3 VII 8.h-iiiTuareg: dwellings (Algeria, s, Mali, n, Niger)
Skin tents are used by most Tuareg groups, the exceptions to this being the Kel Geres and the Kel Air among
whom such tents are rare. In all other Tuareg groups, skin tents play a very important role. Their use is especially prominent among the Northern Tuareg and the nvo groups of Iwellemmc-den Tuareg where it is the most common tent type.
As is often the case, there is no true dividing line between skin tents and mat tents. Indeed, on closer inspection of the structures that are used to support the skin tent membrane it is found that there are eight distinct systems beginning with hoops placed at right angles to the longitudinal axis of the tent: this is typical of the Tuareg mat tent. Furthermore, it ends with a simple arrangement of two central oblique poles which carry a short crossbar - a technique identified with the Arab or Bedouin ridge tent. Both the mat hoop tent and the skin tent are used by the same people at different seasons. The mat tent is most suited to dry periods, the skin tent to rain. Sometimes they are combined in a hybrid version by the simple expedient ofaddingaskin on topofthematcoverofa hoop tent throughout the rainy season.
There is a wide variation in the system adopted for supporting the skin tent membrane and these fall into eight main categories or subtypes: tents of hooped construction; tents with semi-arches over horizontal crossbars; tents supported by crossbars connected with horizontal sticks; tents supported by nvo pairs of forked sticks with crossbars and a system of cords in the longitudinal direction of the tent; tents with longitudinal crossbars with horizontal sticks; tents with pairs of forked poles carrying horizontal crossbars; tents with a central T-shaped pole; and tents with two oblique poles carrying a short crossbar. One of the challenges this complexity raises is to disentangle the sources of these features and to place them in some kind of evolution.
The use of offzu (Panicům turcjidum) mats for the walls of skin tents may be regarded as a relic from tents covered exclusively with straw mats. It is likely that skin tents developed originally from hoop tents covered with grass mats which had a dome-shaped top which was covered with a membrane of skin during the rains. It would appear that skin tents with upright forked poles which carry horizontal crossbars developed from a hooped barrel-vaulted system of supports. The T-shaped pole support came later and resulted from the westward expansion of the Arab ridge tent of black goat hair following contact with Arab pastoralists. This type is found within a large semicircular belt enclosing Tuareg country from the
Fezzan via the northern Sahara and the Atlas mountains through Mauritania to 1 imbuktu
Ihe Tuareg skin tent, in its many guises, displays features belonging to both types, it contains survivals from the ancient mat tent, modified in more recent times by the presence of features normally identified with the ridge or black tent from the Arabian peninsula In addition, the Tuareg have introduced their own innovations
The skins for the tent membrane are obtained from domestic animals or game animals The Northern Tuareg use the skm of goats, sheep, zebu calves, antelope and gazelle, the skin of Barbary sheep being considered the best though goatskin is the most common. Skins are depilated and tanned, then treated with butter and soaked to prepare them for being rubbed and coloured with red ochre to make them impervious to water The number of skins required is 35 to 40 for a normal-sized Hoggar tent of 4 m X3 5 m (13 ft x 11 5 ft), andean be as many as 60-80 for a very large tent 1 he skin is manufactured in the camp by pastoral women and their female slaves and is richly decorated The skin tent plays a leading part in the wedding ceremonv of the Northern Tuareg and is called ehan, 'a tent Several pieces of skm are sewn together with leather thread using a small awl I he outer edge is not touched and has an irregular shape with protruding patches of leg and neck skin which are used for attaching the cords which anchor the tent to the ground
Mat walls made of stems of afezu tied together with leather strips are drawn around the lower part of the skin tent 1 he tent IS divided into two halves The mat walls are rolled up and placed at the narrow ends during hot weather to allow air to circulate
A mat tent is always hooped, whereas only some skin tents are hooped In the Hoggar skin tent, the skin membrane is supported on tv\elvc poles-three across the front, three icross the back and three at either end - set in holes 40-50 cm (16-20 in) deep In some Tuareg tents the poles are elaborately carved by blacksmiths
Most Tuareg who live in skm tents use an almost identical system of poles to which they fasten the tent membrane The membrane is never fastened to the actual support structure
Ihe hooped skin tent, with one or more arches placed at right angles to the longitudinal direction is found widely throughout Tuareg country In one variation, the membrane may be supported by three pairs of forked sticks with horizontal crossbars placed parallel to one another and at right angles to the longitudinal direction The middle crossbar is higher than the two outer ones over these, two semi-arches of slender rods tied at their ends and resting on the central crossbar, support the tent skin
A further subtype has straight horizontal sticks instead of the semi-arched connecting members Occasionally, the longitudinal horizontal sticks are replaced by cords made from goat hair or leather which run down to the ground direcdy past the transverse pairs of forked poles and crossbar supports Among the Iwellemmeden Kel Ataram, the skin tent is supported on three pairs of forked poles which carr> crossbars at rightangles to the longitudinal direction, spaced at about i 5 m (5 ft) intervals and being i 2-1 4 m (4-4 6 ft) high Ihe three pairs of
uprights and crossbars are connected with a leather cord which adds to the solidity and flexibility of the structure
The most abbreviated system employs a central pole which carries a short horizontal crossbar, forming a T-shape The pole IS never buried in the ground butinstead is held upright by the weight of the suspended tent membrane In certain tents the T-shaped pole is restrained by cords attached to the short crossbar This is placed at right angles to the longitudinal direction Sometimes the short crossbar has holes for connecting It to the transverse horizontal crossframes at the sides by means of cords The short crossbar on top of the central pole is more or less curved and comparatively thin except in the middle where a hollow is carved to take the pole Most crossbars, and all those used by the Southern Tuareg groups, have holes for cord attachments T-shaped poles seem to be advantageous in heavy showers of rain as the water runs ofFquickly Emergency types of crossbar made from two sticks to which three sticks are tied, one of which rests on the tip of the central pole, are also used as replacements for the normal short crosspole which is made bv blacksmiths This is encountered among the Ahaggar Tuareg of Tamesna and the Iregenaten tribe A final subt\pe is found among the Kel Inteser Tuareg It has two central oblique poles which carry a slightly curved crossbar about 45 cm (18 m) long and 7 cm (2 7 in) wide I he two poles do not cross one another and the crossbar is placed at right angles to the longitudinal direction
Ihe T-shaped central pole support was not an original feature of the traditional Tuareg skin tent and was introduced following contact with the Arabs who use black ridge tents of goat hair I his is supported by differences of orientation in the two tent types In the hooped Tuareg mat tent the broad entrance side faces the west and this differs from the practice in skin tents supported by a T-shaped central pole which face towards the south
1 IX 8 h Hoop tent: Tuareg (Algeria Niger)
Ihe hoop tent has a membrane with internal arch supports across or in the longitudinal direction restrained at the perimeter by stays The arch support is usual in mat covered tents and some black tents It is a very effective system because It unites the vertical and horizontal bearing functions in a continuous, hence, structurally efficient arch which is restrained laterally by the membrane It has one disadvantage which is its hoop shape which is awkward to transport This is overcome by assembling it from two curved rods The Tuareg use the hoop tent, as do the Afar, and nomads between the Red Sea and the Nile, and the southern Baluchi and Duranni of Afghanistan
Among the Tuareg of the central Sahara, mat covered tents are found only among southern luareg groups but its use was
formerly more widespread Mat coveied hoop tents are used by the majority of Avr Tuareg Kel Geres Kel Ayr, and Kel Adrar(m the southernmost parts) Ihe luareg are a Berber people, who, like the Inuit possess a wide diversity of tent types - 29 different types have been recorded I heir tents as is so often the wa> were adapted from mat and skin huts into portable tents, but retained the frame which was too heavy for a truly portable dwelling
In the 1950s lohannes Nicholaisen documented four kinds of mat covered hoop-frame tent Ihese consisted of wooden arches, of which there weie sometimes three and at other times, as is the case with the larger and more elaborate tents belonging to the camps of chiefs, there were four or five A three-hooped tent of the normal size measured about 3x4m (10 X 13 ft) and was i 8-1 9 m (5 g-6 2 ft) high with a ground plan that was almost rectangular In the larger examples this could grow to 6 X 3 5 m (20 X II 5 ft) and be about 2 m (6 5 ft) high at the middle arch Among the Iforas tribes of southern Ayr It was common for onlv two hoops to be used
Before the tent is erected, the large wooden bed which is used everywhere, is placed on the cleared ground to facilitate measuring following this, two large pronged posts, which serve to carrv women's riding cushions and various large skin bags are placed behind the bed and fixed into holes dug b\ means of an iron implement Holes are then dug to receive the curved tent arch-pieces
Each arch consists of two curved pieces of wood, lashed together when the tent is erected These three (or more) arches are placed in the middle ofthe tent at right angles to its longitudinal direction Ihe two curved pieces are unequal, the hont arch-piece being verv long, while the other curved piece at the backisshortei Both are buried in the ground The middle hoop IS higher than the others Ihe arches aie manufactured fioni the very long horizontal roots ofthe afagag acacia (Acacia raddi ana) bv the Ayr women who place them over an open fire for a while, and bend them to the desired curve which is secured by cords
Parallel to the arches, two pairs of horizontal crossbars (isijar) are fixed to vertical sticks (tiijetteuJin), preferably from the tuna tree, which are buried in the ground at the narrow ends of the tent I he crossbars are made by blacksmiths and are variously ornamented A small discus-hke thickening is carved at the middle of each crossbar Next, a long cord is wound around the middle arch to form loops for the insertion of the slender rods forming semi-arches in the longitudinal direction I he thick ends of these rods are fastened to the crossbars at the ends ofthe tent but are not yet lashed together at their upper slender tips Ihe slender ends ofthe pieces making up the longitudinal semi-arches are lashed together in the centre 1 he tent frame is now finished and is ready to be covered with mats The interior cover consists of two rectangular mats made from plant stems and known as iwerweren
Tent mats are of two different types, the more common one being made from dum-palm leaves plaited into long narrow bands which are sewn together with strips ofthe same material by means of a large needle and collectively known as asala The innermost mats which cover the upper part ofthe tent among
the Ayr Tuareg and the Kel Geres, among whom dum-palm mats always form the main covering, are made from pieces of straw or similar material which are not plaited but are attached horizontally to one another by means of thread.
The dum-palm mats of oval shape (isfai) and the long narrow dum-palm mats (asalemamas) are placed over the twerweren mats and are tied to the dome-shaped structure with cords. The narrow dum palm mat (Ereli) surrounding the lower part of the tent is fixed to the structure. In hot weather this mat is omitted to permit cross-currents of air to pass through the dwelling. The tent is closed when it is cold, or during storms. The mat covered hoop tent is erected by one or two Turaeg women.
The Tuareg mat tents constitute a very ancient and traditional type of dwelling, which was originally covered with mats of grass stems. The mat covered hoop tent is a true pastoral dwelling type and is used by nomads who move during the rainy season to find the best annual pasture for their domestic animals. At this time they move camp about once a week. A normal tent can be transported by a single donkey without difficulty.