Jewellery-making has been an important tradition of the Tuareg nomads for centuries. In 1993, a group of young people in Terhazer, a village near Agadez, the largest city of northern Niger, began crafting leather products and silver jewellery by hand. After travelling through France and selling their handicrafts from backpacks for several years, Illies Mouhmoud and his friends began The Union of Peasants (UPAP) in 1999 to help artisans and rural people.
Today, UPAP is an organization of 170 skilled Tuareg silver jewellers and leatherworkers. The Tuareg people inhabit the Saharan regions of North Africa, such as Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso. Dressed in blue robes, they sit beneath airy tents in the desert and create breathtaking pieces of art using a lost-wax method with the same simple tools and techniques of their ancestors. Sometimes, Tuareg people are called the “blue people” because their traditional coloured clothing stains their skin. Tuareg artisans use income from craft production to supplement their subsistence farming. This income has enabled villages to build and equip schools, pay for medicine, ensure safer births and build wells.
Illies Mouhmoud is a master silver artisan in crafting traditional Tuareg jewelry. Using a lost-wax method to cast the silver, Mouhmoud first creates a wax mold, forms clay around the mold and then pours molten silver into the hardened clay. Using hand tools, he etches traditional designs and adds ebony inlay or jewels to create the finished piece.
Traditionally, the etchings represented safe trade routes. Similar to a map, the open spaces represented a ‘no go’ zone while the etchings were the routes. Today, the traditional techniques are used for artistic purposes and every piece of Tuareg jewellery is believed to bring good luck.
Thankful for their customers, Mouhmoud said, “Your purchases have helped us stay in our homes, to stay where we live, where we were born and where our parents and grandparents were born.” Visit our website to browse our entire collection of beautiful Tuareg jewellery.