Traditional Patterns and Symbols
�For you, it may look like a small unimportant detail, like your thumbnail. But for me, it is the whole vast world. Look at this jewel... here is the ant, here is the hyena, the jackal, the hoof of a horse, that of a gazelle, the sun, the moon, the stars, the good eye... this triangle, this is woman, and here are the eyebrows of the Malignant One, there, laughter... it is all of our lives in one piece of silver.�
(Translated from the French by Helene E. Hagan, from original Tuareg words of an artisan cited by J. Gabus, 1971) An extensive study of the symbolism of Tuareg jewelry has not yet been undertaken to date. It is this simple realization that brought the authors together in a decision to collect information on the topic, from past scholarly journals and books, contemporary articles and web sites, but also from Tuareg informants whose expert knowledge was sought. Though this book is small and does not aspire to be all encompassing, it is the first work totally dedicated to the presentation of the elaborate silver jewelry of Tuareg men and women of Northern Niger in the English language, and the only one we know that is solely dedicated to providing information concerning the function, meanings, and symbols of that jewelry.
The book introduces the reader to the culture of the Tuaregs, a remarkable group of African nomads of the Sahara Desert, which has fascinated the Europeans who came into contact with them in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the last decade or so, as the Tuareg societies of Niger and Mali underwent major change, a number of American researchers began to document some of their ways. Research and publications in the English language are, however, lagging far behind those in the French language. Fortunately, the primary author of this book, Helene Hagan, was originally educated in the French language, and as an Amazigh (Berber) herself, is very familiar with North African scholarship in the Amazigh culture. Thus, as a bilingual anthropologist of Berber ancestry, born and raised in Morocco, and an activist for Amazigh cultural, linguistic and human rights, she benefits from a fourfold source of valuable information: French scholarship, American contemporary accounts, the latest Amazigh research emanating out of North Africa, and Northern Niger Tuareg informants she knows. This unique set of circumstances gives the book an extra dimension of depth and insight.
The book recounts the myth of origin of the Kel Tamasheq of Niger, and looks at the continuity and development of symbols from archaic inscriptions and rock art of the Sahara to present-day engravings on silver jewelry and the Tifinagh alphabet. The second chapter is entirely devoted to retracing this development and showing the correspondence between Tifinagh characters of the Amazigh alphabet and the elegant, clear lines of geometric designs, which characterize the silver jewelry of the Tuareg people. The two are deeply connected. Modern Tifinagh Calligraphic Art is also featured in this chapter.
The next chapter delves into the mystery of the famous Cross of Agadez and the various hypotheses that have been offered as to its meaning. It depicts the artisanal mode of production, and the functions the crosses hold for Tuareg people themselves. Nowadays, the production of crosses for the western world diminishes the role this cross, Tenghelet tan Agadez, had as a clan identifier. It has become, like other less well known pieces of Tuareg jewelry, a simple ornament or necklace devoid of any particular significance, and the markings on those crosses are losing some of their intentions of yore.
The book reviews specific masculine jewelry and feminine adornment in the next two chapters, and looks at the role various pieces of silver jewelry play in the relations between generations and rites of passage, between men and women, courtship customs and marriage, and more generally n terms of wealth, status, and rank.
Concluding remarks have to underline the fact that motifs belong to a body of representations or symbolic system which is not always known to the users themselves, and even sometimes escapes the knowledge of the artisans who perpetuate the symbolic memory of the group in their repertoire of designs. Traditional knowledge of original meanings and their relation to a world of nomadic lore is diminishing with each generation living under sedentary conditions. Once essential for survival, such knowledge has become the privilege of a few initiates while remaining in the hands of the gifted Tuareg metal workers and jewelers.
Helene Hagan was born and raised in Morocco. She came to the United States as a student at age 20. She holds two Baccalaureates in Classics and Philosophy from Rabat, Morocco, a BA. in Psychology and three Master�s Degrees, one from the University of Bordeaux, France in American Literature and Civilization, a second from Stanford University, California in French Literature and Education, and the third also from Stanford University in Cultural Anthropology. Helene Hagan lived in Palo Alto, California for seventeen years while raising three children, Jennifer, Marianne and Phillip Hagan. Her French Import Boutique, �La Ruche� was a well-known business there.
After doing research among the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and directing a Photo Identification Project with elders of that reservation under the umbrella of the Oglala Lakota College, with a grant from the South Dakota Committee for the Humanities, Helene Hagan worked as University Associate Professor at John F. Kennedy University, while also managing an American Indian Gallery in Marin County, � Lakota Contemporary American Indian Designs� for several years.
Helene Hagan created a non-profit charitable and education organization, Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity in 1993, and has served as President of this organization for the past twelve years. She began her work as a community Television Producer after being certified by Marin Channel 31, and produced three important cultural series of programs as Executive Producer of Amazigh Video Productions. The first one consisted of ten programs under the main title of �We�re still here.� It focused on American Indians of Marin County and was nominated for an award. The second, which originally consisted of twelve programs, began her long journey into the background of her own Amazigh (Berber) culture of North Africa. After moving to Los Angeles, in 1998, Helene continued to produce television programs, including a short series titled �The Russell Means show� featuring the well-known American Indian activist and actor Russell Means as host of those programs.
Helene Hagan is the author of numerous articles published in various newspapers, journals and magazines. In 2000, she began her career as an author with the publication of her first book �The Shining Ones: an Etymological Essay on the Amazigh Roots of Ancient Egyptian Civilization.� Her second book, �Twareg Jewelry: Traditional Patterns and Symbols� will be available in Spring 2006, and she is looking forward to publishing another two of her completed manuscripts in the future, one entitled �Souls Piled Like Timber� which is an extraordinary collection of oral histories, dreams and visions of African American ex-slaves collected by Paul Radin in the 1920�s, and the other �Fable and Truth: The Legacy of Chief Seattle.�
Helene E. Hagan is also the author of two other books:
1. The Shining Ones, Etymological Essay... " published in 2001.
2. Tazz'unt Ritual, Ecology .... published in 2011.
Perfect Bound Softcover