In the pages of an atlas, the Sahara is a place of mystery and extremes. Nearly as large as Canada, the Sahara is vast, but it is not empty. Twelve nations and their peoples claim land within its borders. Centuries before the map of Africa was carved with today’s political boundaries, the Tuareg people ran trade routes and shepherded their livestock throughout the central and western portions of the Sahara.
The lifestyle of the nomadic Tuareg has shaped their customs, including the chief among them, their renowned skill in metal arts – born out of their transient existences. Inadan (metalsmiths) are responsible for creating beautiful jewellery pieces worn by Tuareg men and women. They are symbols of protection and mark rites of passage, in addition to being conveniently small and high-value assets for traders whose lives consist of a long series of journeys on camelback.
Just as the desert is in constant flux – dunes erode and reform, and boundaries creep into newly dry territory – the traditions and customs of the Tuareg have undergone significant change over many centuries. Islam now dominates, but ancient animist beliefs are still commonly observed. Over time, traders have become farmers and nobles become impoverished, while servant castes have gained greater standing.
Traditional jewellery forms such as amulet cases (concealing holy texts), heavy bracelets worn in pairs, veil weights and rattle rings reflect the importance of religion, and are used as dowries and wedding gifts. As North American and European interest in Tuareg silver jewellery has grown, however, many classical forms have been set aside in favour of new styles that are lighter, smaller and more appealing for everyday wear in an urban environment. Even the Paris fashion house Hermès has teamed up with a group of inadan to create high-fashion versions of Tuareg work.
Ten Thousand Villages is proud to offer a wide range of jewellery pieces crafted by Tuareg people living in Niger, namely, the artisans of the Union of Peasants for Self-Development (UPAP). These necklaces, earrings and bracelets are beautifully made and stylish. They showcase the Tuaregs’ skill for detailed engraving, chasing (stamping) and inlay. The engraving and chasing is very fine indeed, forming larger geometric patterns out of rows of small marks, triangles and crosshatches. Inlay is commonly made of ebony or niello, a blackened alloy of silver and copper.
The handcrafted silver jewellery of UPAP is a wonderful marriage of both classic Tuareg elements and modern styles. The most widely recognized motif in Tuareg jewellery, the so-called Agadez cross, is available as a necklace at Ten Thousand Villages stores throughout North America. The points of the cross are said to represent the points of the compass or the corners of the world. A young man receives his cross when he reaches adulthood and is ready to navigate life on his own.
The Tuareg inadan are now navigating a changing world, but one that extends beyond their Saharan home. By adapting their traditional silverwork to appeal to a foreign market, they are ensuring that their art lives on, even as some aspects of their culture drift, like grains of sand in the desert.
Ten Thousand Villages considers it a privilege to share this important part of Tuareg culture in North America through our partnership with UPAP.
|Desert Morning Tuareg Earrings||Tuareg Cuff||Circle of Love Necklace|
Seligman, Thomas K. “Going Global: Tuareg Jewelry in the International Marketplace.” African Arts 39.2 (2006): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 17-March-2014.
Mickelsen, Nancy R. “Tuareg Jewelry.” African Arts 9.2 (1976): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 17-March-2014.
“Tuareg people.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8-March-2014. Web. 17 2004.