The desert peoples

Despite the desert being so inhospitable, there are ethnic groups living in these places; they are groups of people that have to keep moving in caravans in search of places with water and food, defying the greatest risks: sandstorms, silted up wells and loss of bearings due to the lack of points of references. Some of these peoples are the Berbers of North Africa, that include the Kabilis and the Tuaregs, the Bedouins of the Arabic deserts, the Bejas in Namibia, the Sans in the Kalahari desert and the Australian Aborigines.
The Tuaregs
The epitome of life in the desert are the Tuaregs, who for centuries have spent their lives riding their dromedaries along the Saharan tracks. Also called the “blue men” for the typical veils they wear to protect themselves from the sand and the heat, these people live in camps of tents built of dozens of goatskins painted in red ochre ad skilfully sown together by their women to guard all the items and tools of everyday life.
The Tuaregs mainly live on products derived from their animals. Their foods are curdled milk, fermented butter, dates and cereals (millet in particular) from which they make flour. They rarely eat meat, but when they have guests they just have to honour them so they kill a goat according to Muslim traditions. Water is carried in scooped-out and sun-dried pumpkins, whose decorated surfaces hint at the groups who produced them.
Originally, the Tuaregs were a nomadic people, but later on many conflicts and French colonisation pushed many of them to lead a sedentary life and the few nomadic ones that have been left live on the products of their animals and other foodstuffs they obtain through trade and breed horses and dromedaries. They produce handicrafts, for instance engraved silverware, they tan hides, make mats and produce rugs and textiles out of dromedary wool. Farming as well as high-level handicrafts are produced by lower castes, who live sedentarily in the oases. Today, some Tuaregs have found employment in the service sector, especially tourism: since they know the desert so well, they work as tour guides.
The Bejas
If the Tuaregs can be regarded as the “undisputed masters of the Sahara”, the Bejas have always inhabited the large expanses of the Nubian desert. Most Bejas (approximately 1.5 million overall) live in the north-east of Sudan. They are called “Fuzzy-Wuzzies” because of their frizzy hair. For over 4,000 years, the Bejas have been running through this hot country and the bleak hills of the Red Sea in search of pastures for their camels, cattle, sheep and goats. They were feared for the quick raids they made into the rich towns along the Nile. After sacking the town, they hid in the desert of which they knew every nook and cranny and the wells where they could find water, even the most secluded ones. They are valiant and strong people, so much so that they did not only resist the pressures of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, but in the 19th century they even won a battle against the British army, which were much better equipped and trained. Their only weapons have always been: silver-inlaid swords, bent knives, elephant-skin round shields and a very old weapon, the “throw stick”, which had already been used by the Egyptians for hunting at the time of the Pharaohs.

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