the son-in-laws don’t eat in front of their mother-in-laws! And the most surprising thing is that this tribe has embraced Islam but still held onto all of these customs which are the total opposite of customs in the Muslim world.
Initially, men started to cover their face to protect themselves from the heat. But now they wear it after they enter adulthood, announcing their eligibility for marriage. Despite all beliefs, women have never been compelled to cover their face. In fact, they believe that the beauty of Tuareg women should not be covered.
#4 Woman Entitled to Property After Separation
But the freedom doesn’t end here. It is the woman who decides that she has had enough in a marriage and she calls the quits. She gets to keep whatever she brought and that includes the kids as well. Like mentioned earlier, she also gets the tent. The man only ends up with his camel and has to go back to his mother’s house. This ensures that the mother’s camp is the root of the community – the place everyone returns to. Plus, there is no stigma associated with divorce. If anything, it’s the opposite – a party is thrown by the woman’s family members so that the other men know that the woman is available again. There is no shame in divorce for neither the woman nor her family.
#5 Matri-lineal System
It is still not a society where the women are in charge (not a matriarchal society) – it is still the men who take part in politics and discussions. However, the women are still consulted for their viewpoints, they are the silent decision makers of the political game. Women have influenced the tribe so much that family lines are traced through women rather than men. This is because it is proven or guaranteed that the child is of the sister, but the same can’t be said for the child a man. One another strange fact is that the tribe follows a tradition of men not eating in front of women with whom they can’t have sexual relations – thus the custom of the son-in-law not eating in front of his mother-in-law.
Even after a baby is born, in the ritual of name-giving that is conducted after a week of the child’s birth, the tribe women give him/her the name.
#6 Level of Dignity
Another fact about the tribe is that they will never shame themselves, they will go to any length to maintain their personal dignity, even suffer if they have to. They won’t even ask for water if they are thirsty and not offered water voluntarily. Maybe this is why the welcome of Tuareg tribe is one of a kind and they never forget to offer water. This can also been seen in their other attempts to empower women because they believe in the concept of ‘mother’s home’. Everything is rooted to where the mother started. It is the place they ultimately have to return to when they have nothing. It is a matter of pride for the tribe that the Tuareg men have stood by the beliefs which have been set for them and they have not fallen into the trap of ‘men’s world’.
Maybe a few lessons from the Tuareg tribe and little change from the rest of the world will make it a better world for women all across the globe.