Turkana women watering their families’ zebus near Lake Turkana, in Kenya.
The hole they are standing in is so deep that it takes not two but three women
to lift the water from the bottom to the animals. Lacking shovels, the women
dug the hole, in a dry river bed, using the same wooden bowls they are filling
with water and originally carved themselves. Thorn branches surround the hole
to keep herds from soiling it or falling into it.
Femmes Turkana abreuvant les zébus de leurs familles près
du lac Turkana, au Kenya. Le trou duquel elles élèvent l’eau est si profond que
trois femmes sont nécessaires pour se passer l’eau de mains en mains. Dépourvues
de pelles, ces femmes ont creusé le trou
dans le lit asséché d’une rivière en se servant des mêmes bols à eau que montre
la photo et qu’elles ont taillés elles-mêmes dans du bois. Des branches épineuses
entourent le trou pour en écarter les animaux.
At an Ecuador rodeo celebrating
Columbus Day in Salitre, Guayas, one of a few groups of cowboys who would
compete against each other in the name of the haciendas that employ them, makes
its entrance in the arena. Half a dozen haciendas participated in
the event, each with about a dozen cowboys. The teams distinguished themselves
from each other with shirts of different colors.
A un rodéo Equatorien célébrant le
jour de Colomb à Salitre, Guayas, l’un des groupes de cowboys qui participeront
dans un concours en représentation des haciendas qui les emploient, fait
son entrée dans l’arène. Une demi-douzaine d’haciendas prit part dans l’évènement,
chacune d’elles avec une douzaine de cowboys. Les équipes se distinguèrent l’une
de l’autre avec des couleurs de chemises différentes.
A madrina, or godmother,
precedes each group of seven or more cowboys riding around the arena in their
presentation to the public. She will compete too, but in a beauty contest.
Une ‘marraine’ précède chaque group de cowboys
chevauchant autour de l’arène dans sa présentation au public. Elle affrontera son propre championnat dans un
concours de beauté.
The sun is hitting hard and a hat vendor is doing brisk business.
Le soleil tape dur et le vendeur de chapeaux ne manque
pas de clients.
A partial rear view of the
Une vue postérieure partielle des tribunes de bambou.
A visiting politician gives a speech at the grandstand. Later, at
hearing gun shots, the mayor will have this to say on the microphone:
“Gentlemen, remember there
are ladies and children in our midst. When using your handguns,please remember
to shoot skyward.”
Un politicien en visite donne un discours depuis la tribune
d’honneur. Plus tard, suite à des coups de feu, le maire aura ceci à déclarer au
rappelez-vous que nous sommes entourés de femmes et d’enfants. Quand vous
tirez, veuillez pointer vos armes vers le ciel.
The stunts of seven-year-old-Carmen, the latest of a long line of family
boys and girls her rancher grandfather, in a green shirt behind her, has trained,
won her the Miss Rodeo title. She rode into the arena with spurs tied to naked
Les cascades de Carmen, de sept ans, la dernière d’une
longue série de garçons et filles de sa famille que son grand-père, patron d’une
estancia et veillant sur elle derrière le cheval, lui valurent le titre de Señorita Rodéo. Elle fit
son entrée à cheval avec des éperons attachés à ses pieds nus.
Lying on his belly in the sand of a wadi, chin on his headrest, hands
shading his face, and an ostrich feather rising from his hair, a Turkana nomad
enjoys a photographer’s attention. A circular knife, used in battle but otherwise
covered all around by a leather strip, surrounds his right wrist.
Turkana men always use a headrest
to protect their coiffure, elaborately enhanced with grey and red clay, when
they sleep. They also carry it to sit on when the ground is littered with thorns.
Couché sur son ventre dans le sable d’un oued, mains ombrageant
son visage et une plume d‘autruche dressée sur sa tête, un nomade Turkana prend
plaisir à l’attention d’un photographe. Un couteau circulaire, arme de combat,
entoure son poignet droit.
Turkana ne vont nulle part sans leur appui-tête. Il leur sert à éviter de déranger
leurs coiffures, décorées de glaise grise et rouge, quand ils se couchent, et
pour s’y asseoir en terrains couverts d’épines.
Young woman trimming a straw hat she wove in Ua Pou, one of the Islands
of the Marquesas Archipelago.Gauguin,
who lived and died in the Marquesas, would have liked these colors.
Usant de ciseaux, cette jeune femme termine un chapeau
de paille qu’elle a tissé à Ua Pou, l’une des îles de l’archipel des Marquises.Gauguin, qui vécut et mourut aux Marquises,
aurait aimé ces couleurs.
In 1970, assigned by the National
Geographic to the text and photographs of a chapter of Nomads of the World, a book published the following year, I spent
once again several months among my Tuareg friends. On that trip I repeated, in
opposite direction, a camel journey I had taken in 1963 between the Sahara’s Ahaggar
Mountains of Algeria and the Aïr Mountains of Niger.
As pictured here, a Tuareg friend and I, hiding behind the camera, arrived at an encampment. As custom
dictates, we stopped at a distance of the tents and waited for someone to come
and greet us. Two men did and sat with us to exchange news. This gave the
family time to prepare for our visit.
Below the French translation of this caption is the chapter I wrote.
1970, chargé par la National Geographic Society du texte et des photos d’un
chapitre de Nomades du monde, un livre publié l’année suivante, j’ai passé une
fois de plus plusieurs mois entre mes amis Touareg de différentes régions du Sahara
et du Sahel. Ce faisant j’ai répété en sens inverse un voyage à chameau qu’en 1963
j’avais vécu entre les montagnes du Hoggar et de l’Aïr.
Cette photo nous montre,
un ami et moi Cette photo
nous montre, un ami et moi (cachéderrière la camera) arrivés à un campement. Comme le demande la coutume, nous nous
sommes arrêtés à une distance des tentes et avons attendu que quelqu’un vienne
nous saluer. Deux hommes l’ont fait et se sont assis avec nous pour échanger
les nouvelles. Cela donna aux familles le temps de se préparer.
Men of the Veil, Women of Ancient Pride,
Tuareg of the Sahara Keep the Style of Lords
July. An implacable sun. An Immeasurable
land. No horizon. We are walking in the void. Not a landmark to measure our
progress. Not a stone, not a blade of grass. Only the sand—white, smooth, and
blinding. Soon the wind will sweep away our tracks and the land will look as
virgin as ever. Our small caravan stretches silently, mechanically, as
insignificant in this ocean of fire as the grains of sand it treads. Miles —
abstract like the hours.
All the camels have the same air of
assurance and disdain. It is said that they alone know the hundredth name of
Allah. My two companions, veiled to the eyes as the custom of their society
requires, seem without expression.
Amud and Litni are Tuareg of the Central
Sahara—Berber nomads. For centuries this desolate magnificence has divided the
Mediterranean world from the lesser-known lands of Africa, but the caravans of
cameleers like these have sustained commerce between them. I met my companions
at the market of Tamanrasset, the last Algerian village on the road from Alger
to Agadez, an important stop in the midst of nowhere. Amud I knew: I had spent
a few days in his camp five years before. I remembered some words of Tamahaq,
his language, and he speaks a little French.
In this journey we follow Tuareg ways—as
clear to these people, and as complex to outsiders, as star patterns and dune
shapes that guide us in a land of no roads. Amud and Litni are lhaggaren, members
of the federation of the Ahaggar Mountains in Algeria, Tuareg famed all over
the Sahara for the endurance of their camels. They keep this identity even
though insufficient pastures drove their families south a few decades ago to
the Talak, a region of sparse grass and scrub in the west-central portion of
the Republic of Niger. They are keeping their Algerian nationality as well.
Amud and Litni came to Tamanrasset to sell
camels and had disposed of all but three. They hoped to find buyers for these
in the Air Mountains, although this route would lengthen the journey home to
camp. I asked permission to ride with them, quickly adding that I had experience
with camels. For long seconds, Amud stared at me through the slit of his veil,
but if he was surprised he did not say so. Then he turned and, in a wide and
noble gesture that revealed the fullness of his long indigo robe, indicated a
beautiful white camel. "It is yours for as long as you wish to stay with
us," he said.
We traveled through black volcanic
mountains for several days. Now we amble across an arm of the great Ténére — uninhabited desert— that
spreads like a sea of sand around the Ahaggar and the Air. From it both massifs
rise like islands. At times alluring mirages re-establish the horizon. Images
of fresh pools dance in my mind, but I ignore them. For one cannot have
everything. Here is peace, silence, purity.
this march we are walking full south. In early day we project immense shadows
on our right. They shorten progressively, disappear under the bellies of our
camels and reappear on our left, lengthening now. We shall not eat before
night, for there is no shade to prepare a meal in and above all nothing for the
camels to nibble. A Tuareg does not stop to eat when his camels fast.
A hot wind keeps the sand suspended in the
air, joining the earth to the sky without a seam. It rushes into my companions'
robes, spreading them wide, giving them all manner of weird shapes. The veils
give more remoteness to my faceless friends.
I too am veiled to the eyes. I know, having
lost skin to the sun, the uses of the long tagilmust,
the Tuareg turban-veil. Its cover helps prevent the mouth from drying; like
sunglasses it tones down the glare of the sand. No doubt Tuareg men began
veiling themselves on long marches in the desert; in these women took no part,
and to this day they have not adopted veils. Ages went by, I suppose, and the
veil became supremely important to the modest man. Elaborate custom governs the
adjustments of the tagilmust. No well-bred Tuareg would remove it before women,
old people, or strangers within his own society, least of all before his wife's
parents. To eat and drink he will often pass his glass or spoon under it.
The sun has reached the end of its course.
In half an hour, nothing will remain of its wrath but a little blood in the
sky, which night will drink. It is the serene hour. Amud and Litni, as good
Moslems, prostrate themselves to the east for the fourth prayer.
We go on, late into the night. When we
stop, Litni hobbles the camels, leads them into a circle, and dumps a bundle
of grass in their midst. He lights a fire and prepares tea and taguila, a flat whole-grain wheat bread
baked in the ashes. Wood as well as food and fodder are carried by the camels
in these empty wastes.
Amud, lying on his back, sings at the top
of his voice. Chores are not for him. He is an amahar; he belongs to the noble Kel Rela tribe. Amahar (imaheren,
in the plural) may designate any person of Tuareg culture and language—and the
name Tuareg, which is Arab, is not used. But in its strict sense amahar means
"one in full possession of freedom and political rights, one who is
noble." Amud is a noble and Litni his amrid,
To almost any generalization Tuareg society
offers exceptions; but usually a noble tribe could claim dues of millet from
its vassals, with livestock and butter in times of good grazing. It might
claim—and even secure — service in war against other tribes, as in European
feudalism. But ideas of hierarchy, of higher and lower classes, do not fit
Tuareg thought. Tamahaq has no words for comparative or superlative degree. One
can only say a person belongs to this group or to that, and the Tuareg recognize
many social groupings. The inislimen are religious tribes, scrupulous in Islam.
Enaden are smiths and craftsmen. Imrad — vassals —of mixed Arab-Tuareg descent
have special rank.
Iklan—the so-called slaves—are born into the role of servants, but their
position follows patterns of kinship. They could not be sold. If one chose to,
he could change "masters," and the first "owner" would lose
much prestige. Today some iklan are starting herds of their own;
many seek a new life as laborers in uranium
mines, oil fields, and towns.
Now the taguila is cooked. Litni pulls it
out of the embers, scrapes its crust free of ashes with his nails, washes it in
a little water, breaks it into pieces in a copper basin. I add the contents of
three sardine tins, and we eat. Later, stretched out on the soft sand, I gaze
at the most beautiful sky in the world, a perfect dome luminous with stars. A
few paces away, the dying fire casts intermittent glimmers....
It is crackling again when I awake at dawn.
and Litni sit near it, watching the kettle. They rose long before first light,
to say the first prayer, and a new taguila has been cooked. When the sun rises
we are already in the saddle.
On entering the Air Mountains, we go single
file on rocky tracks, side by side in sandy valleys—sometimes nonstop for 16
hours. Two or three times we find a Tuareg encampment and spend the night
there. Then Litni, like Amud, takes the role of a guest; closely veiled, he
sits dignified on a straw mat to accept due hospitality.
I can tell when we are approaching a camp.
Amud and Litni put on the new robes they wore in Tamanrasset; they rewind the
tagilmust with care. To conform with custom, we always stop our camels 40 or 50
paces from the tents and wait for someone to greet us.
This afternoon we reach a large encampment,
at least eight tents visible among the scrub. Men help us unload our camels,
and we sit in comfort on straw mats. A boy goes for tea and sugar while other
men join us, among them the chief, called Biga.
While Litni exchanges news with them, I
watch our hosts closely. Their profiles are less aquiline than Amud's and
Litni’s. Their limbs are short and powerful, their hands square and strong.
"They are imrad of an Iforas tribe," Amud tells me, "originally
from the Adrar Mountains in Mali. They fled that massif a few decades ago—their
imaheren were becoming too greedy." Such action has long been a pattern
among the Tuareg, and helps explain the dispersal of various tribesmen.
Nomadic Tuareg wander over an area roughly
defined by Reggane in Algeria, Ghudämis in Libya, Tombouctou in Mali, and
Zinder in Niger. Traditionally, tribesmen remained within territories defined
by the leaders of their federation. The federation — there are five of these —
would assign grazing rights to its members, to assure that they would remain
peacefully apart most of the year and would gather at a set place and time for
a pleasant reunion. Even today many Tuareg respect these boundaries — national
borders mean less to them. The most important distinction of all is that
between the rigorous country of the Sahara proper and the more hospitable
savanna south of it.
Men of the Iforas come from neighboring
encampments to Biga's and everyone tries the camels my companions offer for
sale. In a trade with the Tuareg an outsider must take his chances; among
themselves bargaining follows well-understood ritual. At last the animals are
exchanged for money, the best of the three for the equivalent of $200.
Livestock, I learn, sells for a good profit
in Libya, where oil revenues increase wealth, and some of the Iforas are
planning a long journey to sell sheep there. I have never traveled in the
Sahara with flocks; I tell Biga of my interest in this. "You are welcome
to join us," he says. "We shall leave on the 27th day of the tenth
Moslem month. Be here a day before." I promise that he can expect me that
Setting out the next morning for the Talak,
we walk several days more. One morning, seeing Amud and Litni putting on their
newest robes, I know that our journey will end today.
Amud's brother Bukush comes out to welcome
us when we reach a group of three tents. We enter the largest. An old woman
sits in a corner— Amud's mother. As he addresses her respectfully, Litni explains
to me that she is a widow. Only after ten minutes does Amud take leave to go
and greet his wife. Not that he does not love her—far from that —but a Tuareg
pays respects to his parents first.
Returning with his young wife Fati and a
baby daughter called Shina, Amud takes off two-thirds of his long tagilmust and
winds it back more loosely, in a less formal fashion. He is home again.
Amud, Fati, and Shina share one tent; his
brother Talem, Sata, their three daughters and little son, another. The
mother's tent also houses Bukush, who is a widower, his daughter Ataka, age 9,
and an unmarried sister called Maunen. I refuse vehemently when they insist on
giving up Amud's tent to me. They move it 20 paces —to a suitable distance for
a visitor. I argue that I prefer to sleep under the stars, but to no avail. I
come to feel somewhat better, however, when I realize that this tent helps me
to be a good host. Visitors call frequently, and I can serve tea "in my
In long conversations I explain that there
are no camels in France, that a Frenchman pays no bride-price. I learn that an
amahar must pay his parents-in-law four she-camels for his bride, besides
feeding wedding guests. As for property or money, the Tuareg think in terms of
usefulness — money is useful to buy useful things.
Wedding arrangements are complicated. The
Tuareg man, who is monogamous, thinks it best to marry his mother's brother's
daughter. His father's sister's daughter is also a proper bride. Such cousins
always enjoy a special joking relationship; they become good friends, and can
expect a stable marriage. Women are held in great respect; they speak their
opinions freely. A wife may chat with a former suitor, and society would
reprove the husband if he showed any jealousy.
And the Tuareg love children, any children.
The youngsters themselves are adorable: respectful, easy to handle—though if a
parent gets a little too severe, which is rare, the child will spit or throw
sand and not run away from blows. Then somebody else usually takes the child up
to soothe it, and the trouble disappears. Children often go naked till the age
of 4 or 5, unless dressed for protection on desert marches.
It is touching to observe Ataka's love for
her father. She helps him in everything, even to saddling his camel — normally
a boy's chore. When he is sitting or lying in the tent, she leans against him.
Bukush tells me that after he lost his wife, he nursed Ataka from babyhood,
even carrying her in his arms on camelback.
Abela, Talem's little son, is the only boy
in the family. He is strong and fearless, ready to grab anything he can reach,
including insects of the most repulsive kind. When he frightens the older girls
with them, his father and uncles look on with pride. "A real amahar,"
they say with a smile of satisfaction. Though he is too young for clothes, they
let him wear a man's dagger at his waist and play with it freely.
Sometimes at noon the wind rises and blows
sand. The Tuareg close the "tent wall," the asaber, a thick straw mat
artistically interwoven with leather strips. We cover our heads and doze for a
couple of hours, for the days begin early.
With their mournful and monotonous moans,
the 16 or 17 young camels tethered near the tents wake everybody up long before
dawn. Bujimra, the young servant, brings the dams to them. A teapot sings on a
bed of embers before every tent; women and children sit around, still only
half-awake. Usually the three brothers are off in the pastures watching their
camels, for all their iklan except Bujimra have left.
A man may help himself to a camel he needs,
provided he notifies someone, without being a thief; but outside his own
federation he considers all rules are off. And Tuareg who used to think plunder
the noblest of activities find it hard to live by other ideals. Imaheren take
camels by force — or at least they used to.
An amahar does not herd sheep or goats.
Therefore Amud and his brothers keep no flocks. If they did, the family would
take the animals to the well daily to water them; as it is, the women make this
trip, some three or four miles, about every five days. They can bring water
enough for two or three days, and when the supply is used up we fall back on
camel's milk. With a little millet, milk is the staple food.
Only a few years ago Amud's family had
gardens in the Ahaggar, cultivated by Harratin, black people who worked as
sharecroppers. These yielded tomatoes and figs, and enough wheat to barter some
for dates from the oasis of Tidikelt. But the Harratin have taken work
elsewhere. Times change, though days keep a familiar rhythm.
In the evening, sometimes, a drum sounds:
invitation to an ahal, a gathering of
the young. I wind my tagilmust closely, saddle my camel, and follow the sound
in the moonless night. I find young women seated on the ground, beating the
drum, clapping their hands, and singing songs of elaborate rhyme schemes and
subtle rhythms. Closely veiled men, armed with spears and swords and mounted
high on elegant camels, make their animals dance around the girls, the gaits
changing in patterns to fit the cadence of the songs.
Tonight I sit near the women while the
immense silhouettes turn around us high on the sky and the whole beautiful
starry dome seems to turn with them. A woman improvises praise of men she
likes: their clothes are dark as the night, their camels white as the moon ...
through the blue tagilmust, as long as six spears, shine eyes of embers ...
they come to torture the heart
In fact they come to pay tribute to the
girls, for beautiful they are. Tuareg women often have the strange and wild
beauty —unexpected and ravishing—of flowers growing in hostile places.
But I must leave this harsh country, this
fascinating life, to see something of the southern Tuareg, by far the most
numerous, who live in savanna areas. With richer and wider pastures, they own
larger herds., including many cattle. Their life differs accordingly. I can
journey as far as Agadez with an amrid from a neighboring camp; he has business
there, and will lend me a camel.
While I pack, my friends seem unusually
quiet. The women and children sit at a distance; Amud helps me load my camel.
It would be so easy to remain with them forever. I distribute little presents
to everyone without saying goodbye. The Tuareg do not speak of the end of a
sojourn but of the beginning of a journey; their words at partings are devout
words for an enterprise begun: Bismalláh —In the Name of God. Inshalläh — As
Amud walks with us for half a mile. Then —
Bismalláh! — we mount our camels and leave him without looking back.
In Agadez I rent a Land-Rover and hire an
interpreter who can introduce me to the people I want to meet, Iullimiden
nobles who wander in the Azaouak region of Niger.
If custom is prized among the Tuareg, so is
adaptability. For some eight centuries tribespeople have settled in villages
and towns, as some are settling today. My interpreter is a sedentary Tuareg; a
turbanless man whose father—in the French army for years—named him Carbochi
after a Corsican adjutant. Brought up in Agadez, Carbochi learned French there
although he never went to school.
Scattered trees and patches of grass had
begun to change the face of the desert on the way south to Agadez. Farther
south, I notice green leaves more and more often. We are leaving the Sahara
definitely behind, entering savanna country. Without difficulty one afternoon
we reach the encampment of the Iullimiden, guided from the well of Tchin
Tabaraden by a smith of theirs whom we met at the market. The whole savanna is
dotted with tents, but the smith takes us to the largest, the chief's. Some 30
by 50 feet, this is the biggest tent I have yet seen.
Mohammed, the chief, a man about 45, and
his wife Fatimatu receive us cordially. Yet hardly are the greetings over than
Carbochi starts ridiculing the figures of Fatimatu and her daughter-in-law
Raishatu. "You are as big as a Berliet" — a huge French truck. True, they
are enormous, but I urge him to shut up.
"I am an amrid," he explains to
me. "None of my words could soil a noblewoman. If I were an amahar,
Mohammed might already have killed me. In her youth many men died for
Fatimatu's sake." And indeed the ladies show nothing but amusement at his
Perhaps his remarks passed as compliments,
for noblemen want their women as fat as possible. In Amud's family women were
slim because they had to work. But the Iullimiden still have many iklan, great
herds of camels and of cattle, and their women can loll about all day. From the
age of 8 or 9 girls are gorged with milk and by the age of 12 they already look
adult. The fatter a woman, the richer her husband appears, the greater his
prestige. The men remain lean, trim enough to handle the swords that made their
Fatimatu, who sits in her tent like a
queen, is very proud of that superiority. "Even the French," she
says, "would not have beaten us without their firearms. Before they came
we were invulnerable, as powerful as de Gaulle. We, the lullimiden, ruled and
plundered from Tombouctou to Lake Chad. Everything bent before us. We took
slaves and anything we wanted. When an amrid died, we inherited all his
possessions." Decimated by endless wars and uneducated by the standards
of today, the lullimiden have retained relatively little of their ancient power
but they are still people to be reckoned with.
While we converse with Mohammed and
Fatimatu, their son Radwane — Raishatu's husband — orders one of his father's
men to place our luggage in his own tent. This, though half the size of his
father's, is large compared to those of the vassals.
A sheep is slaughtered in my honor and, to
my surprise, I am also served macaroni. But this family is very rich, Carbochi
tells me, and often eats macaroni or rice and couscous. They eat gazelle or
bustard, too, for the men spend some of their leisure hunting. All these imaheren
have rifles and pistols in their tents.
After our lavish meal a noblewoman gives a
recital on the anzad, or one-stringed violin. In our midst sits the musician,
amazingly expert at pulling varied sounds from that simple instrument, with two
men singing. The airs, with a 12-tone scale and leaps of melody, would swiftly
break European voices. We clap hands to the beat. Moving and lovely, the songs
escape one by one to the stars.
Next morning I try to count the tents, but
they are scattered in every direction. Mohammed himself is not sure how many
there are: "Maybe 70 or 8o," he says. What a fine sight it must be
when all these people are moving together! But I will not have a chance to see
it. With iklan to tend the herds it does not matter how far the pastures are,
and the tents may stay as long as four months at the same site. Amud, by contrast,
sometimes left a site after only a week, and two months was a very long stay
Mohammed can say that only 8 of these tents
belong to imaheren, all dose relatives of his. The rest belong to his
satellites. The enaden alone occupy 13 tents, so rich are the Iullimiden to
support such an army of artisans. The men forge spears, swords, and knives, or
silver jewels; they make camel saddles and wooden beds, carve wooden bowls and
spoons. The women weave beautiful tent-wall mats or produce artistic
leatherwork — wallets, amulets, bags, cushions.
Other Tuareg hold blacksmiths in wary
respect because of their mysterious connivance with fire, their dangerous
mystic power called ettama, and their
sharp wits, quick to compose a song of ridicule.
Although little action seems to take place,
life here is not at all monotonous. People visit from group to group. I spend
most of the time among the women, for it is they, teachers of the children, who
also teach language and custom to the stranger accepted as worthy of learning.
The language here differs from that of the north, slightly in vocabulary and
considerably in pronunciation.
Often we write and decipher Tifinagh, an
ancient Libyan script which most Tuareg know. It has only one symbol for all
vowel sounds and can be written left-to-right-right-to-left or up-down-up-down,
which does not simplify it for beginners.
All too quickly the days slip by. I have
made friends it hurts to leave, but far to the north Biga and his people will
be setting out on their long journey, the caravan of dune and mountain and
plain, on the march as in time immemorial. Promising to return with the help of
God — Inshallah —I climb into the Land-Rover with Carbochi and we speed to the
mountains of Air.
On the appointed day we reach the Iforas'
encampment. Biga declares I am a man of my word. Now I notice the tents with
more interest: little things of canvas or leather, hardly five feet square.
Even the iklan have larger tents in the Azaouak. Although Iforas tents are
unimpressive and clothes almost ragged, the herds are large. Considering the
trade these people carry north and south, they must be much less poor than they
At any rate, the men are all quite well
dressed next morning for the departure. Today is an exceptionally auspicious
day to begin a journey and Biga's people are preparing three different
Those going to Libya have the hardest and
longest march, more than 6oo miles one way, three months at least for the trip.
A second group will go to the Amadror valley about goo miles north to mine
salt. Theirs will be a 4o-day trip. Later, they will barter salt for millet,
south in the Damergou region. The third group is going south to Zinder, about 5oo
miles away, to buy millet—another 40-day trek.
Around 9:30 a.m. the camels are brought to
the tents and loaded. Helped by some women and children, two men gather the
sheep and goats. All is done without haste, shouts, or flurry.
This work finished, the men sit down around
two marabouts, or holy men, who read aloud from a pocket Koran and blow in turn
on the muddy water in a small enamel teapot. The water thus blessed, the pot is
passed around and each traveler drinks from it. This protects them from getting
lost, losing animals, or dying of thirst.
Now one of the marabouts sacrifices a kid
and all the men, standing, say a prayer. The marabout shakes every man's hand
and our caravan gets slowly under way for Libya while he chants: "La 11áh Illá Alláh; Muhammad rasúl Alláh
—There is no God but God; Mohammed is the Prophet of God."
Women standing nearby watch the men
disappear, none glancing behind him. I follow on camelback. Guided by a man of
the Iforas, Carbochi will take the Land-Rover ahead and meet us every night.
Three men drive the flock before them: some
thirty goats and ten times as many sheep. Half a dozen men follow on camels,
each leading four camels or more. Before crossing the great plain of desert
sand they will spend two days cutting wood and grass. Each will load one camel
with wood, two with fodder, one or two with water.
Biga, riding at my side, says he will turn
back after a few days. "I am only along to help at the start and to show
the men my concern," he says. He explains that they will stop for a couple
of days at Djanet, in Algeria, and sell any animals too weak to go on. It will
take a month to reach Ghat, in Libya. There stock brings ten times the price in
Agadez: $5o per sheep, say, instead of $5. Even the few donkeys trotting along,
despicable animals worth a dollar or two in Niger, will fetch $15 or $30 at
Ghat. The men will remain a few weeks in Ghat to make purchases and let the
camels rest. They will return with clothes and fabric, wheat, dates, sugar,
tea, and other goods, part to be sold in neighboring encampments.
Late in the day we reach a place appointed
for meeting caravaneers from other camps. We unload the camels. The men who
have driven the flock sink down to rest and two others take the animals to
pasture for the night. Each man has a precise job, the same for the whole journey.
The three youngest pound millet every morning and evening, and are responsible
for wood and water. The three next in age drive the flock. Two others take the
animals to graze after each day's march. The rest will take care of the camels.
While we sit around the fire that evening a
man walks into the edge of the circle of light. Some of my companions had
lowered their veils somewhat; quickly each raises the tagilmust again to his
eyes, and then the man comes forward. We see he is a stranger. Politely he
exchanges greetings with us. Finally he says that his water bag is empty and he
has been thirsty for a very long time. A bowlful of water is poured and he
gulps it down after pronouncing the ritual praise to God.
"Since sunset," he says, "I
have been following sounds of pestles hitting mortars and of children crying,
but every time I thought I was going to find an encampment, the sound stopped suddenly—only
to start somewhere else."
"Kel Asuf—Djinnen," my friends
murmur, and the man nods.
he Tuareg credit tales of djinns, or
spirits. They always have extravagant stories of demons. I am incredulous—but
not in the least skeptical of the dangers our guest had faced while he was
Again at sunrise the sheep and goats are
led away. We make our way through the mountains, passing heaps of basalt that
rise like pyramids. We thread narrow canyons or broad wadis overhung with
trees. We pass dozens of gazelles. They observe us with wonder, then spring
into a graceful gallop. When they are not too far away, Biga dismounts with his
rifle and stalks them from behind his camel. Once he aims, a gazelle can be
counted dead. These men need meat, and cannot afford to kill many of their
We reach the arm of the grand Ténéré that I
crossed with Amud and Litni many weeks ago. Now my civilization claims me
again. Carbochi and I accompany our friends on foot for half a mile; we
exchange the ritual Bismalláh. The men of the caravan go on alone and I watch
them shrink in the distance with a pinch of the heart.
I wonder how many years are left to the
caravans, to the herds of the desert, to the nomads' life. But Carbochi,
impatient to get back to town, is pulling at my sleeve; and besides, did Biga
ever really exist? Already the wind has blown away his tracks and those of his
companions, and like ghosts they are walking in the void, far away, toward no
In 1967 I spent four months riding a mule in Morocco’s High Atlas
Mountains to photograph its Berber inhabitants and their daily lives. At the
top of those mountains my mule got stuck in the snow and would not make another step forward.
Fortunately, a man in his late thirties had come up the same path as
mine. When he caught up with me he helped me free the mule and guided me to his
house. He informed me that the pass we had just gone through had become impassable,
as would be the one to which I was now headed.
I spent eight days with his family, waiting for snow conditions to
change. They did so only when a group of men went to shovel a path through it.
My host had two wives. Not because he wanted to, but because his
30-year-old wife had asked him to get her some help with her daily domestic
chores. His second wife, only 18, got along wonderfully with the first wife and
the couple’s teenage daughter. So much so that they laughed a lot, often at his expenses. This made him very uneasy.
While the women worked in the kitchen, my host and I sat on carpets a
floor above them, eating dates and drinking sweet green tea. But every time he
heard the women laugh he stuck his ear to the ground to try to hear if it was
about him. Then he looked at me sheepishly and shrugged.
National Geographic gave my story the cover
of its June 1968 issue—the second of nine stories of mine they would publish.
En 1967 j’ai passé quatre mois à dos de mulet dans le
Haut-Atlas marocain pour y photographier ses habitants berbères et leur vie quotidienne. Au sommet de ces montagnes ma monture s’enfonça dans la neige jusqu’au ventre et ne
put faire un pas de plus. Heureusement un homme arriva, qui m’avait suivi de
loin. Il m’aida à sortir le mulet de son pétrin et m’informa de ce que la neige
avait bloqué le col que je venais de passer et que je trouverais celui où je me dirigeais
Je dus passer huit jours dans sa maison jusqu’à ce que
plusieurs hommes s’en fussent m’ouvrir un passage à la pelle.
Mon hôte avait deux femmes. Pas son choix mais celui
de sa femme de 34 ans. Lasse des ingrates corvées domestiques elle lui avait demandé
de se trouver une deuxième épouse. Celle-ci n’avait que 18 ans, mais elle s’entendait
à merveille avec la première, ainsi qu’avec la fille adolescente du couple. A tel point qu’elles ne faisaient que rire,
souvent aux dépens du seul homme de la maison, ce qui le gênait beaucoup.
Tandis que les femmes travaillaient dans la cuisine,
mon hôte et moi, assis sur des tapis à l’étage supérieur, mangions des dates et
buvions du thé vert sucré. Mais chaque fois qu’un éclat de rire nous parvenait
d’en bas, il collait rapidement son oreille au plancher pour essayer d’en connaitre
le sujet. Puis il se tournait vers moi et haussait les épaules.
National Geographic donna à mon histoire la couverture
de son numéro de juin 1968. Ce magazine publierait neuf de mes histoires de voyage.