Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Between Several Worlds: Images of Youth and Age in Tuareg Popular Performances

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Between Several Worlds: Images of Youth and Age in Tuareg Popular Performances

Article excerpt

Youth cannot be understood without examining elderhoo and age more generally. Among the Tuareg, Islamic religious rituals and liturgical music tend to be identified with the "aged" (those with children of marriageable age), and these are symbolically opposed to secular popular musical performances classified as "anti-Islamic, " which are identified with "youth." These images comment upon long-standing concerns with marriage, courtship, sexuality, and descent, but they are also increasingly being translated into concerns of cultural autonomy, as local youths struggle for cultural survival in conflict between Tuareg and the central state. I analyze three types of popular musical performance and the instruments featured in them, and show how their age-related imagery, commentary, and interaction express changing intergenerational relationships. These concerns, however, do not fall into a binary of "old" and "new," or align with any one age group; rather, they suggest shifting associations of agentive power and questioning of "tradition" by youth and aged in diverse contexts. These data on age symbolism in Tuareg popular musical performances suggest more dynamic, nuanced formulations of "traditional," "modern," and "global" in anthropological theory. [African Tuareg, aging, performance, globalization]

Youth and Age in Tuareg Imagery

Young people make up a significant segment of the population in Africa. Yet "youth" itself, as well as the apparently opposed category of "elderly," are indexical categories that include people of diverse ages. In this essay I proceed from the premise that youth cannot be understood without examining elderhood and age more generally. Among the Tuareg of northern Niger Republic, West Africa, age groups are not defined according to biological or chronological markers, but rather in terms of one's social and ritual position in the life course. For example, one does not achieve fully adult status until becoming a parent and is not considered "elderly" (in Tamajaq, masc. amghar, fem. tamghart) until one's children marry (Rasmussen 1997a). Upon attaining this status, men and women alike are expected to practice greater devotion to Islam and distance themselves from youths, who are their potential and actual affines. A child becomes an adolescent or young, marriageable adult (masc., amawat or ekabkab, fem. tamawat or tekabkab) when his or her parents determine that he/she is ready for marriage. Around this time, men don the face-veil and women the head-scarf, and these young persons are encouraged to attend and to perform as musicians at these secular musical festivals, where much courtship takes place.

Tuareg social categories have been undergoing rapid transformation, in particular since the recent nationalist/separatist armed conflict and cultural revitalization movement. Local aging imagery displays both continuity and change. On the one hand, in the semi-nomadic rural communities of the Air Mountains, much age imagery still identifies Islamic and pre-Islamic religious ritual and its prayer and liturgical music with aged persons. Secular evening festivals featuring non-liturgical music, courtship, and dancing, are classified as "anti-Islamic," and still tend to be identified with youthful, single persons. At a youth's first wedding the evening musical festival following the religious ritual emphasizes loud drumming, according to local residents, "in order to open the couple's ears." By contrast, the earlier phase of the wedding ritual at the mosque emphasizes the role of the parents and the Islamic scholar (marabout), who marries the couple. In Tuareg society older persons are supposed to become authority figures. While widowed and divorced persons may re-marry in late life, their weddings are held only at the mosque and lack the evening festival phase.

Striking is an age-related symbolism: for men and women alike, tropes of aging refer to musical performance frames. Performances with the anza, a one-stringed, bowed lute, the tende, a mortar drum, and the recently-popular guitar, are all associated with youthful age groups. …

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