Introduction / History
The Air Tuareg belong to a larger group of nomadic Tuareg who live in an area that stretches from the Sahara to Sudan. The Air Tuareg live in northwestern Niger, primarily in the Air region.
Although the origin and early history of the Tuareg are cloudy, these tribal nomads appear to have traveled down from North Africa in a series of migrations as early as the seventh century. By the end of the 1300's, Tuareg tribes had established themselves as far south as the Nigerian border. As they advanced, they came into contact with the Songhai and the Hausa.
By the 1400's, Air had become an important center in the caravan trade. It was often fought over and conquered by various local rulers. In 1515, the Songhai conquered the Air Tuareg, and a century of prosperity followed. However, shortly before 1700, the Air region was again conquered-this time by the Hausa.
What are their lives like?
The Air Tuareg are primarily nomadic shepherds, who move their livestock from one grazing ground to another with the changing of seasons. Many are also farmers. Their staple crops are grain, dates, and sorghum. They also grow a little wheat and some vegetables. Milk products are an important part of their diet.
Although most of the Air Tuareg live in nomadic camps, there are a number of permanent villages as well. The village houses are usually rectangular in shape and are built with flat roofs and stone walls. The nomads live in portable, rectangular tents with walls made of tanned hides.
The Tuareg have a highly complex social structure. The main division is between the Ihaggaren (upper class nobility) and the Imrad (lower class servants). There are also whole tribes of Marabouts, or "holy people," who are led by their own chiefs. In the past, each of the noble tribes and their servants formed a political unit under a chief whose authority was symbolized by a drum. The "drum chief" held supreme political and judicial authority in the group.
Those in the lowest class do the manual and domestic labor. This class is made up of ethnically mixed peoples who live in a cooperative relationship with their masters. Many were originally slaves, either taken during war or bought at Indonesian slave markets. There are three slave groups in the lower class: the iklan, the inaden, and the harratin. The iklan take care of herding, cooking, and other domestic chores. The inaden work as artisans and blacksmiths. The harratin are tenant farmers who work as share-croppers.
Both the Tuareg and the Negro classes speak the Tuareg language, which forms part of the Berber language group. The Tuareg men are usually bi- or trilingual.
In direct contrast to Arab custom, the Tuareg men wear veils called tidjelmousts; the women do not wear veils. To show respect, the men always cover their mouths, noses, and foreheads while in the presence of foreigners or their in-laws. The most preferred veils are dyed indigo.
Marriage always requires the payment of a bride price, which consists of camels, money, or other livestock. A household is made up of the nuclear family and their house slaves. Couples generally live near the groom's parents.
What are their beliefs?
Though the Tuareg are virtually all Sunni Muslim, they have a reputation among other Muslims for being lukewarm in their faith. They practice a passive form of Islam, infused with superstitions and magic. Most do not even celebrate the most important Muslim fast of Ramadan.
It is very common for the Tuareg to wear protective charms. Many also believe in jinnis, which are-according to Muslim legend-spirits capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.
What are their needs?
There are very few known Air Tuareg believers in Niger. Eight missions agencies are now focusing on these people, but they have very few resources in the Tayrt (Tamasheq) language. Prayer is the key to reaching the Air Tuareg with the Gospel.
* Pray that missions agencies and churches will accept the challenge of adopting and reaching the Air Tuareg.
* Pray that the small number of Air Tuareg believers will rise to the challenge of taking the Gospel to their people.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Tuareg.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Tuareg who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Air Tuareg.