Across the desert, the wind combs the sand into smooth ripples that roll out evenly for miles. So when a hole is dug, you see it immediately. The sand looks agitated. Its pattern is disturbed. That’s how you know where the bodies are buried. Close to three dozen people in northern Mali disappeared earlier this year, killed or taken away by the country’s military, according to human rights groups. The victims were caught in a backlash against Arabs and Tuaregs, desert people who form a small and shrinking ethnic minority in Mali. As the West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, I wanted to know what had happened to them.
An AP reporter beautifully chronicles their trip to hunt down where conflict killings were buried in Mali.
Tuaregs in prayer, 1973 The Tuareg (also spelled Twareg or Touareg; endonym Imuhagh) are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa.
The Tuareg language, a branch of the Berber languages, has an estimated 1.2 million speakers. About half this number is accounted for by speakers of the Eastern dialect (Tamajaq, Tawallammat). Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders, and small groups of Tuareg are also found in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
Tuaregs, the proud nation of Sahara, who love their freedom. These brave warriors refuse to be assimilated by the urban civilization. The Tuaregs controlled for centuries all routes crossing Sahara and were feared by traders having to cross their territories. There was an important traffic of salt, gold, ivory and slaves.
They are called “the blue people”, after their indigo colored clothes and the most famous Tuareg symbol- the Tagelmust: blue or white colored combination of veil and turban. Unlike amongst other Muslim populations, the women do not cover their faces with the veil, the veil covers only men’s faces.
The Tuareg Islamic religion is syncretic, they keep on worshiping the gods of the desert: the stones, water, fire and the mountains, that dwell certain caves, pools, and trees. The passing from boyhood to manhood is made at the age of 16, when the boys receive their tagelmust and a double-cut sword to turn into warriors.
“They take you on a journey to North Africa, but it’s not a touristic journey to a land uncorrupted by modern civilization. It’s a journey through the modern North Africa, where "third world” peoples use “first world” gadgets, but use them in ways we never thought of ourselves.
It’s a reminder that the rest of the world isn’t a world of lutes made of goat skin. The rest of the world has access to our fancy guitars, and they’re playing them in ways we never thought of.“