Small Wars Journal

On Targuité, Nomadism and the Nation: The Origins of Tuareg Militant Nationalism in North Africa

Wed, 06/12/2013 - 3:30am

As contemporary North African societies continue to re-arrange themselves and reformulate structures of power and control, one of the enduring dilemmas that continues to rise to the fore is what has been described as “the Tuareg question”[1]. Indeed with the acceleration of globalisation creating a plane for new ideologies and the means to enforce them across porous borders, the issue of Tuareg nationalism persists as a transformative ideology in North Africa, the consequence perhaps of powerlessness in borderlessness, as a traditionally-nomadic, desert people attempt to carve out a new place for themselves in the contemporary nation-state system. “Few problems are as complex and persistent a feature of national and international politics as when borders and nationalism don’t align,” argues Dörrie, and indeed, few examples are as emblematic of this as the crisis of the Tuareg in North Africa[2].

Indeed, as the desire for statehood arises amongst a people whose traditional social structures have eschewed formal arrangements of nation-states, the question becomes even more complex – what is the nature of “a nomad state”? Are nationalist sentiments amongst nomadic peoples the result of organic cohesive processes or the blowback of a disparate people unified against an encroaching Other? What would this mean for the legitimacy of a claim to statehood? Is the notion of “the Tuareg nation” pieced together from primordial identities or a modernist construction, synthetically-manufactured to meet the needs of an elite vying for polity? These are all important questions to address when seeking to comprehend the issue of Tuareg nationalism in North Africa.

This essay then, will examine the current aspirations of Tuareg nationhood in North Africa, examining whether contemporary Tuareg nationalism represents a primordial ideology or a modernist construction. In doing this, this essay will first discuss the evidence for Tuareg nationalism as a political reformulation of primordial identities, examining the ethnographic work of Claudot-Hawad, Kohl and others and discussing their understanding of “senses of being” in Tuareg society. In this regard, this essay will examine the notion of being a “nomad” (amawal) in both the primordial and modern contexts, discussing how the self-identification of “living the nomadic lifestyle” in the contemporary world constitutes a self-identification with the past and with pre-colonial identities.

Following this, this essay will examine the arguments of Dörrie, Klute and others who argue that contemporary Tuareg nationalism constitutes a modernist ideology, tracing the historical reference point first to the socio-political changes instituted by French colonialism and second to this influx of globalising pressures in the post-colonial era.

Finally, this essay will seek to determine the nature of “the Tuareg nation”, examining Tuareg social and political identities in their pre-colonial and contemporary contexts as well as discussing the contemporary ishumar movement and the notion of “being a nomad” in a globalized world.

In determining whether a particular ideology is either “primordialist” or “modernist”, the first task is to delineate “when” a primordial or modernist ideology begins and ends. For the purposes of this essay, the arrival of European colonial powers in North Africa will be the primary historical reference point for distinguishing between the two. In this regard, this essay will define a primordialist political ideology as “the prevalent political doxa amongst the Tuareg in the pre-colonial context”. Conversely, a modernist ideology will amount to one which arose under the colonial administration or following the departure of France from North Africa.

Beginning then, with a discussion of primordial Tuareg identity, it remains true that the Tuareg, a Berber-speaking people of the Sahara, were, at least in the pre-colonial context, a traditionally-nomadic people whose activities were largely dictated by a pastoralist lifestyle. Being a people who traditionally relied upon animals and livestock to provide sources of food and security in a desert environment, the Tuareg, prior to the arrival of colonial were highly mobile seasonal movers, moving from water source to water source and grazing ground to grazing ground in accordance with rain patterns and climactic conditions[3].

Traditional Tuareg socio-political constructs, according to Claudot-Hawad: “paid homage to diverse metaphorical constructions”[4] – nationhood often being expressed through rich symbolism associated with the anatomy of the body or the architecture of the tent. “If [traditional Tuareg] society could be viewed as a tent,” she explains. “Each of the poles which composed it, equally represented a complete whole”[5].The tent represented a shelter for the individual and his family, a concept not only tied with the survival of the self but also the physical space it occupied. “The idea that a person could not exist without shelter is a prevalent theme in Tuareg cosmology, where everything, every element, every particle is interpreted as the quest for a refuge”[6]. Thus, follows the metaphor, with each clan and tribe constituting a part of the whole, occupying a part of the entire physical space of the Tuareg world, those within “the tent of society” – the individuals seeking shelter from the threat of external powers – would receive protection from danger.

At the macro-level, says Claudot-Hawad, the unified Tuareg world was known as “the roof of the Tuaregs (tafalla n imajaghen)”[7]. When the gamut of tribes were assembled together, the different political units were known as tégehé (the basin)[8]. This Tuareg “federation of confederations” (temust n imajaghen) ultimately constituted a group of those who spoke the same language, followed the same customs, and lived by the same code of honour. Claudot-Hawad argues that “the notion of temust [n imajaghen] could be translated as ‘nation’ and is itself associated with that of ‘country’ (akal). It is considered as ‘a roof which covers the space which that world defines’”[9].

Political control was stratified but not pyramidal she argues. “The emphasis was placed on the diversity and complementarity of functions – with room accorded for the swapping and allocation of specific tasks to particular individuals or groups when the need arose”[10]. Having “noble” status in the precolonial period was based on one’s capacity to mobilise and exert influence over one’s network of contacts.

In the early 20th century, as resistance against French colonial rule began to grow, these nobles (imajegehen) proved central in mobilizing fellow Tuareg and inspiring them to take up arms. During this period, influential figures like Ag Kaocen sought to further unite the confederacies under a single banner, utilising primordial notions of society to evoke a sense of shared Tuareg nationhood. In an oft-requoted speech to the assembled chiefs of the loose-knit Tuareg tribes during the Kaocen Revolt of 1916, Kaocen was reported to have said: “I would like you to be the Tuaregs that you are. I ask you to organise yourselves and unite into a single head, a single arm with your other Tuareg brothers so that we may drive the French from our country”[11]

In using the anatomical metaphors of “head” and “body”, Claudot-Hawad argues, Kaocen’s nationalism represented a reformulation of a primordialist identity – his co-option of traditional descriptors to describe Tuareg society being a reformulation of primordial metaphors into a vivid nationalist discourse.

With the above then considered, it seems reasonable to assume that contemporary Tuareg nationalism constitutes a primordial ideology. Kohl argues that primordial identities remain an integral component of Tuareg perceptions of the self – an important part of identifying one as “kin” with others, genealogically and culturally. While in the modern context, globalising influences, climate pressures and the attempts of modern African states to enforce political hegemony have forced the Tuareg to switch from a pastoralist to more cosmopolitan life[12], the precept of nomadism remains all-pervading in Tuareg sentience.

 In her discussion of the emergent population amongst the Tuareg called “ishumar” (derived from the French chômage meaning ‘unemployed’), Kohl argues that this term which originally referred to youth who, in the face of drought and globalising pressures, gave up the pastoralist lifestyle, serves as an excellent descriptor for what could be described as a “modern nomadic lifestyle”[13].

In deliberating over whether the ishumar are best described as “‘modern nomads’ because they move irregularly” or “‘vagabonds’ because of their ruptured life circumstances”[14], Kohl argues that the ishumar and their lifestyle (known as teshumara) embody “a new force of nomadism… characterized by a special form of mobility, partly cyclical, partly situational and irregular, and sometimes seasonal”[15]. While being called ishumar necessarily implies that one has given up “the old ways” of livestock herding and pastoralism, the central philosophy of being constantly mobile remains, she argues.

“It does not matter if an ashamur is moving in order to pursue smuggling activities, moving seasonally to work during the tourist season, or just drifting among relatives and friends… Their movements have two characteristic features in common: ishumar move transnationally, and they move continually.”[16]

In saying this, it is important to note that the lives led by pastoralist nomads and the modern ishumar nomad which Kohl describes are vastly different. The Toyota Land Cruiser, for example, has replaced the camel as the primary means of transport because it allows the ashamur to move from a mine in Niger to a tourist hotspot in southern Algeria and beyond to Mali or Libya in the space of a single season. At the same time however, Kohl notes that Toyota Land Cruisers are often called “Japanese camels” (alam n japon) by the Tuareg and are frequently decorated with special woven blankets called isilis  traditionally used for the caravan animals[17], demonstrating the continuing cultural importance of primordial modes of living in the Tuareg consciousness.

“When asked, an ashamur will say he still considers himself a nomad (amawal),”[18] she argues. Thus, whilst they may not carry out their nomadic lifestyle in the traditional sense as pastoralists (that is to say, as herders of livestock moving seasonally), the basic precept of the “itinerant existence” remains. In the context of the ishumar, it is this ontological state, that is to say, the sense of “being a nomadic person” (even in the midst of globalising pressures) which unifies the Tuareg and is the basis upon which their nation is built.

In this respect, Kohl compares the self-identification of the ishumar as nomads with contemporary Bedouin in Middle-Eastern cosmopolitan environs. “Arabs who have swimming pools and laptops and live in cities like Amman still consider themselves Bedouin because of their ancestors’ ways of life. This means that tribal affiliation has more significance than their actual, current life style”[19].

That the ishumar live a nomadic lifestyle in a transnational context, circumventing the borders of existing nation-states solidifies in the minds of the ishumar the arbitrariness of the national boundaries, because of which, they are minorities in all four countries they occupy.

Referring to the “roof of the world” concept of Claudot-Hawad’s discussion, Kohl argues that the ishumar “are pushed by a particular ideology of being connected to an imagined stateless nation (temust)” – their nomadic statelessness being both an affront against which to defy, and paradoxically, the essential feature of their unity.

In other words then, for the Tuareg, the self-other distinction upon which a “nation” is built derives from the distinction between “the nomadic desert self” and “the sedentary city other” even though “being nomadic” in the context of the ishumar has nothing to do with primordial pastoralism.

This modern Tuareg sense of being then, what Deycard calls targuité[20], does entail an affiliation with primordial Tuareg identities – the self-identification of continuing to “live the nomadic lifestyle” emerging as a singularly-important theme of unity, much more so, in many ways, than in other “nations” where the lifestyles of the nation’s sub-groups can be remarkably different – cosmopolitan or agrarian, sedentary or itinerant. The Tuareg nation then, which contemporary militant groups like the MNLA and MNJ allude to in formulating their political ideologies is “a nation of nomads” – living a lifestyle of continuous mobility and transnationalism. It is not necessary, follows the logic of the Tuareg nationalist ideology, to be a “pastoralist nomad” or an “ishumar nomad” – as long as one is simply “amawal”.

Despite this however, even a cursory glance at the changes the Tuareg experienced following the arrival of France reveals how dramatically the Tuareg political identity changed as a result of colonial subjugation – paving the way for a modernist critique of the primordialist argument.

In refuting the existence of any primordial notion of Tuareg nationhood or nationalism, Dörrie argues that whilst pre-colonial Tuareg “recognized their common heritage and cultural identity, referring to each other as ‘Kel Tamashaq’ (the people who speak Tamasheq),” there was little sense of self beyond immediate familial and clan ties and competing clans fought each other frequently[21]. Furthermore, he states, “Tuareg nationalism as a political ideology is rooted in the effects of colonisation… sharpened by decades of marginalisation and oppression”[22].

Being a modernist construction, Dörrie argues, Tuareg nationalism is an illustration of how colonial powers “introduced” the concept of the nation and the nation-state to the native populations they subjugated. By this interpretation, whilst in traditional Tuareg society mutually-accepted systems of passage rights ensured that clans could move freely into another clan’s grazing area when necessary, the Tuareg were not in any way a united people, socially, politically or geographically[23]. Space was not a political entity, according to Dörrie – “fixed borders were unthinkable” and “the concept of the nation-state was unknown”[24]. This all changed with the arbitrary demarcation of traditionally borderless desert land that followed the arrival of France, he says. With the threat of an external aggressor forcing the reformulation of the Tuareg’s concept of polity, resistance necessitated the creation of “a Tuareg nation” and a unified Tuareg identity around which to rally. The introduction of the European “nation” concept into the Tuareg political consciousness is particularly important, Dörrie argues, because “people began to see their destiny in terms of nations, because ‘nation equals self-determination’”[25].

Thus, from the modernist perspective, the Tuareg’s fixation with temust as the key to self-determination emerged as a dominant trend in Tuareg politics only after the arrival of European colonialism. The French government was heavily lobbied to include a Tuareg autonomous region in the vichysoisse of new nation-states it would leave behind, Dörrie posits, and the fact that this eventuality did not occur was crucial in rallying the Tuareg[26].

Indeed, according to Dörrie, even more important than the political awakening that resulted from colonial rule, it is the events following the departure of colonial France that ultimately incubated the embryonic Tuareg nationalist ideology into the form discernible today.

While some new states like Algeria and Libya, were sympathetic to the Tuareg or acknowledged the role the Tuareg had played in driving out the Europeans, in Mali, events played out very differently. Because the new Malian government’s socialist creed envisioned African societies as playing out according to a unilinear scale of progress “it perceived the social organisation of the Tuareg as a ‘feudal’ relic that should be abandoned”[27]. The rhetoric of social progress was thus perceived as an existential threat to Tuareg interests in the north of Mali and as economic and political marginalisation in Mali and Niger continued, so too did the emergence of a particularly vituperate Tuareg nationalism.

Klute, on this point, seems to agree with Dörrie, arguing that “the ideology of a common ‘Tuareg nation’ (or temust)” was a post-colonial phenomenon which emerged amongst Tuareg in political exile in Algeria and Libya who “had been perceived by their hosts as members of a homogenous ethnic group.”[28] This designation of the Tuareg as an ethnic group in and of themselves by outsiders, Klute argues resulted in the notion of temust being “taken over by Tuareg and translated into the political project of temust[29]. In saying this, Klute also notes that despite the discourse of “one nation” amongst the leaders of the various Tuareg militant groups “the rebel movement soon split up into several factions” with the Nigerien Tuareg fighting for Niger and the Malian Tuareg fighting for Mali[30].

At the same time, according to Klute, even more important than the unity of “shared nationhood”, dyadic relationships – that is to say, personal friendships – between Tuareg elites and power-brokers served to unify disparate elements of the Tuareg resistance in Mali and Niger in the post-colonial rebellions. “Friendship,” accrding to Klute. “Fulfilled two functions… firstly, it served as an ideological tool to strengthen the unity of an imagined Utopian nation. Secondly, relationships stemming from friendship had the potential to cut across tribal or kin identity and solidarity. Political orientations, indeed, followed the same transversal logic[31].

Keenan, in his case study of Algerian Tuareg, argues that accelerating processes of globalisation in the post-colonial context are the primary catalyst for the changes in Tuareg political thought. Algerian Tuareg now describe their lot in terms of a “bouleversement” (“upheaval” in French), he explains – the changes that traditional culture has undergone since the end of colonialism being concomitant with the influx of globalising pressures[32]. In this regard, he argues, the conceptual “flattening of the earth” and the birth of a new Tuareg consciousness which sees itself as “a player in the global world” is responsible for the resurgent nationalism in the post-colonial context. “All peoples want to play in the World Cup,” he adds, to illustrate his point[33].

Moving beyond micro- and macro-political factors, Dörrie also looks to desertification and increasing climate pressures as a catalysing factor for Tuareg nationalism. Droughts in the 1970s and 80s, he says, “destroy[ed] large parts of the herd that represent[ed] the livelihood of the Tuareg nomads… when their animals died, many Tuareg moved into the cities to find work, for example, in the uranium mines in Niger. But these jobs were usually given to ‘black’ Africans”[34]. The marginalisation experienced by these ishumar was expressed in many forms, argues Dörrie – the end-point being the emergence of a militant nationalism amongst the ishumar and the evolution of a new rhetoric to re-conceptualise the primordial Tuareg as a unitary people and “nation”. “These droughts”, he argues. “Were the main reason for the later eruption of nationalist ideology”[35].

Ultimately, follows the modernist logic, the nationalist discourse, “has been conditioned and formed by colonial domination, marginalisation and outright instrumentalisation”[36] by first colonial powers, then by the nationalist usurpers who replaced them and finally by economic and climactic pressures. Furthermore in the contemporary context, follows the modernist argument, far from being an ideological reconstruction of primordial identities, nationalism has functioned merely as “a useful tool in the hands of regional powerbrokers”[37], carefully constructed and employed as a means of amassing power for particular nobles in the post-colonial context.

Given then, what has been said in both the primordialist and modernist discussions, it becomes necessary to determine whether one can say, based on the evidence, that the pre-colonial concept of temust actually constituted a nation.

The question is perhaps a historical one, because, while the modernists such as Klute envisage pre-colonial Tuareg politics as “conflicts between regional and tribal groups”[38], the primordialists see a pervading unity in primordial identities – the “tent” concept being not an abstraction but a reality.

On this point, Claudot-Hawad argues that while “the perception of the Tuareg world as an aggregate of quarrelsome tribes in constant internal disorder, dominates the [colonial and modern] writing” the historical reality follows that “the colonial-era resistance movement co-opted an already old political debate” which the French colonial administration exacerbated[39].

Conceptualising the Tuareg political space as dominated by constant tribal feuding, she argues, follows the same tired logic of outside observers in the colonial era, who commented on “the inability of the Tuaregs to forget their rivalries”[40] in uniting against a common aggressor. By her reading, these interpretations existed as a measure to “deny and minimise”[41] the political dimension of primordial Tuareg society. The French army, for example, viewed attacks on its frontier outposts as operations of “pillage” – a continuum of primordial internecine conflict and “lawlessness” which was perceived as governing the desert.

In contradiction to the perception that pre-colonial Tuareg society was “tribal” and “fractious” in the sense of random violence of neighbour against neighbour, according to Claudot-Hawad, inter-clan raids in the pre-colonial context were conducted according to a complex set of rules which set down parameters for the legitimacy of a raid and the conditions in which it could take place[42].

The arrival of colonialism changed things, she concedes, but rather than bringing about a unitary Tuareg political body ex nihilo, it merely consolidated the existing primordial confederacy. Indeed, as traditional grazing grounds were divvied up according to arbitrary borders, separation between tribes began to occur at the periphery, even as others rose up against the French and were defeated. “For the first time in the history of the Tuareg, the social equilibrium had been affected… With the weakening of one of the tent poles, the collapse had created an unprecedented catastrophe threatening the entire society with extinction.”[43]

In this respect, Dörrie and Claudot-Hawad are of agreement – that is to say, they agree that colonialism did change things amongst the Tuareg. And whilst still seeing Tuareg nationalism as a modernist construct, Dörrie does state that “nationalism is not an ideology that springs up spontaneously”[44].

Overwhelmingly however, follows the modernist logic, where primordial origins are evoked by leaders of Tuareg nationalist movements, they are generally exaggerated or are the result of active attempts to “primordialise” modern ideologies for political reasons. Deycard gives a good example in showing how the “Cross of Mano” (a piece of jewellery named after Mano Day, a Tuareg militant leader in the 90s) is being sold as a traditional piece of jewellery in marketplaces in Agadez[45].

Indeed, symbols, like this are important in the construction of the Tuareg national myth, follows the modernist approach. Keenan examines the political symbolism of the veil as a primordial object given contemporary re-invigoration as a symbol of Tuareg resistance. “Ask a Tuareg why he wears the veil and the most likely answer is: ‘because I am a Tuareg’,” says Keenan. “This notion, or sentiment, of ethnic identity imbues the veil with a combination of political and affective qualities”[46]. According to Keenan, both uprisings of the 1990s in Niger and Mali were notable in their association “with a wave of cultural revivalism amongst the Tuareg in which the veil became the most over and dominant symbol of Tuareg”[47].

Further, Dörrie is correct, in a sense, in tracing the “eruption” of Tuareg nationalism back to the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. The ishumar, whose very existence, could be traced back to these droughts have, according to Deycard “been at the origin of the rebellion since the 1980s”[48]. According to Deycard, the militancy and the nationalist agenda it promoted have proved popular with many of the young ishumar. Many often claimed having taken part in the hostilities despite not having done so, he posits, “this flow of ‘virtual combatants’” thus showing the importance of the rebellion in ishumar political culture[49]. If one is to accept this, then it seems reasonable to assume that without the droughts having pushed the young pastoralists into chômage, the economic marginalisation which ultimately gave birth to violent Tuareg nationalism may not have been as pronounced.

Indeed, even in appreciating the fact that the ishumar dominate the militant nationalist discourse, it would seem folly to argue that contemporary Tuareg nationalism is not a post-colonial phenomenon. It is certainly not contested that political modes of representation amongst the Tuareg changed after the arrival of colonial powers. Indeed, as Claudot-Hawad herself states, giving an example of how the construct of “nobility” changed in the colonial context: “following the arrival of outside influence… the term [“noble”] referred uniquely to a “chief” who position existed to satisfy first the colonial administration, then the post-colonial administration”[50].

This re-invention of Tuareg society as a pyramidal feudal structure would have long-lasting effects, it seems. The consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, would lead in the modern day, to “noble” power brokers exploiting primordial identities to further their own discourses of nationalism[51]. Indeed, it is on this issue of the manipulation of primordial identities by contemporary Tuareg elites, that the modernists are correct in highlighting how modern concepts have been “primordialised” by influential members of the Tuareg militant movement. Attempts to re-envision symbols of rebellion against France and later against African nation-states as “primordial symbols” or sell jewellery items pertaining to colonial-era rebel leaders as “cultural artifacts” seem to prove that contemporary Tuareg nationalism is, at heart, a modernist construction.

Where the arguments of those like Dörrie falter however, is on the specifics of pre-colonial Tuareg history and in the assumption that there is an inherent link, indeed, synonymy between “nomadism”, “statelessness” and “the absence of a nation”. Indeed, while it may be true that primordial notions of “the state” in the Westphalian context did not exist in Tuareg society, this is not to say that there was not some kind of loosely-translatable cultural equivalent. What Claudot-Hawad shows us, in her discussion of pre-colonial social constructs, is that primordial Tuareg conceived of the “Kel Tamashaq” as “being all under the same tent” – unified, albeit in a loose sense. The greater confederacy of Tuareg was tied with “the country” she argues, because one first had to occupy a certain patch of ground to build the tent.

Indeed, the problem with the modernist understanding of Tuareg nationalism, perhaps lies in the making of assumptions. As Büssow says, “identities come into play when the ‘nomadic’ or ‘post-nomadic’ actors under investigation are labelled by outsiders or present themselves and their cause to the outside. We need to keep in mind that when we define the subjects of our investigation, we often use terms that carry strong connotations concerning a certain way of life… in general, we expect identities of nomads to be multiple, situational and re-negotiated on a daily basis”[52].

It is one thing to actually live a nomadic, stateless lifestyle, Büssow argues, and it is another to be labelled as living one. Using the French colonial rule of Syria as an example of this caveat, he argues that “administrations in Syria imposed on the Bedouin population categories such as ‘nomads’, ‘semi-sedentaries’ and ‘tribes’ that had far-reaching legal and political consequences. The Bedouin’s agency becomes clear when we see Bedouin themselves taking up these concepts in an attempt to make the most of their limited options”[53]. From this, we can acknowledge the necessity of being careful in our social categorizing, acknowledging that describing someone as a “nomad” carries with it the baggage of implication. The conclusion being then, that the modernist understanding of the Tuareg world as fractious and constantly in-flux seems to oversimplify the social reality of the pre-colonial Tuareg.

Perhaps then, in considering all of the above, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the social identity and the political identity of the Tuareg. As Kohl has previously shown in demonstrating how contemporary Tuareg (including the ishumar) continue to self-identify as a “nomad” (amawal), the origins of Tuareg social identity could accurately be called “primordial”.

This is different, however, from the Tuareg political identity (that is to say, the understanding of one’s self within the greater political milieu) which could be described as “modernist” insofar as the consolidation of the Tuareg as a “nation” has taken place largely as a result of the factors discussed by the modernists. Of course, this is not to say that there was no Tuareg political identity prior to the arrival of European colonialism. On the contrary, as Claudot-Hawad shows with her illustration of “the roof of the tent” and “the basin” concepts, primordial systems of power and authority were real amongst the Tuareg.

What makes the contemporary Tuareg political identity and the ideology of nationalism amongst the Tuareg a modernist construction however, is the key difference in how the pre-colonial and post-colonial peoples conceptualised the “nation”. While illustrations such as Claudot-Hawad’s “tent” metaphor show that there was a sense of a polity beyond that of the clan, tribe and even cluster of tribes, the “nation” of the primordial Tuareg imagining was more of a loose-knit confederacy of those sharing the same socio-linguistic attributes and living the same lifestyle – the notion of the Tuareg nation as “the roof of the tent” being a holistic abstract used in a philosophical or poetic sense rather than in the sense of a tangible reality.

This essay has sought to determine whether contemporary Tuareg nationalism represents a primordialist or modernist ideology. In arriving at the conclusion that Tuareg nationalism is a combination of the two (with the balance tipped in the favour of modernism), this essay has established that whilst notions of “nationhood” as a means of expressing belonging and identity were existent in pre-colonial Tuareg society, Tuareg nationalism is a recent phenomenon which has survived largely by the fictive “primordialising” of modernist constructions.

In discussing the ethnographic findings of Claudot-Hawad and Kohl, this paper has discussed how modern nationalist discourse derives some elements from genuine primordial identities such as the notion of Tuareg society-at-large as “the roof of the tent”.

In also acknowledging the arguments of the modernists – Dörrie and Klute – this paper has identified that the notion of the nation-state was relatively non-existent in traditional Tuareg society, and that ultimately, the evidence paints Tuareg nationalism as being an ideology more modernist than primordial.

In acknowledging this however, this is not to arrive at an emphatic conclusion – the caveats for a modernist approach are clear and many. Indeed, in many ways, the question ultimately breaks down to what “being a Tuareg” actually means. If belonging to the Tuareg ethnic group simply means the ability to speak Tamasheq and trace one’s ancestry to the overlapping border areas of Algeria, Libya, Niger and Mali, then perhaps the notion of the Tuareg nation is more loose than knit. The question is “what is targuité” and perhaps there is only one thing of which the anthropologist can be sure – that this question can only be answered by a Tuareg.


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[1] (Morgan 2013)

[2]  (Dörrie 2012: 54)

[3] (Dörrie 2012: 386)

[4]  (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 13)

[5] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 13)

[6] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 18)

[7] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 17)

[8] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 16)

[9] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 17)

[10]  (Bonte/Claudot-Hawad 1998: 6-7)

[11] (Claudot-Hawad 1990: 33)

[12] (Kohl 2010: 449-450)

[13] (Kohl 2010: 450)

[14] (Kohl 2010: 450)

[15] (Kohl 2010: 451)

[16]  (Kohl 2010: 452)

[17] (Kohl 2010: 453)

[18] (Kohl 2010: 454)

[19]  (Kohl 2010: 454)

[20]  (Deycard 2012: 54)

[21] Dörrie 2012: 400)

[22] (Dörrie 2012: 385)

[23]  (Dörrie 2012: 395)

[24] (Dörrie 2012: 386)

[25] (Dörrie 2012: 406)

[26] (Dörrie 2012: 419)

[27] (Dörrie 2012: 430)

[28] (Klute 2011)

[29]  (Klute 2011)

[30] (Klute 2011)

[31] (Klute 2011)

[32] (Keenan 2004: 4)

[33] (Keenan 2004: 4)

[34] (Dörrie 2012: 431)

[35] (Dörrie 2012: 431)

[36] (Dörrie 2012: 528)

[37] (Dörrie 2012: 385)

[38] (Klute 2011)

[39] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 11-13)

[40] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 23)

[41]  (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 24)

[42] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 24-25)

[43] (Claudot-Hawad 1998: 23)

[44] (Dörrie 2012: 52)

[45] (Deycard 2012: 58)

[46] (Keenan 2004: 116)

[47]  (Keenan 2004: 116)

[48] (Deycard 2012: 51)

[49] (Deycard 2012: 48)

[50] (Bonte/Claudot-Hawad 1998: 10)

[51] (Dörrie 2012: 501)

[52] (Büssow 2011: 8)

[53] (Büssow 2011: 8-9)


About the Author(s)

Chris Elliott is currently undertaking a Master of Anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra. Prior to this, he completed a Bachelor of Arts in Security Studies, Arabic and French at the ANU. His research focusses on nomadic peoples, ethno-nationalism, the anthropology of conflict and trans-national arms smuggling.

In addition to this, he has served for five years in the Australian Defence Force, first as an infantry soldier and currently as an RFSU patrolman (reconnaissance and surveillance) with the Far North Queensland Regiment. His experience serving with indigenous soldiers in the latter role has fuelled further research into hunter-gatherer societies and aboriginal Australia.