The Tuareg (also spelled Twareg or Touareg; endonym Imuhagh) are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, Algeria, Lybia and Morocco. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders with their herds of camels and goats, so small groups of Tuareg are also found in other African countries. Tuaregs are widely known by their matriarchal traditions.
That was no accident, that the most famous Tuareg leader of all times was a woman. Legendary Tin Hinan (left) was a heroine, spiritual leader and the founder of one of the biggest Tuareg tribes. According to a legend, Tin Hinan came from the Tafilalt oasis in the Atlas Mountains in the area of modern Morocco accompanied by a maidservant named Takamat. Tin Hinan became the ancestor of the Tuareg of the Ahaggar (a highland region in southern Algeria). It was said that numerous suitors came to Tin Hinan seeking her hand in marriage. But after having sex with them, she killed everyone. According to another legend, noble people were descended from Tin Hinan, whereas their vassals - from Takamat. The 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun recorded a legend about queen named Tiski who was ancestral mother of the Ahaggar tribes, which is somewhat closer to the archaeological record.
Although the most of the Tuareg profess Sunni form of Islam, those tribes which are not influenced by the fundamentalists yet, maintain elements of the traditional matriarchate. Women keep household keys, show off their "strength" by impromptu wrestling matches, go unveiled - while the men modestly cover their noses and mouths with the end of their “tagelmusts” (several meters of gauze, wrapped around the head in a turban), and have equal - if not greater rights to choose/take as many lovers as they wish before marriage: it only increases their value, skill and desirability. The Tuaregs celebrated a woman's divorce with a party, and rape was extremely rare among them. Wrestling matches between girls were a part of traditional Tuareg culture. Girls wrestle whenever they want and for many reasons: to improve her position in the female society, to win a lover or just for fun. Girl wrestling is also an element of rituals of initiation into the adult life of a mature woman.
However, recently, Islam fundamentalists grab more and more power in Sahara, which affects traditional women’s freedoms.
"Where all the Women are Strong (Women of the Tuareg tribe)" by Barbara A. Worley. "Natural History". November 1992. V101 N11 p. 54.