hen listening to the sung poetry of the Tuareg, one is listening to “Tamasheq”, a form of the spoken language, which has its roots in the old Libyan or Libico-Berber language, already widely spoken in the region since the 5th century BC.
In reciting the epic stories of war and of love alongside the female Imzad musicians, the Tuareg present a chivalrous image of the Sahara. Despite the invasions of Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines, the Libico-Berber language seems not to have been affected by the foreign influences. It is similar to the Kabyle, Chaoui and Mozabite languages, which make up the “Tamazight” family of languages. The dialects of Tamasheq vary significantly from one region to another. The Tuareg language (Targui) originates from Amazigh, and belongs to the Chamito-Semitic group of languages. The written form is known as “Tifinagh”, and consists of 24 symbols in the form of lines, dots, circles and shapes derived from them. A large number of sounds, phonemes, are associated with these characters, and only three vowels: “a”, “i” and “ou”. This written form, derived from the Punic (Carthaginian) language, is written from left to right or from right to left, and from top to bottom or from bottom to top. Tifinagh inscriptions have been discovered carved or painted on rocks, stone bracelets worn by the men, and marked on the skin of the “Imzad” crafted by the ladies. But it is the oral literary tradition, which reveals most fully the tremendous richness of Tuareg culture.
This oral poetry is evidence of the sensitive soul of the Tuareg, which reflects the beauty of the dunes, the magical and mystic silence of the desert nights. Roaming by foot or in a vehicle along the tracks accompanied by a guide in indigo-blue robes, one cannot help but be struck by the huge and infinite spaciousness of the desert, and the feeling of utter solitude. According to the Tuareg tradition this sense of vastness is reflected, indeed there are no boundaries when it comes to the matter of the mind and soul.
Suffering, joy and hope are all present. Every event is recorded in rhyme and song. Often poets meet up at literary debates and competitions to display their talent in oratorical jousts. Poems and jests are all recited and sung in the accompaniment of the violin known as the “imzad”.