Tuareg: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Blue Men of the Sahara

blue men of the sahara tuareg
Known as ‘the blue men of the Sahara’, the Tuareg men wear a blue Indigo veil to protect their faces from the dust whipped up by desert winds, which often leaves a blue mark on their skin. (credit: © Henrietta Butler – cairoscene.com)

1. Who are the Tuaregs?

The Tuareg people comprise about 2 million nomadic people who live across the Sahara Desert and spread over several countries, namely Mali, Niger, Libya, Algeria, and Chad. They have a high population percentage in Mali, with an estimated 950,000.

The Tuaregs are part of the Berber (descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa), and they are mainly Muslim.

2. How have they been surviving in the Sahara Desert?

For millennia, the Tuareg economy revolved around trans-Saharan trade. Five trade routes extend from the northern Mediterranean coast to African cities. Tuareg merchants bring goods from these cities to the north.

Many Tuareg also settle and become local merchants in the communities they trade.

3. Why do Tuareg men wear a veil?

Tuareg

Tuareg men wear veils from age 25, which conceals their entire face, leaving only their eyes. It is believed that they wear it for protection from the Sahara sands. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members. Tuareg women are not veiled.

4. The Tuaregs’ Religion

The Tuaregs belong to the Maliki sect of Islam, which follows El Maghili, a great prophet in the early 16th century. Though many make daily prayers to Allah, they are not totally strict in adhering to religious practices. They do not observe Ramadan fasting because they travel a lot.

Like most North African followers of Islam, Tuareg believes in the existence of djinns (spirits). Therefore, they wear protective amulets that contain verses from the Koran.

5 . The Tuareg Women

tuareg women
credit: © Frans Lemmens/Corbis

Women are the heart of the family. They own the houses. In a divorce, they take the animals while the man could go with no possession or just a lone camel. Here, there is no stigma in divorce. Parents celebrate their daughter’s divorce with a party to let other suitors know they are available once again.

Bonus fact: Much of Tuareg art is jewelry, leather and metal saddle decorations, and finely crafted swords. Their women also adorn themselves in ornamented bracelets and rings.

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