being held back, allowed to act. Fierce and warlike
230 ALGERIA TO-DAY
as the Touareg are, they never attempted to oppose a
serious resistance to the French when in force, their
want of cohesion and their tribal jealousies preventing
them from uniting in strength against the hated in-
vaders. And their fighting-men are not numerous.
In the war between the Azdjer and the Ahaggar from
1875 to 1878 neither side ever mustered more than 800
combatants. The combat of Tit with the French in
April, 1902, in which a hundred of them were slain, led
eventually to the submission of the Ahaggar Touareg.
Lieutenant Bisset's raid on the Azdjer tribes in 1903
and the efforts of Commandant Laperrine (who when a
General perished tragically in 1920 when his aeroplane
was stranded in the Sahara) taught these tyrants of
the desert that the white men were too strong for them.
But even to-day the Touareg can scarcely be called
The name " Touareg " (which in the singular is
' Targui ") was given this race by the Arabs, because
the first Berber tribe that they met with when they
invaded the Fezzan (south of Tunisia) was called
" Targa." But the Touareg term themselves
" Imohar " or " Imochar," which means " raiders."
There are two great divisions of the tribes of the
North, the Azdjer and the Ahaggar, and others are
found as far south as the country through which the
Niger flows near Timbuctoo. It is generally agreed
that all Touareg are of Berber origin, descendants of
the aborigines of North Africa, who at the time of
the great Arab invasion already inhabited the Sahara
or retired into it to preserve the independence that
their race has always so jealously guarded. Like their
kinsmen in the Djurdjura and the Aures, as well as
THE TOUAREG 231
in Morocco, they embraced Mahommedanism after
a time, and also like them abjured it often and have
never known nor cared much about it.
They have always been bitterly opposed to the
Arabs, and waged war on them on every occasion.
From the Algerian frontier to the Soudan they swept
in swift and destructive passage, leaving a trail of
blood, rapine and ruin behind them, destroying king-
doms but creating none, always the same masterless
tribes of cruel robbers, ever at war with the world
and each other. Merciless, their very name was a
menace. Such terror clung to it that the mere sight
of one or two would empty a. village and send its
affrighted inhabitants fleeing without thought of
resistance, abandoning all they owned.
And indeed there is Something sinister in the
appearance of these men, tall, gaunt, draped in sombre
garb, stalking with hidden faces over the sand like
spectres or passing swiftly on fleet camels.
Their manners and customs, although they may
vary somewhat in different fractions of the race or in
different districts, are in the main similar. Whether
of the North or the South the tribes are divided into
two categories, noble or vassal. That is, a more
powerful tribe is classed as " noble," and has one or
more weaker tribes called imrad depending on it and
paying it tribute, termed tioussJ, in dates, grain,
milk or booty won in a raid, for protection against
aggression by external foes or by the other " noble "
tribes. These imrad are not serfs in any way and,
although they are bound to follow their protectors in
war, are not obliged to labour for them. Both
categories have their own slaves, generally negroes
232 ALGERIA TO-DAY
or half-castes, either born in captivity or prisoners
made in raids.
The singular of imrad is amr'id. In the south
there is a third category, serf tribes composed
of slaves, in most cases the progeny of Touareg
masters and captive women of the Songhay race which
once ruled an empire in the Niger region but was
crushed by the Touareg. These serf tribes are called
Elkillan in the tongue of their masters, Bellah in
Songhay. They are brown-skinned, smooth-haired
and have regular features ; the girls are pretty and
the men brave and always well to the fore in battle or
in the hardly less dangerous pastime of hunting lions
and wild elephants in the Niger jungles.
The " noble " tribes consider themselves of a
superior clay to the imrad; and the men wed in their
own caste and would regard a marriage with a
" vassal " girl as a misalliance. The offspring of such
a union would be imrad; for children among the
Touareg take the condition of the mother. Thus, if
a " noble " woman marries an amr'id their children
would be " noble " ; for this people hold the doctrine
chat " the womb ennobles/' and rank and dignities
descend in the female line.
In practice the distinctions between the tribes
become somewhat confused, especially in the south.
An imrad tribe will only pay the tribute if its supposed
protectors are strong enough to enforce it. It may
happen that the positions may be reversed by the
imrad tribe defeating the " noble " one. And often
a vassal tribe may have one or more weaker ones
depending on it as its imrad.
The chieftain of a Targui tribe is termed amr'ar
THE TOUAREG 233
and his symbol of authority is the drum, tobol, which
is beaten to call together the members of the tribe and
its imrad for council or war. Hence the word tobol,
which is of Arab origin, designates all who obey this
A confederation of " noble " tribes with their
dependent imrad will choose one such amr'ar to lead
them all. He is termed amenokal; and like eyery
amr'ar his authority depends on his power to enforce
it. Theoretically he can fine or wound, but not kill,
an offender against his decrees. In each confederacy
a certain dominant tribe usually has the right to supply
The position of the amenokal is partly hereditary,
partly elective. He is not succeeded by his son (at
least among the Ahaggar) but in order of inheriting
by his eldest brother, the eldest son of his maternal
aunt, and the eldest son of his eldest sister. In
practice, on the death of an amenokal his family in
council decide which member of it is likely to be the
best man to replace him. A meeting of the tobol is
called; and a banquet is given to all who attend it.
Sheep are liberally slain to furnish the feast ; and the
tribesmen, to whom meat is a rare luxury, eat heartily.
When repletion has put them in a good humour the
name of the selected candidate is mentioned, without
being definitely put forward, and his praises sung by
a paid claque in the south this is done by the black-
smiths who act as heralds and bards. When a favour-
able atmosphere has been created the name is
formally put forward, the imrad present having the
right to speak first and signify their acceptance of
him or the contrary.
284 ALGERIA TO-DAY
If the assembly cannot choose between two candi-
dates there may be a split in the confederacy and a
second tobol may be created.
To-day the Algerian Government must approve of
the amenokal\ and if it does it will invest him with
the power under its suzerainty. On him as a sign of
dignity is conferred the sumptuous gold-embroidered
Scarlet burnous that is the official garb of an Arab caid.
It is an alien garment to the Touareg; but as they
are vain and fond of splendour in dress it must be
welcome to the recipient, whose womankind could
never make for him such good cloth or so magnificent
The Touareg tribes, when not at war with each
other, spent their time raiding the Arabs of the north
and the negroes of the Soudan, the peaceable sedent-
ary races of the Air and Damergou. Fighting and
robbery are the only fit occupations for men in their
opinion. Agriculture, the care of their flocks and the
making of tents and garments devolve on the women,
the slaves and the half-castes. The cultivation of the
soil in the Ahaggar Mountains where water is found
is left to the despised Harratine, mulattos from Tidi-
kelt and Touat. Even the blacksmiths who repair
the weapons purchased in the Air are looked down
upon, and, since they live by fire, are supposed to be
predestined to suffer eternally by it in hell. They
form a separate caste; and Sheikh Ben Djellas says
of them " They hate and betray God and his
The Touareg, although they prefer to live by raid-
ing and levying blackmail on trading caravans passing
through their country, do a certain amount of com-
THE TOUAREG 235
merce themselves. The men of the Ahaggar bring from
the Saharan oases, from Tidikelt and Touat, dates,
chegga (blue cotton cloth), mahmoudt (white cotton
cloth), tobacco, snuff, tea, and sugar, and from Bilma
to the east of them the salt there produced ; and these
they carry to the Air and the Damergou in the
Southern Sahara and barter for camels, donkeys,
demmane (sheep cohered with hair instead of wool),
weapons, saddlery and leather goods.
When moving in a caravan their camels are
fastened in threes, one behind the other, as in India,
instead of being driven in herds in the Arab way.
Men ride only stallion camels and horses, the females
being left for the women's use. A Targui's mehara
(riding camel) is usually white, is speedy and full of
endurance, and is trained to dash off at a gallop from
standing still and to be absolutely silent, unlike the
noisy grumbling beasts of the Arabs.
The Touareg men are excellent horsemen and
camel-riders and are trained to the use of arms from
their earliest youth. Their usual weapons are lance,
sword, and dagger. The last is cross-hiked and is
worn strapped along the left forearm, point towards the
elbow, pommel at the wrist. The sword, swinging at
the left side, has also a cross hilt and is straight and
double-edged with rounded point. The long spear-
shaft is of iron in the case of nobles, of wood with
slaves, but the latter often have it of metal, too.
The shields are of antelope skin, generally of more
than one thickness, but of course will not stop a bullet.
Until recently the Touareg had rio firearms; but
Turkish and Senoussi gun-runners from Tripoli have
smuggled to them modern rifles supplied by the
236 ALGERIA TO-DAY
Germans in the hope of adding to France's
The endurance of the men of this race seems more
than human. Like their camels, and indeed all their
domestic animals, they can exist without drinking for
two or three days even in the hottest weather, and so
can pass over waterless deserts where nothing lives.
A handful of coarse, bitter flour, made from the dried
and powdered bulbs of the tazia or the dried seeds of
the gum-tree will satisfy their hungar. A Targui for
the mere love of roaming will leave his tent and family
and start off over the gravelly wastes or barren moun-
tains for weeks at a time. When night overtakes
him he hobbles his camel, eats his frugal meal, scoops
out a bed for himself if the soil is not too hard and
lies down to sleep in it, his weapons beside him, ready
to wake at the least hint of danger.
The establishment of regular markets near the
French military posts tends gradually to lessen the
tendency of the Touareg to wander so widely; and
perhaps in time they may learn not to despise agricul-
ture where cultivation is possible, as in the Ahaggar
Mountains. Their favourite pursuits, robbery and
raiding for slaves, are being put a stop to and in the
future they may take to living honestly.
In manners and customs the Touareg differ utterly
from Arabs. Unlike all other Mahommedan peoples
they are monogamous and their women are not only
free and respected but are almost of more importance
than the men. They usually go unveiled while the
sterner sex conceal their faces. A wife's property is
entirely her own ; and the succession of dignities, rank,
and fortunes pass to the children through her, not
THE TOUAREG 237
through her husband; and if she and he come of
different tribes her offspring belong to hers, not to his.
She can divorce him at her will he would earn
universal obloquy if he divorced her, no matter what
she did. She is never affronted by the presence of
a second wife ; but she can have her cavalier e servente,
a male friend to be her knight, to obey her behests,
laud her beauty openly and literally sing her praises
in verses of his own composition at the musical
gatherings of the tribe. She can receive visits from
members of the opposite sex freely; and it would be
unpardonable for the husband to show jealousy.
Before the wedding a marriage settlement on her must
be made by the bridegroom.
The unmarried woman not only must be consulted
in the case of a proposal for her hand, but she can
herself propose; and the man thus honoured would
not if he were free dare to refuse. The liberty
allowed girls is amazing, especially when their posi-
tion in other Moslem or African races is considered.
Chastity is not expected of them ; and they can have
as many amours as they desire before settling down
to matrimony with husbands fully aware of their past.
There is a surprising amount of freedom between
the sexes. Among uncivilised peoples as a rule
there is little or no social intercourse allowed between
men and women, especially if young and unwed. But
the Touareg exceed most European races in this
respect. They are passionately fond of " musical
evenings," called ahal\ and whenever there are a few
men and women in an encampment they gather out-
side the tents after sundown, the ladies play the
amz'ad, a single-stringed violin made of half a cala-
238 ALGERIA TO-DAY
bash rind with a string stretched across it, and a long
handle. The string and the cord of the bow are of
The singing is generally left to the men, who chant
ballads of their own composition extolling the beauty
of their mistresses, satirising their enemies and vaunt-
ing their own prowess in war.
After the singing games of forfeits are played ; for
this amusement of civilised children is of great anti-
quity and known in the Far East.
The women elect a sultana, the men a sultan ; and
the royal pair decide the penalties to be inflicted on
the losers in the trial of wit, which is the form that the
All through the evening the lovers pay open and
unrestrained court; and the girls are proud to flaunt
their conquests before the eyes of everyone. They
sit on their adorers' knees in sight of all and kiss the
chosen swains on their noses ! For as the Targui
man must not expose his face in public he only lowers
his veil below his nostrils and presents his nasal organ
to the lips of his inamorata. The ahal often lasts
through the night and gives ample opportunity for
intrigues opportunities of which the married women
as well as the girls avail themselves freely. All this
will seem almost incredible to anyone acquainted with
other African or Oriental uncivilised races, and, above
The freedom conceded to a Targui woman is
unique. Her position is indeed enviable. She does
not need to work; for, no matter how poor she may
be, she has always at least one negress slave to cook
and undertake the menial labour for her. If married
THE TOUAREG 239
her property is her own absolutely. She can divorce
her husband by the simple process of leaving him.
If she has an intrigue with a negro slave from which a
black baby results no suspicion is aroused; as every-
one will accept the standard explanation that some
evil wizard has cast a spell on her and caused the poor
infant to resemble the despised negro race.
Indeed if an unmarried woman becomes a mother
it is politely assumed that the child's father is a
spiritual being. It is no wonder that with the liberty
allowed them the Touareg girls do not pine if they
fail to find husbands.
For the men are not in a hurry to marry, since the
necessity of making a settlement on the bride and of
providing for the upkeep of the menage as the
wife need contribute nothing to it, no matter how rich
she is makes the young man shy of embarking on
matrimony. And he has many consolations ; for not
only are intrigues with girls and married women of his
own race possible, but he can choose concubines from
his negress slaves; or a widow or a divorced w r oman,
enriched by her marriage settlement which she retains,
may propose to him.
So it follows that among the Touareg the young
men marry older women; while it is generally only
elderly men who have accumulated wealth who can
afford to espouse the young and attractive girls.
When a Targui decides to marry and has fixed on
the lady he sends to her parents an embassy of two
marabouts or tolbas with a couple of influential men
to solicit her hand. The request is laid before her
whole family ; for even the most distant relatives both
in point of blood and distance must be consulted.
240 ALGERIA TO-DAY
And the girl's consent has to be obtained ; because
if her father marries her off against her will, she has
only to refuse herself to her husband and he will
arrange a divorce and let her return to her kindred.
When the wedding day is fixed the guests assemble
at the encampment of the bride's family, the women
on camels or donkeys and carrying their drums and
one-stringed violins, the men in gala costume with
their weapons and mounted on their best mehara. An
hour after noon the male guests indulge in a fantasia
a sort of mounted sports consisting chiefly of dis-
charging firearms from the saddle at a mad gallop,
while the ladies urge them on by song and music.
The bridegroom is present, seated on his camel beside
a friend, but does not take part; while the bride is
hidden in the tent of some female relative on the
maternal side and carefully avoids looking at the
spectacle, as her glance would bring bad luck on some
rider or other and cause an accident.
The fantasia continues to sunset, when a deputa-
tion of four men representing the husband-to-be waits
on the girl's father or, if she be a widow or divorced
woman, on the bride herself and asks that someone
be chosen to act for her, nominating at the same time
a person to act for the man. These two nominees
then join them; and the contract of marriage is settled
and the dowry arranged. This the husband provides ;
for a noble it is seven camels, for an amr'id a camel or
some sheep or goats, according to his means. He
only hands over a part at the time and owes the rest.
Beasts are slain for the marriage feast and prayers are
said to call down the blessing of Allah on the happy
THE TOUAREG 241
Then the female relations and guests gather, pro-
vide music and prepare the nuptial couch, which is of
sand or earth on which a cloth is spread. Then they
proceed to erect a tent over it; but the men rush on
them, seize the tent, raise it three times for luck before
pitching it, and lead the bridegroom to it.
The women escort the bride towards the entrance ;
but before she reaches it a male cousin on the mother's
side pretends to hold her back, crying;
" I shall not let thee go from us until I have received
a gift of sandals."
A pair of sandals or pome other present is given
him and he releases her.
Then the women sing in chorus :
" We are a-hungeredt
We are naked!
We are afoot! "
And the men reply:
"Ye shall be fed!
Ye shall be clothed !
Ye shall be mounted! "
Then the bride and the women chant a verse to
the husband intimating that they expect him to behave
like a strong and bold man and not as a child. After
which admonition the bride goes into the tent to him ;
and they are left alone while the guests retire and
The honeymoon consists of the new-married pair
remaining in their tent for seven days, fed by the
wife's family and cheered by frequent visits from their
For a year afterwards they remain near the bride's
242 ALGERIA TO-DAY
parents, to give her time to get used to parting from
Divorce is a much simpler proceeding than the
marriage ; and incompatibility of temperament is the
most general cause. For usually it is the wife who
seeks it, since a husband who gets rid of his spouse
must pay her the balance of the marriage settlement.
And public opinion is against him if he divorce her,
even though he detects her in adultery. " Women's
Rights " need no advocate among the Touareg.
This race has a superstitious dread of even the
mention of death. When a Targui dies a marabout
washes his corpse in warm water according to Mahom-
medan rites and sews it up in a clean white cloth.
For his services he is rewarded with a cow and the
deceased's clothes. The body is placed on its right
side facing towards Mecca in a shallow grave on which
branches are heaped to prevent jackals and hyenas
scratching it up again ; and tombstones are put at the
head and foot. Then the grave is surrounded by one
or two rectangles or ovals marked out in stones and,
when the prayers have been said, the mourners leave
it and go to the funeral feast; after which camp is
struck and all quit the spot where death took place,
for they consider that it must be unlucky.
Touareg turn aside if they come upon a tomb ; and
they never mention the name of a deceased person.
They are exceedingly superstitious and believe
firmly in the evil eye, sorcerers, vampires, ghosts, and
djinns. According to them sorcerers, called akiriko,
are either male or female and are invariably vampires,
who can suck blood without the necessity of going
near the victim. It is enough to breathe in air while
THE TOUAREG 243
thinking of him or her ; and the poor wretch's blood
passes invisibly into the akiriko's body to fatten him,
while the victim grows weak for loss of it and will
die unless the sorcerer relents. The children of the
akiriko inherit their parent's magical powers.
These vampires are known by their habit of per-
sistently licking their lips in the presence of human
beings or horses for they also suck the blood of the
latter. When discovered they are punished by the
confiscation of their possessions and by exile.
More terrible and less easily baffled are the djinns.
These spirits, for the most part evil, live in big cities
in the interior of the earth and among certain isolated
mountains called Idinen on the caravan route from
Ghadames to Rhat. They travel much, so they are
frequently met with on the roads, but are usually
invisible. They are in the habit of entering tents and
joining in mortals' meals; and should any luckless
wight try to sit on the mat, eat from the dish or drink
from the cup that the unseen and uninvited guest is
using, he will die on the spot. Unless, indeed, he has
been careful to guard against evil by the pious utter-
ance " Bismillai!"
Sudden deaths from apoplexy, heart failure or
similar causes are thus accounted for. Accidents,
such as a fall from a horse or camel, are attributed to
some d jinn's anger.
If a Targui hears at night any regular cadenced
noise like the blows of a blacksmith's hammer he
promptly flees in the opposite direction ; for djinns
often set up anvils to forge or sharpen their arms and
generally do so near encampments. Any mortal who
blunders on them then dies.
244 ALGERIA TO-DAY
There are male and female djinns. They marry
and have children. Sometimes they carry off human
babies, if the parents have not fulfilled certain pre-
scribed rites, and replace them by their own
As the gods and goddesses of old fell in love with
mortals, so do the djinns male and female descend
upon in their slumbers the men or women whom they
honour with their affections.
Some of the djinns are the spirits of long-dead
Touareg and they will foretell the future to human
beings. So often women dressed in their best and
wearing all their jewellery will pass the night lying on
an ancient tomb, hoping that in their dreams
knowledge will be granted them as to when their
absent men will return. Occasionally one of them is
found in the morning dead strangled by the djinn,
it is said. But as her jewellery has disappeared a more
feasible explanation is easy to find.
The Touareg are nominally Mahommedans, but
hardly practising ones. They have no mosques and
never make the pilgrimage to Mecca. They regard
their marabouts with a certain respect, as long as these
priests do not worry them about religion. But indeed
the holy men know little about the faith that they
profess. They have not much instruction, are
acquainted with a few texts of the Koran which they
make use of freely, and perhaps write a little Arabic.
They receive no zekat, or tithe, from their flocks but are
paid for marriages, circumcisions, and burials or for
writing letters and numbering herds.
The marabouts belong to special tribes, such as
the Kel es Souk and the Segokhanes, originally from