Fenced dwellings for livestock in the streets
Strolling around in the backstreets of Tmbuktu, I saw at several places that inhabitants kept their livestock, mainly goats in front of their houses.
They just took a small part of the street and fencec and sheltered it for the goats. And doesn't look like a problem for anybody that they do so.
Baking bread in the streets
Strolling in the alleyways of Timbuktu we saw several clay ovens in the street (picture 1 & 2). The ovens are made of mudbricks and clay (picture 3). Baba our guide explained us that here the women bake the local bread in the morning.
We didn't see any oven in use, but some looked like they were used recently. Baba showed us how they put the dough in and the the freshly baked bread out (picture 4 & 5). In Timbuktu you see the flat local bread made in those clay ovens. In most other places in Mali you see mostly the french baquettes.
Masters of the desert
The Tuareg nomads are well known as the 'masters of the desert'. For centuries they protected -or raided- the camel caravans crossing the Sahara desert. Sometimes they also took control of Timbuktu in case of political absence of overlords.
The Tuareg nomads call themselves 'Kel Tamasheq', meaning 'those who speak the Tamasheq language'. The name 'Tuareg' is used by outsiders. Traditionally the Tuareg raised cattle like camels and goats and provided security to the huge trading caravans crossing the desert. Traditionally the Tuareg society knew the warriors and artisans as most known groups, but they had also scholars and Bella slaves.
Since the the long distance trade through the Sahara almost stopped, since the severe droughts and the official abolition of slavery, the lives of the Tuareg changed a lot.
In January 2009 I visited the Festival au Desert north of Timbuktu, originally a Tuareg festival where several clans from the region meet each other. A lot of Tuareg gathered here with their camels. Here I still could see and feel the spirit of the proud 'the masters of the desert', sitting on their camels with colourful saddles, bags and ornaments.
Tagelmust: veiled Tuareg men
Tuareg men veil traditionally their face (picture 1, 2 & 3). Their veil is called tagelmust. It is a good protection against the harsh desert sands, but it is also meant to give protection against evil spirits. Most of the Tuareg men wear indigo robes and turbans. A Tuareg man from Timia in Niger told me once because the indigo keeps the scorpions and snakes away when you spend the night in the desert. The indigo of their robes and turbans colours their skin blue. So the Tuareg people are called often the blue people.
Unlike some Muslim communities the Tuareg women are not veiled. (picture 4). I am used to the fact that the Tuareg men are veiled after my visits to the south of Libya and Algeria. Back home I found out that people were surprised at the moment I showed the pictures. That's why I decided to make this local custom tip.
We saw that in the old city of Timbuktu Bella people are allowed to build their dwellings or huts at empty spots between the houses. In the street of the explorer houses of Gordon Laing and René Caillé I saw at two places their poor huts.
Originally Bella people are the former slaves of the Tuareg. The Tuareg had a feudal culture characterized by the social organization of class: the nobility (landowners and warriors), the upper class (clergy and artisans) and the lower class (laborers, being the black Bella slaves). The Bella slaves lived near their owners as domestic servants and herders. They functioned as part of the family.
After the formal abolition of slavery by the government of Mali in the 1960s the Bella people are meant to be free people. The Malian government denies that slavery still exists, but some sources like the Bamako-based human rights organisation Temedt (meaning solidarity in the Tamasheq language) say that slavery still exists, meaning that thousands of people still live in slavery-like conditions in nowadays Mali. But to talk about slavery seems to be taboo.
In reality the life is harsh in the Sahara's hinterland. Bella people still help with rearing the animals and general work. Some argue that with few jobs and opportunities, it may be easier for some Bella to live within what is regarded as the protection of a Tuareg family. The question is are the Bella people free to leave their masters if they wish ? Do they get a small salary ? Or do they still live in slavery ?
When you are invited to drink tea with Tuareg friends, take your time. The tea is made in a small teapot. After the water is cooked the tea is added. After the tea cooks again a lot of sugar is added. The tea is poured in the small glasses from high. First the tea is poured back in the teapot several times before it is ready to drink.
The first tea, called the tea of death (thé du mort) is very strong. The bitterness brings almost tears in your eyes. Drinking tea is like ceremony. You drink three cups of tea. The second tea is made in the same teapot with the same tea, but new water. This second tea, the tea of life (thé de la vie) tastes a lot sweeter. For the third and last one the same process: same tea in the same teapot, with new water. This last tea is really lovely and sweet. It is the tea of love ( thé de l'amour).
At the festival in Essakane I drunk the three glasses of tea several times with Mohamed Alher. He told me he is an artisan, who repairs old manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu. When I was back home it was a big surprise that I found two huge full colour pictures of him in the book 'The hidden treasures of Timbuktu', which I bought one month before I came to Timbuktu.
- Arts and Culture
Using donkeys as a carrier of goods and people
People heavily use donkeys as a means of transport. It probably is cheaper than a motorbike and can carry more goods.