Amulets and talismans of the Central Sahara – Tuareg art in context of magical and mystical beliefs

  • Hanna Sotkiewicz (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The Tuareg people, whose language and culture are based on those of the Berbers, live traditionally as nomadic stock-breeders in the West and Central Sahara. Today they live on the territories of Algeria, Libya, Republic Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. The primary places for the production and selling of Tuareg crafts are the markets in Ghadamis, Timbuktu, Agadez and Zinder. Although the blacksmiths stand out in the hierarchy of Tuareg social order they play an important role in the rituals, magical and mystical beliefs and the community. The term “Tuareg” (Arab “tariq” – “Abandoned by God”) was given to the nomadic tribe by the Arabs who came to the Sahara in the 7th Century. The name “Targa” is a known term for the part of the Sahara which was called by the Arabs “Fezzan”. It is a geographical territory which is located in modern-day Libya. The Tuareg call themselves “Imuhar” which means “Free People”. The nomads are composed of the tribes Kel Ahaggar, Kel Ajjer, Kel Iforas, Kel Aïr, Kel Geres, Ullimidden Kel Dinnik, Kel Ataram and Kel Tademaket. They speak their own language called “Tamashek” with its own alphabet called “Tifinak”. Today about 500,000 people speak Tamashek and about the same number of people share the same ethnic background. Most of the Tuareg have now given up their lives as nomadic stock-breeders and moved to oasis villages and towns.The main reasons for the change were the political situation in post-colonial times and the drought periods of the years 1970 – 1973 and 1983 – 1985. In the course of time, the nomads lost large pasture areas for their livestock and the traditional life became nearly impossible. Only a marginal group of the tribe continues to live as migrant stock-breeders in the desert. Despite these changes, the Tuareg have preserved as much as possible of their ancient traditions, rituals, beliefs, religious views of pre-Islamic times and the old magical and mystical views of their forefathers. Those believes and traditions diffuse from generation to generation in legends, poetry and songs of women (Targia, female Tuareg) and blacksmiths. Elements of these creeds are especially present in the local crafts: mystical and magical symbols and forms are the main motives used in the production of basic commodities and amulets, talismans or jewellery for special occasions. These objects made of silver, metal, leather, wood or stone, nearly always possess designs which not only have a religious or magical function but also a decorative one. [...]