Books on North Africa 3: A Search for the Masked Tawareks

The book below (A Search for the Masked Tawareks) is an Englishman’s account of his quest to photograph the elusive Touareg of the Saharan Desert.  W. J. Harding King has a light and amusing writing style that makes reading this book, even in E-Book form, a very enjoyable experience.  The challenge for Mr. King was that the Touareg are naturally reclusive and almost never take off their blue or black veils.  He not only has to find them but also has to convince them to show their faces.  Their women go unveiled and are considered by (arab) Algerians to be quite beautiful.   This travelogue turns out to be quite a funny road trip in many parts as Mr. King (straight man) and his two hired guides (comic relief) make their way from Biskra, Algeria, south to the edges of the Saharan desert where they hope to find some Touareg.  Apparently these tribesmen take the seasonal opportunity to visit some of the markets in these small towns before heading back to their traditional homes and camps in the desert.   Along the way the author describes cultural aspects of these people as well as other interesting facts about life on the edge of the desert.  The book is filled with anecdotes about camels, dates, dust storms, religion, dancing girls and plenty of references to the haphazard French administration of their colony.  It also has an appendix on the language of the Touareg–known as Tamahak.   The book is 316 pages long but this is misleading as the typeface is large and the line spacing is generous–it was a pretty quick read.   It was published in 1908 (this version) so it covers a period of great interest to me as it was the time of the classic French Foreign Legion (of course).  Mr. King did a great job providing a colorful description of the southern reaches of Algeria.  When he finally gets his pictures I thought that this was a nice event (success at last!) but not as interesting as the trip was.  You can download at Google Books or below.

A Search for the Masked Tawareks

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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