Magazine article Geographical

Sahara

Magazine article Geographical

Sahara

Article excerpt

A LAND BEYOND IMAGINATION To many of us, the Sahara Desert conjures up images of desolation and isolation, of seas of sand and parched empty landscapes. However, as Dutch photographer Frans Lemmens reveals in his new book, Sahara, it's a land full of life and of cultures as rich as those found anywhere on Earth. Lemmens has captured a world where indigenous peoples practise traditions stretching back thousands of years, where two of the world's great rivers follow seemingly impossible paths through desiccated landscapes and where men take part in beauty pageants.

Clockwise from below left: the date palm is the archetypal desert oasis inhabitant--and also the most important. Not only is it the source of a nutritional foodstuff, its canopy provides vital shade from the harsh Saharan sun; aside from the ubiquitous camel, the donkey is one of the few animals that can work effectively in the Sahara; come nightfall, the heat of the day quickly dissipates in the desert's cloudless skies, and temperatures can drop to below freezing; Touareg nomads wear their turbans with great pride, and a neatly arranged cloth makes a strong impression among their people; although it's now synonymous with the desert, the camel originated in North America and was introduced to North Africa only in the sixth century; among the great seas of sand that dominate much of the Sahara, hardy granite outcrops have survived the erosive power of the wind, which has pulverised less resilient stone into dust; drinking tea is part and parcel of everyday life for the Touareg. It's traditionally taken hot, black and very sweet

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Clockwise from above: camel caravans were once a common feature of the Sahara, providing a lifeline between continents and peoples and the means by which to establish lucrative trade routes. However, the introduction of the automobile led to their decline, and today caravans are limited to isolated pockets of Mauritania, Mall, Niger and Sudan; in the Sahara's far east, the monuments of ancient Egypt overlook the River Nile as it flows through the desert on its way to the Mediterranean; today, large trucks have replaced camels as the most popular mode of transport; the Touareg's physical features have more in common with the Caucasian characteristics of the North African Berbers than those of the Negroid peoples south of the Sahara; the tsetse fly and other disease carrying insects prevent the breeding of horses in much of sub-Saharan Africa, but the desert's dry conditions keep insect numbers down, allowing horses to thrive, and today they are still used alongside camels in isolated areas; a game of football in the dust outside a mud-brick mosque in Mall. …

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