The Tuareg are an Islamic African people, quasi-nomadic and spread across six North and West African countries. Their name originates from their nomadic tendencies, which have kept them from being orthodox practitioners of Islam. Disapproving of this deviant tribe, muslim neighbours named them Tuareg, which translates literally, and rather unflatteringly, to ‘abandoned by God.’
Abandoned by God or not, the Tuareg’s loose interpretation of the Qur’an allowed them to devise a gender-stereotype-capsizing societal hierarchy that remains revolutionary to this day. While women across the world are still fighting to varying degrees against entrenched and systemic sexism, female members of the Tuareg tribe enjoy equal status with – and in some cases, superiority to – their male counterparts. Below, we’ve picked out five ways the Tuareg people are bucking global gender stereotypes and sticking it to the man.
Sex before marriage
Local tradition does not require chastity before marriage. Young Tuareg females are allowed sleep with as many males as they like before they tie the knot. They do have to navigate the strict codes of privacy which exist in Tuareg society however. They are unable to invite a man into their tent during daytime, having to save their sexual rendezvous until after dark and then kick out male lovers before sunrise. But on the plus side, if a woman wants to welcome a different man into her tent the next evening, the rest of Tuareg society won’t bat an eyelid.
Divorce can be a sticky business – but not if you’re a Tuareg woman. After a marriage folds, Tuareg females usually keep all property and children. Typically it’s the woman who decides the marriage is at an end, though male and female divorcees alike contract no shame after the break up. Indeed, the new beginning is often celebrated merrily, with families throwing divorce parties for their daughters that alert other men to the news that they are available once more.
The Founding Mothers
A large portion of Tuareg folklore decrees that it is the tribe’s female ancestors who founded its traditions and customs. One popular yarn tells the story of Tagurmat, a Tuareg heroine who led an army on horseback into ferocious battle on Mount Bagzan. Tagurmat’s twin daughters meanwhile, are believed to have founded the herbal healing profession. Aligouran is another popular figure in Tuareg folklore who features prominently in a series of tales set in a dusty mountain region of the Sahara Desert. Many believe that Aligouran was quite the innovative artist too, creating the famous neolithic rock paintings and carvings that can be found across over 3,000 sites in the Sahara.
Hijab? That’s male fashion
One of the Tuareg’s most commonly cited cultural conventions is the male practice of veiling their faces with indigo-dyed blue cloth. The “Blue Men of the Sahara Desert,” as early travellers called them, wear the veil for several symbolic reasons. First and foremost, the veil is an emblem of male identity. But it is also believed to be an attractive, customisable fashion item and a protector against evil spirits. A useful bit of kit, by the sounds of it. The veil is worn differently depending on the social situation its wearer is in. At the point of most coverage (veiling the nose and mouth), the indigo shawl is used to express respect while in the presence of chiefs, older persons and in-laws.
Tuareg men adopt the veil upon hitting puberty and will keep themselves covered in front of elders and most women, who don’t wear a hijab but wraparound skirts and embroidered blouses instead. It is only once women enter wedlock that they are expected to wear a head scarf, covering their hair only.
The Matriarch’s lounge
In English society, a Gentleman’s Club, or lounge, is a male-only area. The concept was dreamt up by upper class men in the 18th century, who liked smoking expensive cigars, drinking rare scotch and chowing on lavish foodstuffs but, most importantly – doing so without the distraction of female company.
It’s difficult to see this taking off in Tuareg society however, where it is men who are banned from rooms and dining tables dominated by women. Tuareg mothers-in-law are quietly revered by their daughter’s husbands, to the point that young men wouldn’t even dare eat in the same room as their wives’ mothers – but one suspects that is one convention men all over desire permission to adhere to.
Do you know of any other African tribes who overturn gender stereotypes? We’re compiling a list of trend-buckers, so let us know in the comments below!