An old man shuffles closer to the fireplace, his blue veil wrapped around his head and face. A veteran of the salt caravans, his feet are tough and calloused. He tells a story: "A starving man came to two doors. Behind the first was all the delicious food he could eat. Behind the second was a woman playing the imzad, a one-stringed instrument played only by highly esteemed Tuareg women. The man chose the second door, even though it meant certain death."
The Tuareg, known as the 'warriors of the blue veil' because of the blue scarves the men wear, are a nomadic people who call the desert region of the Sahara home. Though there are some Tuareg who have become Christians, the majority have never heard the Gospel. TWR and OneStory are bringing the gospel to these 'blue men of the desert' in their own language and preferred communication style in the hope that they will choose the right door - the door behind which Jesus waits for them.
The Tuareg are estimated to number between one and three million but are spread across six countries. Men begin wearing the veil at the age of 18, signifying that they are now adults and ready for marriage. Tuareg society is traditionally matrilineal (inheriting through the female line), though not matriarchal (led by women). Women have great freedom and participate in family and tribal decisions.
The term Tuareg is not used to describe ethnicity, but names a group of diverse people who speak the Tamajaq language. Although the Tuareg have a written alphabet, they are an oral people who rely on stories passed from one generation to the next to convey important information. They also have a rich culture of storytelling and poetry.
From December 2009, TWR will broadcast OneStory episodes in the Tawallamet dialect of Tamajaq. Volunteers from IMB (International Mission Board) and Campus Crusade have spent two years in Niger, learning the language and crafting Bible stories that address Tuareg worldview issues. They have completed a set of 22 stories that are ready for radio broadcast.
The 15-minute programme contains songs and testimonies. Each episode begins with the previous episode's story, then repeats the new story so that it can be remembered. As there are no written Scriptures in the Tawallamet dialect, these stories will form an audio Bible for the Tuareg.
The word 'Tuareg' is an Arabic term meaning 'abandoned by God'. The Tuareg refer to themselves as 'Imashagen' or 'the free people'. TWR hopes that through the OneStory programmes, the Tuareg will see that God has not abandoned them but that only through Jesus Christ can they truly be free.
(Sources: BBC News, Bradshaw Foundation, CIA World Factbook and parabola.org)
Published: 19 November 2009