Profile: the Tuareg (Taureq or Tamajeq) of Africa
They only refer to themselves as Tuareq when outside their own region, and many consider the name derogatory. They call themselves the Kel Tamajeq, or the people who speak the Tamahaq language in Niger and Kel Tamahaq in Algeria. Tamasheq is the French translation of this.
The estimates of their numbers vary considerably, but the following are probably fairly accurate: Mali 800,000; Burkina Faso 100,000; Niger 600,000. North Africa has between 25,000 and 76,000 in Algeria and 17,000 in Libya.
Those that are still nomadic keep herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats in over a million square miles of the Sahara and Sahel. Many of these are nobles whose wealth has enabled them to survive, because they have the largest herds and flocks while the other castes own a few animals and have suffered greatly. For the nobles the camel has been the “key” or prized animal, but they also keep large herds of cattle and sheep as well as goats and donkeys. The typical herding group consists of five or six family tents with about two dozen persons.
The Tamajeq are made up of a number of confederations of tribes and are not one people. The tribes are called drum groups, because a large kettledrum, one meter in diameter, used to be beaten to call the warriors together and also became the symbol of authority of the chiefs. The term drum group now refers to the leaders, the tribes and the lineages of related families within the tribes. The tribes have grown or waned in power and numbers over the years.