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Total population
5.2 million [1]
Regions with significant populations

 Niger: 1,720,000 (1998)
 Mali: 1,440,000 (1991)
 Algeria: 1,025,000 (1987)
 Burkina Faso: 600,000 (1991)

 Libya: 557,000 (1993)
The Tuareg language(s) (Tamasheq, Tamajeq, Tamahaq)
Related ethnic groups

The Tuareg (also Twareg or Touareg, Berber: Imuhagh, besides regional ethnyms) are a Berber nomadic pastoralist people. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa.[2][3]

They call themselves variously Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq; ⴾⴻⵍ ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵌⴰⵆ ("Speakers of Tamasheq"), Imuhagh, Imazaghan or Imashaghen ("the Free people"), or Kel Tagelmust, i.e., "People of the Veil".[4] The name Tuareg was applied to them by early explorers and historians (since Leo Africanus).[citation needed]

The origin and meaning of the name Twareg has long been debated with various etymologies advanced, although it would appear that Twārəg is derived from the "broken plural" of Tārgi, a name whose former meaning was "inhabitant of Targa" (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan. Targa in Berber means "(drainage) channel", see Alojali et al. 2003: 656, s.v. "Targa").

The Tuareg call themselves by the following names:

  • Amajagh (var. Amashegh, Amahagh, Amazigh), a Tuareg man.
  • Tamajaq (var. Tamasheq, Tamahaq, Tamazight), a Tuareg woman, or the Tuareg language.
  • Imajaghan (var. Imashaghan, Imuhagh, Imazighan), Tuareg men, people.
  • Timajaghen, Tuareg women.
  • Kel Tamajaq, the Tuareg people.
  • Tifinagh, the Tuareg alphabet.

These terms can also refer to Berbers in general.[citation needed]

The Tuareg today are found mostly in North Africa and West Africa. Some historians claim they progressively moved south over the last 2000 years.[5] They were once nomads throughout the Sahara. They have a little-used but ancient script known as the Tifinagh.[5]

Traditional social stratification

Traditionally, Tuareg society is hierarchical, with nobility and vassals. Each Tuareg clan (tawshet) is made up of several family groups, led by their collective chiefs, the amghar. A series of tribes tawsheten may bond together under an Amenokal, forming a Kel clan confederation. Tuareg self identification is related only to their specific Kel, which means "those of". E.g. Kel Dinnig (those of the east), Kel Ataram (those of the west).


The work of pastoralism was specialized according to social class. Tels are ruled by the imúšaɣ (Imajaghan, The Proud and Free) nobility, warrior-aristocrats who organized group defense, livestock raids, and the long-distance caravan trade. Below them were a number of specialised métier castes. The ímɣad (Imghad, singular Amghid), the second rank of Tuareg society, were free vassal-herdsmen and warriors, who pastured and tended most of the confederation's livestock. Formerly enslaved vassals of specific Imajaghan, they are said by tradition to be descended from nobility in the distant past, and thus maintain a degree of social distance from lower orders. Traditionally, some merchant castes had a higher status than all but the nobility among their more settled compatriots to the south. With time, the difference between the two castes has eroded in some places, following the economic fortunes of the two groups.

Imajaghan have traditionally disdained certain types of labor and prided themselves in their warrior skills. The existence of lower servile and semi-servile classes has allowed for the development of highly ritualised poetic, sport, and courtship traditions among the Imajaghan. Following colonial subjection, independence, and the famines of the 1970s and 1980s, noble classes have more and more been forced to abandon their caste differences. They have taken on labor and lifestyles they might traditionally have rejected.


  1. "Africa | Q&A: Tuareg unrest". BBC News. 2007-09-07. Retrieved 2010-06-16.
  2. "Q&A: Tuareg unrest". BBC. 2007-09-07. Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  3. "Who are the Tuareg?". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
  4. See Rodd 1926.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "People of Africa: Tuareg". African Holocaust Society. Retrieved 2007-01-04.


  • Ghoubeid Alojaly, Karl Prasse, Ghabdouane Mohamed, Dictionnaire touareg-français, Copenhague, Museum Tusculanum, 2003 (2 vols., 1031 p.) - ISBN 87-7289-844-5
  • Francis James Rennell Rodd, People of the veil. Being an account of the habits, organisation and history of the wandering Tuareg tribes which inhabit the mountains of Air or Asben in the Central Sahara, London, MacMillan & Co., 1926 (repr. Oosterhout, N.B., Anthropological Publications, 1966)
  • Heath Jeffrey 2005: A Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali). New York: Mouton de Gruyer. Mouton Grammar Library, 35. ISBN 3-11-018484-2
  • Rando et al. (1998) "Mitochondrial DNA analysis of northwest African populations reveals genetic exchanges with European, near-eastern, and sub-Saharan populations". Annals of Human Genetics 62(6): 531-50; Watson et al. (1996) mtDNA sequence diversity in Africa. American Journal of Human Genetics 59(2): 437–44; Salas et al. (2002) "The Making of the African mtDNA Landscape". American Journal of Human Genetics 71: 1082-1111. These are good sources for information on the genetic heritage of the Tuareg and their relatedness to other populations.