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Libya - Tuareg

About 10,000 Tuareg nomads live scattered in the southwest desert, wandering in the general vicinity of the oasis towns of Ghat and Ghadamis. They claim close relationship with the much larger Tuareg population in neighboring Algeria and with other Tuareg elsewhere in the Sahara. Like other desert nomads, they formerly earned their livelihood by raiding sedentary settlements, conducting long-distance trading, and extracting protection fees from caravans and travelers. The ending of the caravan trade and pacification of the desert, however, have largely deprived this proud people of their livelihood and have reduced many to penury.

The Tuareg language, Tamasheq, is a Berber dialect, and the Tuareg adhere to a form of Sunni Islam that incorporates nonorthodox magical elements. Men--but not women--wear veils, and the blue dye used in the veils and clothing of nobles frequently transfers to the skin, causing the Tuareg to be known as "blue men." Marriage is monogynous, and Tuareg women enjoy high status; inheritance is through the female line, and as a general rule only women can read and write.

Throughout the period of Punic and Greek colonization of the coastal plain, the area known as Fezzan was dominated by the Garamentes, a tribal people who entered the region sometime before 1000 B.C. In the desert they established a powerful kingdom astride the trade route between the western Sudan and the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes left numerous inscriptions in tifinagh, the ancient Berber form of writing still used by the Tuareg. Beyond these and the observations of Herodotus and other classical writers on their customs and dealings with the coastal settlements, little was known of this extraordinary and mysterious people until the advent of modern archaeological methods.

The Garamentes' political power was limited to a chain of oases about 400 kilometers long in the Wadi Ajal, but from their capital at Germa they controlled the desert caravan trade from Ghadamis south to the Niger River, eastward to Egypt, and west to Mauretania. The Carthaginians employed them as carriers of goods--gold and ivory purchased in exchange for salt--from the western Sudan to their depots on the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes were also noted as horsebreeders and herders of longhorned cattle. They succeeded in irrigating portions of their arid lands for cultivation by using foggares, vast underground networks of stone-lined water channels. Their wealth and technical skill are also attested to by the remains of their towns, which were built of stone, and more than 50,000 of their pyramidal tombs. Rome sent several punitive expeditions against the Garamentes before concluding a lasting commercial and military alliance with them late in the first century AD.

In addition to repeated interventions in Chad in his efforts to impose a leadership that would be amenable to Libyan influence, Qadhafi provided arms and training to Tuareg tribesmen at a camp at Sabha. His goal was to stir up the Tuareg into demanding a union carved out of existing Sahelian states, a union that would be under Libyan influence.




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Page last modified: 04-04-2012 19:48:55 ZULU