Women own homes and have multiple sexual partners in this historic Saharan tribe.
As a new exhibition at the Royal Geographic Society puts the spotlight on the Tuareg culture, the world's eyes are on Mali and Niger, as the tribe struggles to preserve the ancient traditions of a nomadic culture who gives sexual freedom to women as much as men.
The exhibition is part of the launch of the book Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq and a history of the Sahara, published in May 2015 by Unicorn Press.
With ethnografical elements collected by Edmond Bernus’ lifetime's work, photography by Jean-Marc Durou and Henrietta Butler, and paintings by Tuareg of Niger, the exhibit also features rarely seen historic documents, artefacts, and Tuareg musicians to shed a light on this unique Saharan tribe.
Butler, who has been fascinated by the Tuareg since she first followed them through the desert in 2001, found in the Tuareg a very distinctive culture with progressive values in terms of gender equality, where women are allowed the same liberties as men, such as having multiple sexual partners before marriage. “They turn a blind eye”, the photographer told the UK’s Daily Mail. “The young girls have the same great freedoms as the boys”.
Although the tribe adopted Islam as their religion, they have firmly held onto their own traditions, such as the custom for men, instead of women, covering their faces.
In recent years, the Tuareg, a tribe that has travelled across the Sahara for over 1,000 years, have aligned themselves with extremist Islamist groups, as they try to further their cause for independence. But Butler considers the hope lies in the pride of the tribe, which has always held on to its unique traditions.