Introduction / History
Tamasheq is the more polite term for the Tuareg people, but the latter is so well-established that we will use that term instead. Tuareg are a subgroup of the larger Berber group. The Berbers are the original peoples of North Africa who have been there for hundreds or even thousands of years. As a Berber subgroup, the Tuaregs stand out because of linguistic differences. For example, their unique alphabet uses "tifinagh" characters. They also differ from other Berbers because of their complex social organization. The Tuareg are divided into several main political groups or tribal units. You can often identify members of the Tuareg people by their blue clothes. They are also unique in that the men, not the women, wear veils. The Tuareg see it as shockingly indecent for a man's mouth to be seen by anyone to whom he owes formal respect. Therefore, he will always cover his face when in the presence of someone of higher social standing. At the beginning of the 1300s, salt, gold, ivory, and slave markets sprang up across Tuareg territory, which stretched across North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. During that time, the Tuaregs became well known as stock raisers and merchants in the Saharan and Sahelian regions. In 1972, the worst drought in 50 years struck the Sahara Desert, bringing disaster and severe stress to the Tuareg peoples. This land never recovered. Tuareg nomads were forced to travel southward in search of water and pastures for their herds. Many of their animals died of thirst, hunger, or fatigue during the long journey. This migration led to conflicts over land and water rights with those of settled farmers. Most governments, including those in Burkina Faso and Mali, strongly favor settled people over nomads. Thousands of formerly nomadic Tuareg drifted to African cities where they set up cowhide shelters and lean-to shanties on the fringes of town. Others became farmers. The Tuareg people are most likely to be found in Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania, but they also live in other parts of West Africa as well.
What Are Their Lives Like?
In the southern Sahara which includes the northern part of Burkina Faso, many Tuareg are now settled farmers living in villages surrounded by grain fields. Since farming is seasonal work, many young men also take jobs as blue-collar workers in Nigeria, Ghana, or Ivory Coast for part of the year. Tuareg marriages usually take place between couples within the same clan, or extended family unit. Tuaregs prefer marriages between cousins. A newlywed couple generally lives for about a year in the camp of the bride's parents. Then they will move over to the husband's camp. The typical age for marriage is between 20 and 25 for women and almost 30 for men. Monogamy (one husband, one wife) is the rule, and divorce is very unusual and generally frowned upon. Marriage always requires the payment of a bride price. The size of the gift varies according to the beauty and social standing of the bride, as well as the wealth of the groom. A young man needs quite a few camels to pay the bride price. He must also accumulate a large enough flock to feed his family and still have extra to sell to provide for his household needs. Tuareg women are treated with respect. However, they are not allowed to hold political office or exercise any authority outside their own tents. Tuareg culture embraces many forms of art. They have a large collection of music, poetry, and songs that are often used during festivals, courtship and various rituals. They make metal, wood and dyed and embroidered leather crafts. Women play single-chord violins called imzads, and men often play drums or wooden flutes. Often they have parties around campfires during the evenings where both men and women sing.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Though Tuareg people are virtually all Sunni Muslim, they have a reputation among other Muslims for being lukewarm in their faith. They practice a passive form of Islam, infused with folk beliefs and magic. Most do not even celebrate the most important Muslim fast of Ramadan. They often wear protective charms or amulets. Many also believe in jinnis, which are-according to Muslim legend-spirits capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people. There are many marabouts (those of the "holy class") living among Tuareg people. Some marabouts manage Islamic schools.
What Are Their Needs?
The greatest need of this people group is to hear and understand the infinite love of Almighty God who has paid the penalty of all their sins. They need to be set free from fear and domination of evil spirits that dominate their lives. Who will go to them?
Pray that mission agencies and churches will accept the challenge of adopting and reaching out to the Tuareg until they have their own movement to Christ. Ask the Lord to send loving Christ followers from other parts of Africa to Burkina Faso to share the gospel with the Tuareg. Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Tuareg who will boldly declare the gospel, influencing family leaders. Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches and disciples that will plant other churches among the Tuareg people.
Scripture Prayers for the Tuareg, Tamasheq in Burkina Faso.