“Tin Hinan”

I started this story which turned into a novel, two years ago this summer.  Some readers know I am a belly dancer.  I think the inspiration for this peculiar story came from the fascination I had developed with the Berbers I worked with in the belly dance clubs.  They are a complex, compelling and tolerant people. Tolerant of a white woman who pried into their culture and probably asked many questions women in their culture don’t.  I collected enough ‘research’ to start this story, and then it took over and developed itself like a plodding camel.  My Berber friends, Ali, Ahmed, Tojur, etc. remain good friends and dance partners and excellent drummers.

They are men without the complications of most Western men.

This story is probably one of the very first written under the ‘influence’ of Hyperarousal Trance…. music I remember listening while writing was Berber music, from Morocco, different tribal music, because Berbers are wide and broad with different clans.  There are great differences in customs between urban and mountainous Berbers.

The story seemed to weave itself like a rug, knot by knot and color by color.  It’s 12 or so chapters and this year I will finish it.

Some explanations of Berber culture.  The Soul resides in the Liver.

TIN HINAN
Jane Kohut-Bartels
July, 2007
Copyrighted by the author.

CHAPTER 1

I am called Tin Hinan. I had the destiny of a woman ‘rooted in flight’.  Even my name means “Nomadic Woman”.  Sometimes I forget my birth name before I became Queen. It is now lost in sands of the Great Desert.

I founded a nation from the stirrings of my womb.  This is my story.

I was born in an oasis near what is now called Morocco.  My people were nomadic, but if our tribe had a name, we would be Tagelmust. That means “People of the Veil”. The Arabs, our enemy, rudely called us Twareg, “Abandoned by God”. We now are known as Tuareg, or Berber by the white Europeans. But since I am speaking from my short time of fifty years on this earth, you should know my story and my life harkens back to the sixth century.  Life was very different then. But men and woman were not so different from now.

Our tribe is matriarchal.  All things, possessions, are passed down through the women.  The men still make the laws, but we women have great power. We had basically two classes of Tagelmust people, Imajeren, the nobles, and Iklan, the slaves.  There are subgroups in all that, but that’s not important. My family were Imajeren, my father a tribal elder and leader.  My mother had great status as the first of his four wives.

I was born in the spring, during lambing time.  I was exceptionally tall for my sex, and poems were written by my mother and other women about my hurry to reach up to the stars.  That is the reason they gave for my height.  I had long, thick black hair and hazel eyes, which was not rare. As I grew to marriageable age, more songs were sung openly around the fires as to my beauty.

Perhaps you wonder when you think of Arabic women with the chador and burkah covering their features, how would you sing to a black sheath of cloth with two black eyes staring back at you?  We, the Berber, are blessed by Ammon and Isis.  For “ The Veiled People” only applies to the men!  They wear the veil, an indigo dyed cloth that wraps around their heads and covers their faces, with only the eyes and the tips of their noses exposed.  We, the women, carry our faces proudly to the sun, to the wind and, when it comes, the blessed rain.  The men are mostly stained a dark blue, like a devil or zar because their sweat makes the dye run from the indigo and stains their faces.  They look funny for it does not wash off, but seeps into the skin.  So when you marry, you beget children from a zar-looking creature.  Perhaps that is why children are such little devils.

“Aicha, Aicha!” The aunties were calling me in from where I was loafing.  I liked to stand at the edge of the oasis, and look at the sea of sand before me.  I would think of great spans of water, for some travelers told me about the great ocean to the north.

I turned and ran towards my mother’s tent. To ignore the aunties would be rude, and besides, they had many surprises and secrets in the folds of their robes.

“You, Aicha!  Your mother wants you to come to her, hurry!  Here, be a good girl and take this basket.” I slipped the large basket over my arm and went into the tent side of my mother’s.

She was sitting on the floor of the tent, shelling dried beans. There were other women, most of them my aunts, her sisters, also working on the floor.  Our clan is a large one, one of the largest that makes up the tribe. Growing up, there were women enough to pull my ears when I was bad and to soothe me when I was mournful.

My mother looked up, noticing me standing there and motioned for me to sit down by her.

“Aicha, you are of the age when you should be married, or at least engaged.  Your father and I think it time that we look around for a husband for you.”

I knew it!  I saw the sly glances of the aunties, and heard the laughter when I passed a group of women. At the river, when I carried down the washing, I got looks and giggles even from those women and girls I didn’t know well. Something was brewing and this time I was the last to know.

“Come, you graceless girl.” These words from my mother’s oldest sister, Auntie Aya. She reached behind her broad hips and pulled out a packet wrapped in wool.  Slowly opening it, she revealed a heavy silver and amber necklace made up of many silver rounds and large amber beads.

It was fun for them, to dress me in the women’s jewelry like I was a child’s doll.   But they were serious in their business.

“Hold still, you silly girl. This kohl will poke out your eye if you don’t”. This from  another auntie.   My face and hair were fiddled with, and I suffered the blackening of my eyes and their hands twisting my hair into designs.

That day, they had their fun, and I emerged from the tent at evening to be walked around the fire to the whistles and comments of the collected tribe.  My hair was braided in intricate styles and small silver discs peppered my head.  Heavy silver and wood earrings weighted down my earlobes.  I was of course, without a veil, and two women held my hands, leading me around the tribe’s main fire to the sound of drums and the ney flute.

Although I could not to marry within my tribe, I was being presented for our tribe’s delight.  Grooming for marriage was a ritual and my blushes showed appropriate modesty.

There was a young man who was part of a neighboring tribe a days camel trip away. During marriages, celebrations and festivals, I would see him and he would look for me.  We are modest women, but we do stare in the eyes of a man we are interested in marrying. We even wink at them. We have many customs, but women, before the hated Arabs, had much freedom.

Hasim was his name, and he was a tall man, taller than I was.  I thought only proper I be married to a tall man. What woman wants to look down on her husband? It sets a bad example for a woman.  She starts looking down on him in other things.  Hasim was a few years older than I, and at one marriage celebration, I danced a line dance with other maidens and gave him one of my bracelets.  This was an accepted way of flirting. When the musicians took a rest, I went to get my silver bracelet back, and he slipped it down the front of his robe. He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled boldly. I should have known then Hasim was trouble, but my foolish heart flip-flopped.  Ah! Girls can be so silly.

Hasim was handsome, already a man though only about twenty-two years of age.  He had golden skin where the sun had not burned him dark and black eyes like deep shaded pools of water under the trees.  His nose was long and straight, like the hunting hawk, and his mouth was full and red, like a split pomegranate.  His teeth were white like bleached bones in the desert.

How do I know this, if our men are veiled?  My Hasim, for I already claimed him mine with the certainty that he would be, had unwrapped his indigo blue veil from his face. And yes, his cheeks were stained a light blue where his beard would be.  I should have known that the Zar blood was deep in him, not just on the surface, but Isis! How was I to know then?

“Come, little sister, fish deep in my waters and you will find your silver bracelet.  You want your precious silver back, do you not?”

Ah! My father would kill him if he heard his words.  But Hasim just grinned at me, playing a man’s game and my head whirled inside.  Other parts of me were disturbed, but I only knew of this by our women’s bridal parties before the weddings.  My heart flipped and my stomach turned over, too.

I am not known for being shy, perhaps it is because I am so tall, but shy I was before Hasim.

He reached out his hand and traced my cheek to my chin, gently pushing the back of his thumb over my lips.  My eyes were locked to his and I could not pull them away. I must have looked like a little fool, for my mouth opened a bit with the soft pressure of his finger.

Hasim dipped into his chest and reluctantly pulled out my bracelet.  “Little sister, be careful who you give your jewelry to.  You might come across one who will take more than your silver.”

I heard his voice as if far off in the distance.  He closed his eyes slightly, his long, black lashes brushing downwards, and the spell was broken.  I staggered a bit, and he threw out a hand to steady me, an enigmatic smile on his face.

I saw Hasim a few times after this first occasion and each time grew dizzy by the sight him.  During the last harvest festival, Hasim was mounted on a large, white camel as he raced across the desert with the other riders.  The groans and bellows of the beasts, the yelling of the men placing their wagers and the dust churned up from many feet made it hard for me to concentrate.  I could only follow the white of his camel for he was surrounded by mounted men.

That autumn, my mother and father called me before them, and announced that it was time I marry.  I of course had no choice, I was of age, but I noticed an exchange of smiles between my parents.  Unbeknownst to me, my father had consulted with the marriage broker and a visit had been made to Hasim’s parents.  He was considered a good prospect, and with the status of our tribe and that of my father, I was considered a likely bride for Hasim.

My heart was light and leaping about in my chest.  I walked now with confidence, my breasts pushed out and a constant smile upon my face.  I would have the status of a wife, not just a common, unmarried girl.  There were many things to settle, preparations to make and issues that were far beyond my concern.  These were the matters of the elders and my mother’s family. But I was to be a bride!  Finally, I would take my place in the tribe with all the authority of a wedded woman.

Though the wedding was months off in the future, the first thing to do were to take a piece of my Mother’s tent and sew it into one of my own.  All the woman of the tribe gathered at my Mother’s tent one morning and with singing and playing of the bendir, a frame drum, we cut out a large piece in the back of her tent and started stitching the heavy cloth woven from goat hair.  It was long and tedious work, but we ate dates and millet puddings and drank mint tea and told stories.  For a fortnight we worked on my marriage tent.  The east side would be for Hasim, and the west side for me.  I would have our marriage bed and our stores, musical instruments and rugs on my side.  The marriage bed would be a day couch for my children and me.  Hasim would fill the west side with his weapons and saddles.  By tradition, after the marriage, Hasim would sleep outside, part of the guard men protecting our settlement from raiders across the mountain and from  the desert. By custom, the tent, the bed and everything in it, except the weapons and saddles would be my property.

Our settlement was in a large oasis, nestled at the foot of a mountain range.  It was lush and shaded in parts by woods and orchards and streams running through the land. We tilled the fertile earth, made so by the runoff of water from the mountain, and fed by the snows of winter.  It was a beautiful site for our nomadic people, and we defended it fiercely from others who would drive us away. I walked to a little plot of land with my father and decided this would be the place for my tent.

There was much more to do, but the next task was to build my marriage bed.  This was to be the most important piece of furniture a woman could have, and each was done differently according to the skills and imagination of the carver.  My father hired the best carpenter and carver around to build it.  It would be big and wide and would not be too high off the carpets paving the floor of the tent.  My father went with the carpenter to pick the wood, and he obtained some beautiful, scented cedar to make the bed.  When it was carved and doweled together, it took six men to carry and place in the tent.  It was so beautiful, but of course, I was not allowed to lie down on it, or even to sit upon its frame.  I would have to wait for the wedding night with Hasim before I was even to touch it.  But I did peek in the doorway before the divider between sides was hung and saw the beautiful symbols of fertility and good fortune carved along with flowers and palm trees.  In the middle of the back of the bed, was a large and flowing palm tree, with its roots extending outward towards the side posts. Little pigeons and doves were being chased by two hawks and some of the doves were hiding in the tree.

Next  was the sewing of the mattress.  My mother and her kinswomen sheared sheep and stuffed the thick wool into two large sheets of thick and coarse cotton. We spread it out on a carpet and during the night, my kinswomen, young girls to elderly women, my cousins and great aunts, would sit around the heavy mattress and we would all take up our bone needles and stitch carefully across and down the mattress.  This would be laid upon the woven ropes that were stretched from one side of the bed frame to another, and woven back and forth until there was a tight foundation for the mattress.  Our tradition said that a tightly woven bed frame augured well for a marriage.  Loose or slack weaving would let the attentions of the husband sag and the wife would stray in her affections.

As the wedding approached, I was bundle of nerves.  I had not seen Hasim, except from a distance.  We were watched very closely, for there was to be no contact before the wedding day.  I was not allowed to venture to the river without another woman with me, and I believe Hasim was told he could not approach me when his tribe came with herds of goats or to discuss shared pasturing with our men.

All seemed to be going according to plan, when the demons of Death took matters into their own claws.  I say Death  for nothing but that could have caused such a reverse of fortune and happiness in my life. We Berbers believe strongly in malicious spirits, and they seemed to hold their own festival with my wedding plans.

One day, very close to the time of the wedding, when already there were preparations for the five days of celebration planned,  I heard some women in my mothers tent crying and went to see what had happened.  As I neared her tent, two of my favorite Aunties  ran out and threw themselves upon me.

“Aicha, Aicha,” said one fat old auntie, panting in her excitement. “You must prepare yourself!  You must be strong and comfort your parents!”

“What? What? What has happened that I am to be ‘strong’ as you say?”  I started to run towards her tent, and since I am tall, my legs were long, and my Aunties could not keep up with me.  I heard them wailing behind me, yet I did not heed their cries.

I made it to my mother’s tent and entered her western side, where I found both my parents in her quarters.  My father looked somber, and my mother was rocking back and forth, like she was in grief.

“What has happened, oh my parents?  Has something happened to Hasim?  Tell me, oh tell me now!”

My mother was beside herself, and had thrown a cloth over her head as we do when a kinsman dies.  This is to blot out the sight of any happiness and is one of our forms of our mourning.  I was white faced with fear and was sure that Hasim was dead!

“My daughter, my daughter,” began my father, with tears in his eyes.  “Our family has been tricked, we have all been betrayed. Even though our gifts were returned this morning, it is not to be borne.  Hasim has contracted to marry another and has left to go to her tent.”

I was told I stared like a dead person, my eyes empty, my mouth open without sound. Then, one long wail came out of my throat before I collapsed on the carpet at my father’s feet.

Three days later I had recovered my senses under the loving care of my kinswomen to sit up in my mother’s bed, for she would not have me leave her.  I drank mint tea until I was tired of walking out into the desert to squat down.  I thought my senses had taken leave of me, for one night I started to walk outward, after dark, when the desert turns dangerous, even more so than by day.  The old women told me there were Zars out there, waiting to claim my liver, but I knew there were desert snakes and scorpions and these alone were trouble enough.

I did not care.  I was torn between love, a pitiful, self-effacing sentiment where I  cried out for the man I had never really known.  But then, like a limb that has fallen over a high rock, and teeters, first one side then the weight of it on the other, I fell to hating Hasim with all my heart. My hatred for him made my fingers curl and a lump of burning pain in my stomach rise up to my throat.  If he were before me now, I would be savage and kill him with my bare hands.  He had brought shame on my family, but mostly he had disgraced me, the woman who was his intended, the woman who was to bear his many sons.

Until a new moon rose in the sky at night, I walked a part each night in the desert, tailed by the girl Takama, who was sent by my mother to watch me.  I bore her presence until finally annoyed, I yelled for her to go to the devil.  Takama was a good girl, a slave in our family, and she fell on her knees and threw her apron over her face.  I took pity and told her she could follow, but only at a distance of three camels. I turned and continued to pace out in the desert, always in a wide circle around our community’s many tents.  I was trying to make up my mind what to do. I knew my parents would take some kind of action, but I had my own to deliver.

On the third night of my pacing, I went out into the desert, and forbade Takama to follow.  I had bathed myself in a ritual bath in the river that ran through our oasis, and had thrown off all jewelry.  I unbraided my long black hair and drew on a white cotton dress, and barefoot I went into the desert.  There I chanted and prayed to my goddesses for I wanted their help in deciding my course.

Isis was the first goddess I prayed to, lifting my hands to the heavens and imploring her. It was Isis who gave justice to the poor and orphaned, and though I was neither, I knew she would hear my plight.  Isis was all-seeing, but apparently busy.

I next prayed and chanted to Tanit and Tinjis.  I needed all the answers and ideas I could find.  They were silent, but suddenly I shivered, and I knew that one of them had listened.. Or perhaps it was a Zar that tickled my spine, for Zars were known to attack a woman when she went alone in the desert. They delighted in that.  It made access to souls so much easier.

But I was looking for a stronger solution. I was enraged at the treatment of that man. By now my anger was such  I could not speak his name.

I closed my eyes, threw out my arms to the heavens, to the moonless sky above me and threw myself into the vortex of my misery. Ayyur, the Moon God was one I exhorted, and then Ifri, the war goddess.  I needed some answers, some plan of action. I mumbled and prayed and exhorted them all until the constellations in the sky above me revolved with the passage of hours.

Finally, it came to me.  I knew what I would do when I heard the sound of the imzad, the violin only a woman can touch and vibrate.  I heard it’s sad sound floating over the desert in the evening air.  My destiny was staring me in my face.

Tags: , , , , ,

3 Responses to ““Tin Hinan””

  1. shia1 Says:

    Oh Jane,

    Very well done. You must have done a lot of research for this one. I really enjoyed reading and learned quite a bit from this story.

    You paint such vivid pictures with your words. I can actually see the men and women you describe. How very talented.

    Would love to read more. Please publish this!

    shia

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Dear, dear shia!

    thank you for reading and the great encouragement. I wrote this right after the Zar Tales…about Turkey….but there are Berbers in that one too, but all ghosts.

    LOL! They are made ‘flesh’ with a bit of cannibalism, though.

    I did write this under the influence of Hyperarousal Trance thing. People should check this out….google it…there is a lot more info now than then.

    Well, I did also have to do research, but i was dancing heavily then too, and depended upon the Berber men I knew at Nicola’s. They taught me a lot of cultural things, but really I had to do the research and THEN ask.

    It wasn’t easy but I do remember the discussions we had. They were so anxious to talk about their homeland, and it made me realize that they were very lonely in this country, and befriending them was a great experience. Plus, Berbers, Moroccans, Algerians are GREAT drummers. They taught me so much about drumming….they were so gracious and encouraging.

    We made our own dervish ghosts stamping around the room.

    Hugs,

    Jane

    Like

  3. antique carpenter square Says:

    business going

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: