The Tuareg people are very fascinating. They are a nomadic Islamic tribe with some pretty unconventional customs, including the veiling of men’s faces instead of women, and married women’s liberty to have as many lovers as they want.
Photographer Henrietta Butler, once followed the tribe as they traveled through the desert, photographing them and studying their traditions, Daily Mail reports.
Butler gave an account of her discoveries. Here are excerpts:
Before a woman marries, she is free to take as many lovers as she wants. ‘They turn a blind eye,’ explained Butler. ‘The young girls have the same great freedoms as the boys.’
For years, the men of the Tuareg have been able to ride to a young woman’s tent, and sneak into the side entrance – while his well-trained camel stands quietly and waits.
There, they will spend the night together – while the family, who all live in the tent, politely pretend not to notice.
Should the woman choose to welcome a different man into her tent the next day, so be it.
However, there is also a code of practice which none would dare break. Privacy is all important for this centuries old tribe of nomads, who once crossed the desert bringing dates, salt and saffron south, and slaves and gold north.
The idea of breaking the rules of courtship would be mortifying; as a result, the man is always gone before sunrise.
‘The Tuareg are utterly discreet. Everything is done with utmost discretion and respect,’ said Butler.
The relaxed customs around sexual partners has resulted in the girls getting married later than they may otherwise do, with the age of 20 not being uncommon.
Unlike in so many other cultures, women lose none of their power once they marry either.
Any visitor who goes to a camp would be vastly underestimating the power of the women in the tent if they believe their sole duty is to make the food and look after children.
In fact, she owns the home and the animals. And the animals are an invaluable resource to the Tuareg in the middle of the Sahara.
Journalist Peter Gwin recalled an elderly nomad once telling him: ‘Animals are everything to a Tuareg. We drink their milk, we eat their meat, we use their skin, we trade them. When the animals die, the Tuareg dies.’
Many marriages end in divorce among the Tuareg. And when it happens, it is the wife who keeps both the animals and the tent. And it is she who normally decides that she’s had enough.
And there is no shame in divorce. Families will often throw their daughters a divorce party, to let other men know they are available once more.
But this is not a matriarchal society, where the women are in charge.
Butler explains it is still the men ‘who sit and talk politics’. But even here, the women can be deferred to. They are often consulted for their views by their sons or husbands, and are quietly pulling the strings behind the scenes.
It is the men who cover up their faces, while the women are happy to show off their faces – although they often cover their hair.
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