Posts Tagged ‘a novel of Berbers’

“Tin Hinan”, a novel.

March 2, 2018

Perhaps Niefa’s baby and Tin pulling her away from Niefa for milking?


I wrote this novel about 8 years ago. Never finished it, but it is almost finished.  Three years ago, at the New Year, I posted this first chapter.  Within hours I had attracted the notice of a Jewish man who accused me of ‘participating in the Arabicization of Europe.’  Wow.  I didn’t know I had such power.  He went on to berate me, calling me a ‘bottom feeder’ as a writer, while he and others would take the top.  He got worse until I deleted his nasty emails.  But it made me think.  This is a story of a 5th century Berber woman.  How in Hell is that doing what he claims??  Anyway, I didn’t post it again until now.  I had other fish to fry.  Now I am.  His attempt to berate me and make me shut up made me sit up and notice.  When we let such misogynists declare what we can and can not write, we have betrayed ourselves.  Never again.  Never again.

Lady Nyo



I am called Tin Hinan. I had the destiny of a woman ‘rooted in flight’. Even my name means “Nomadic Woman”. I don’t remember what my name was before I became Queen. It is lost in the sands of the desert I came from.

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 forty years on this earth, you should know my story and my life harkens back to 900BC. 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 the 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 these are the two main classes. 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 Tagelmust and now 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.

As I approached the age of marriage, which would be around sixteen years of age, I was dressed with many silver coins and bracelets and necklaces and earrings that weighted down my earlobes. My mother and the other women would paint my eyes with kohl, and perfume my hands and feet with oils and draw with henna intricate designs on my cheeks and palms. I was being groomed for marriage.

There was a young man that was part of a neighboring tribe. During marriages and celebrations and festivals, I would see him, and he me. We are modest women, but we do stare in the eyes of another 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 at 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 is a way for men to know that you like them. When the musicians took a rest, I went to get my silver bracelet back from Hasim, and he slipped it down the front of his robe, and crossed his arms over his chest and smiled wickedly. I should have known then Hasim was trouble, but my foolish heart flip-flopped. Ah! Girls can be so silly.

Hasim, up close, was beautiful, already a man though only about twenty 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 his 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 I was affected deeply by the sight of him. During the last harvest festival, I saw Hasim 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 on Hasim. Only the startling white of his camel could my eyes follow.

That fall, my mother and father called me before them, and announced that it was time I be married. I of course had no choice, but I noticed an exchange of smiles between my parents. Unbeknownst to me, my father had consulted with the marriage brokers and a visit had been made to Hasim’s parents. This 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 doings. 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 done was 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 in 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 that protected our settlement from raiders across the mountains and from the desert. Also by tradition, 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 soil 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 that would drive us away. I walked to a little plot of land with a small stream running by and my father and I 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 that 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 be not too high off the carpets that would pave 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 marriage bed. When it was carved and doweled together, it took six men to carry and place it into 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 allowed even to touch it. But I did peek in the doorway before the divider between our two sides was woven, and saw the beautiful symbols of fertility and luck carved along with the flowers and palm trees. In the very 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.

I knew I would have to be involved in the sewing of the mattress for the bed. My mother and her kinswomen sheared sheep and stuffed the thick wool into two large sheets of thick and coarse cotton. Then 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 weaved 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 that Hasim was told he could not approach me when his tribe came with herds of goats or to discuss pasturing with our men.

All seemed to be going according to plan, when the demons of Hell took matters into their own hands. I say Hell for nothing but that could have caused such a reverse of fortune and happiness in my life.

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

“Aicha, Aicha,” for I do now, in relating this story, remember vaguely my name at the time. “ 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 was 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 calls.

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 woman and he has left to go to her tent.”

I was told later that I stared like a dead person, my eyes empty, my mouth open without sound and then started to moan. One long lamentation came out of my throat before I collapsed on the carpet at my father’s feet.

Three days later I had recovered my senses enough under the loving care of the women 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 in the day. The old women told me that there were Zars out there, waiting to claim my soul, 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 the 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 my servant, 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 circle around our community’s many tents. I was trying to make up my mind what I would 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 them to 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 orphans, and though I was neither, I knew she would hear my plight. Isis was all-seeing, but apparently busy.

I also 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 to me. Or perhaps it was a Zar that tickled my spine, for Zars were known to attack a woman when she was alone in the desert. They delighted in that. It made their 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 I couldn’t even 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 strong answers. I needed 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, and I knew finally what I would do. I knew now what my destiny would be.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018



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