The Tuareg evoke images of a long forgotten and romantic age. Women are allowed to have multiple sexual partners outside of marriage, keep all their property on divorce and are so revered by their sons-in-law that the young men wouldn’t dare eat in the same room.
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 Tuareg have been able to ride to a young woman’s tent, and sneak into the side entrance – while his well-trained camel stands quietly and waits.There, they will spend the night together – while the family, who all live in the tent, politely pretend not to notice. Should the woman choose to welcome a different man into her tent the next day, so be it.
Many marriages end in divorce among the Tuareg. And when it happens, it is the wife who keeps both the animals and the tent. And it is she who normally decides that she’s had enough.It is unlikely there will be any quibbling over who gets what. Pre-nuptial agreements are the norm.
In practice, this often means a man is forced to return home to his mother, possibly with just his camel and nothing else. His wife, meanwhile, will keep possession of everything she brought to the marriage and that includes the children. The mother’s camp, Butler explains, is the root of the community, the home everyone returns to – and this arrangement ensures it stays that way.
And there is no shame in divorce. Families will often throw their daughters a divorce party, to let other men know they are available once more.