The Tuareg (/ˈtwɑːrɛɡ/; also spelled Twareg or Touareg; endonym Imuhagh) are Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the vast Sahara Desert.
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 also live in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
The origin and meaning of the name Tuareg has long been debated with various etymologies advanced, although it would appear that Twārəg is derived from the “broken plural” of Tārgi, a name whose former meaning was “inhabitant of Targa” (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan. Targa in Berber means “(drainage) channel”, see Alojali et al. 2003: 656, s.v. “Targa”).
Tuareg were called Tevarikler in The Ottoman Empire.
The name of the Tuareg for themselves is Imuhagh or Imushagh (cognate to northern Berber Imazighen). The term for a Tuareg man is Amajagh (var. Amashegh, Amahagh), the term for a woman Tamajaq (var. Tamasheq, Tamahaq, Timajaghen). The spelling variants given reflect the variety of the Tuareg dialects, but they all reflect the same linguistic root, expressing the notion of “freemen”, strictly only referring to the Tuareg “nobility“, to the exclusion of the artisan client castes and slaves.Another self-designation of more recent origin is linguistic, Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq (Neo-Tifinagh) “Speakers of Tamasheq“.
Also encountered in ethnographic literature of the early 20th century is the name Kel Tagelmust “People of the Veil” and “the Blue People” (for the indigo colour of their veils and other clothing, which sometimes stains the skin underneath).
Douglas Porch, in his book “The Conquest of Morocco,” posits that the French described the term “tuareg” as the Arabic name given to the Berber tribes of the sub-Saharan region which, in translation, means “abandoned by God.”
Since Prehistoric times Tuareg peoples: the Garamantes have been organising caravans for trading across the Sahara desert. The caravan in Niger from around Agadez to Fachi and Bilma is called in Tamashek: Tarakaft or Taghlamt and the one in Mali from Timbuktu to Taoudenni Azalay. The wares of this Tuareg carpet seller may also have been part of this trade
These caravans used first oxen, horses and later camels as a means of transportation, here different types of caravans:
- caravans transporting food: dates, millet, dried meat, dried Tuareg cheese, butter etc.
- caravans transporting garments, alasho indigo turbans, leather products, carpets, ostrich feathers,
- caravans transporting salt: salt caravans used for exchange against other products.
- caravans transporting nothing but made to sell and buy camels.