Tuareg Wedding and Bianou Celebration
Descended from the ancient ethnie of Berbers in North Africa, the Tuareg nomads make their home in the Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world.
A thousand years ago, when the Arabs invaded the Tuareg’s fertile land in North Africa, some of them trekked southward onto the desert to escape. They entered what is today Mali and Niger. To provide transport, they took up camel breeding, producing magnificent beasts perfectly adapted to great trans-Sahara caravans.
Traditional Tuareg weddings begin with the announcement of marriage by a blacksmith, who is believed to possess special powers of sorcery and play and important ritual role in marriage ceremonies. Throughout a Tuareg wedding the bride remains in seclusion in a special nuptial hut where, the couple will later consummate their marriage.
When the groom arrives at the bride’s camp with his family and friends, the festive part of the celebration begins. The ceremony affords a time for Tuareg men to show off the magnificence of their camels, and for women to display their exquisitely crafted silver jewellery and fine indigo attire.
Traditionally the Tuareg wear silver jewellery, “the pure metal blessed by the prophet” in preference to gold or “the metal of the devil” which is feared and believed to be bad. Jewellery designs reflect the austerity of the desert and the highly valued galaxy of stars, the Southern Cross, which guides the Tuareg Nomads as they trek the desert in the coolness of the night.
Bianou, one of the most important festivals in Muslim Africa, is celebrated during May in the ancient Tuareg town of Agadez, situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger. It commemorates the Prophet Mohammed’s historic flight from Mecca (where his teachings were not accepted) to Medina, which became the first Muslim community. This event, known as Hejira, occurred in 622 AD and marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar Eight years later, the prophet returned to Mecca and established this city as the center of Islamic faith.
The main event of the two-day festival involves a parade of two groups of Tuareg celebrants, who march dressed as warriors to commemorate those who fought in the holy Islamic wars. One group comes from the west of the town, the other from the east: thousands of devotees, along with musicians and dancers, join them in the procession honoring this major historical event.