A mothers tent.

The Tuareg are the indigenous people of the Sahara desert. There are thought to be more than a million Tuareg people, separated into different family groups. They have travelled across the Sahara for more than 1,000 years, the camels leading the way to fresh pastures. Much of the tribe, said to descend from one queen called Tin Hinan who lived in the fourth century, has now converted to Islam.

 

The Tuareg homeland today is in the Central Sahara, where they have lived for several thousand years since their ancestors began migrating from the northern Sahara following colonization of coastal North Africa by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs.

 

They are among the world's most impoverished and disrespected people, and yet they are widely admired for their historic position as sovereigns of the trans-Saharan trade routes in pre-colonial times, and for their bravery in warfare. They are known as the "Blue Men," for their indigo-dyed garments which leave dark blue pigment on their skins, and as the "Knights of the Sahara" for their generosity, desert hospitality and respect for women.

 

The women of the Tuareg are respected members of society, who own the homes and the animals. What is even more surprising is that even though the tribe has embraced Islam they have firmly held onto some of the customs that would not be acceptable to the wider Muslim world. It is the men, and not the women, who cover their faces, for example. The explanation was simple: The women are beautiful. We would like to see their faces.

 

Every night, the families come together at the tents. The men are traditionally part of the women's group - not the other way round.It means the mother's tent is the heart of the community - although they do not eat together, and do much separately. This proud tribe, which has survived for more than 1,000 years, will hold fast to the traditions which make them so very different from all others.

Tuareg also known as Tamasheq ,Tamajaq, or Tamahaq, is a Berber language, or a family of very closely related languages and dialects, spoken by the Tuareg Berbers, in large parts of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso, with a few speakers, the Kinnin, in Chad.

Orphans of the Sahara is a three-part documentary series about the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert. It follows Tuaregs who fought for Muammar Gaddafi in Libya as they return home to crushing poverty in Mali and Niger, then as they launch a rebellion for an independent country in the Sahara, and as their dreams are crushed, first by al-Qaeda, then by French military intervention.

ORPHANS OF SAHARA

 

The total population of Mali is 15.9 (July 2013 est.) and its capital is Bamako, a city of 1.6 million. The Sahara and the Sahel-desert cover practically the entire Malian territory, making it a very arid country that constantly suffers from drought.

 

In 1992 Alpha Oumar Konaré won the country's first multiparty elections. The political and social situation in Mali remained fairly stable until March 2012, when a military coup ousted President Touré. Fighting in the north of the country forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes; they fled south or sought refuge in neighbouring countries. After months of heavy fighting, the situation improved by the end of the year, but militants continued to threaten parts of the country. In the summer of 2013, presidential elections were held and UN peacekeeping troops were in place to ensure stability.

 

Although poverty figures have improved noticeably, many challenges remain

In spite of some improvement in recent decades, Mali continues to be one of the poorest countries in Africa. According to the United Nations Development Programme, 51 per cent of its population lives on less than one US dollar per day. Poverty is particularly persistent in certain rural areas of the country. The rural inhabitants of the Sahel-Saharan region face unimaginably precarious living conditions. Many people depend on subsistence farming and are therefore vulnerable to natural disasters. If crops are destroyed, they face starvation. In recent years, the country has faced severe food shortages that have led to calls for support from the international community.

As investment has been focused on providing food for the population and establishing political stability, the government has struggled to offer adequate health care and education for its people. Access to education remains nothing but wishful thinking for hundreds of thousands of Malians. Although an increasing number of children start school, many drop out by the time they reach secondary level. As a result, only 28 per cent of the population know how to read and write. The literacy rates are higher in urban areas than in rural areas, and higher for men than for women.

TUAREG AREA. This image was created by Mark Dingemanse.