Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Empire of Carthage

Sahara Lives (May 13, 2009)

The southern part of the Arabic Peninsula such as Yemen, Muscat, and Hadramout had trade routes for the incense they produced since the third millennia BC using donkeys for transport.  These urban civilizations domesticated first the camel for its milk and hair (coat) for tent making and eventually its meat. Camels were then used as beast of burden within the urban regions; an implement in the form of horse shoe (bat) surrounded the boss and when attached in the front served for stabilizing loads on both sides.

As camels were discovered not to need to drink for over two weeks while crossing long distances under extremely hot climates then, various modifications were necessary to holding loads for desert travels. Eventually, in the second millennia techniques for designing saddles for war purposes as a mounting fighting beast were introduced; there were saddles located ahead, on, or behind the boss of the camel for specific fighting advantages; the main specifications related to matters of control of the beast, stability, and range of vision.

The Bedouin caste system was thus created by the urban merchant to domesticate camels.  Camel riders were later used to support caravans as fighting guards against raiders.  Raising camels thus became a lucrative trade that specific tribes of Bedouins had the monopoly. The Romans never introduced camels in their northern African colonies because camels did not exist then in that region.  Otherwise, the Empire of Carthage would have used camels instead of elephants for their greater benefits.

Camels were introduced in the Sahara after the second century BC.  Bedouins riding domesticated camels crossed the Red Sea from Arabia and reached Mauritania on the Atlantic by taking routes in the sub Saharan regions such as Sudan, Chad, Niger, and current Mali. Then various tribes ventured north to Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.

In the seventh century AC the Moslem Arabs conquered North Africa and one of their leader Tarek bin Ziad crossed the Gibraltar strait to invade Spain. By and by, Arabic tribes settled in North Africa; the tribe of Banu Hilal settled in Morocco. More trade routes from the north to the south of the Sahara were created.  Consequently, nomadic tribes from south and north of the Sahara communicated.

There are many nomadic tribes crossing the sub Sahara desert.  One of the most known tribes is what the French called “Touareg”.  The name Touareg is an Arabic name for “tawareq” meaning “outsiders”.  The French colonial power tried hard to weave myths around the Touareg mainly to distinguish them from the “Arabs” who resisted every foreign colonial invasion from Spain, France, and Italy.  Consequently, the Touareg had to be categorized as a “white race” and very different from their Arab counterparts and the inhabitants of Algeria were divided as Arabs (coastal urbane) and Kabila (tribes or people of the interior).

Sahara is the Arabic plural for “sahrat” given to uncultivated lands but that are still inhabited by seasonal nomadic tribes around oasis close to urban centers. The desert regions that are not inhabited at all are called “khali” or “khlat”; caravans occasionally cross these desert area for seasonal trading events.

There are lopsided romanticism in favor of the lifestyle of the nomadic tribes based on myths of freedom, liberty, and level of democracy in organizing their life; I bed to differ strongly.  I recall reading an article published in 1908 in Paris by the Lebanese journalist Jubran Tueni Senior mocking a new method of teaching freedom to Bedouins.  Tueni relates that representatives from a new political party formed in Damascus visited nomadic tribes in Huron with the purpose of explaining the freedoms guaranteed by the new Constitution.  Tueni ends his articles “Wouldn’t it be wiser for the urban representatives to learn the fundamentals of freedom, liberty, and democracy from the Bedouins?” That is the kinds of romanticism that has plagued and is still plaguing our understanding of the “high” moral quality of nomads.

There are many different tribes settling and crossing the Sahara and speaking different slangs.  Almost all the nomadic tribes in the Sahara are Moslems with variations in the strictness of application of the “Sharia” or laws.  There are definite hierarchical structures within the tribes; in general, tribes specialized in raising camels are at the highest level. The Touareg tribes have a matriarchal society, the same that the Arab Peninsula tribes had before Islam; in the sense that women run the economical and daily life of the tribes and the men do the outside commerce and the raiding to bring in the spoil and loots.  The tents of the Touareg are made of leather while the Arab tents are made of camel and goat hair; the design of saddles is also different.

I recall a paragraph of one of the earliest books of George Orwell “The Cleric’s Daughter” describing the Gypsies with their stupid faces and their eyes shining with malice and mean purposes.  Many people might consider these sorts of descriptions as racist.  That authors should be judged as they change and develop and not on their early beginning is out of this subject matter. My contention is that this description could be applicable of any people who have been displaced from their familiar environment; it is true to nomads transplanted to urban environment for making a living or westerners happening to live among the nomads for making a living and not just tourists.  The factor of utter fear in new unfamiliar settings within a different society is the same no matter how advanced we think we are.  The nomads lead a harsh life and the exigencies for survival should eliminate romantic tendencies that they are saints and the ultimate in liberty to live at will.

The European nations, especially France and England, had far-fetched projects to conquer the Sahara. For example, they contemplated a TransSaharien railroad that would link the north to the south; they had projects to flood part of the Sahara by the Atlantic Ocean and form an artificial lake that might allow navigation to the Mediterranean Sea and circumventing the Gibraltar strait; they designed a string of hundreds of wells; and they wanted to divert the Nile River inland. There is a complex aquifer system deep in the Sahara large as 3 millions square kilometers.

Libya managed to construct a long and large water duct through the desert; this project is to be 3 thousands kilometers long and would extract 6 millions cubic meters per day from the underground aquifer by 2017).  Al-Khufrah, in Libya, is a town of dozens of artificial oasis.  Egypt has irrigated, since 1997, 600 thousand hectares from this underground aquifer from the oasis of Bahriya to the oasis of Kharga. Algeria mobilized 20,000 soldiers to plant 3 millions trees and restarted this project in 1998.  In 2007, Algeria has started the construction of solar energy; the Sahara is destined to produce enough solar energy to satisfy 25% of Europe demands in energy.

Currently, the Sahara is providing gas, oil, and uranium to the western countries including clandestine immigrants fleeing to better pastures.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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