Posts Tagged ‘Nomadic Woman’

“Tin Hinan”, Chapter 4….

March 11, 2018


We walked out of the oasis and back into the ergs, the endless sand dunes, and within days the mountains loomed before us. We were approaching the highlands. As we came closer, the thick forests seemed to go on forever. Before we were still the foothills with their endless hammadas, stony deserts where our beasts stumbled at times. We saw scrub bushes and tough grasses and little else. Now, at entrance to the highlands, we could see cypress and wild olives along with doum palm, oleander, date palms and thyme. As we entered the forests, it was such a shock to our eyes and noses! The scents of the woodland filled our nostrils, and our beasts grazed their fill as we made camp in the evening. Owls hooted from high branches and hunted by night, the screams of their prey startling us as we huddled around a small, banked fire.

Both of us were uneasy in this alien territory. In the desert, we could see all around, and although exposed to the elements, we saw what approached. In the highland forest the thick canopy of trees obscured any ‘visitors’. We moved in dappled sunlight, gloomy after the white light and heat of the desert. But springs and small streams, fresh water in abundance, were gifts to our senses. We could bathe ourselves and replenish our water skins. Takama found an herb when crushed would produce an acrid smelling lather and we could finally wash our hair. Of course, mine was shorn short, but it was a blessing to be clean. We washed our robes and laid them upon limbs to dry while we sat in our gauzy white undergowns, munching our dwindling date supply.

My camel Niefa tucked her legs under her body and got comfortable. The forest floor was hard walking, better were her padded feet on the desert sands. The climb each day was hard on Niefa, but easier on Takama’s donkey.

“Aicha!” Takama called out from the bank of the stream.

“Throw me your knife. The donkey has picked up a stone in her hoof.”

I threw my short knife to Takama and sitting with my back against Niefa, watched as she cleaned the stone from the hoof. Niefa chewed her cud, pushing her head into my shoulder. She did this when she wanted me to scratch behind her ears. She was grumbling and making silly grunts and groans, and if she could reach, she would search my pockets for dried fruits, her favorite treat.

“Niefa!” I yelled, hitting her on the nose, “stop eating my ear!” Her big fleshly lips were nibbling on me and soon she would be tearing my clothes. She did this when she felt she was being ignored.


That evening we retrieved our dried clothes and dressed for the cold night. I always wore my turban for the nighttime insects could be kept from my face by the veil. Leaning on Niefa as she groaned softly and was closing her large brown eyes, I was lulled by Takama’s soft singing of a tribal song. I folded my robes around me, and was drifting off to sleep. The fire was low and we were tired, for we had climbed for hours that day and the going was steep. We settled on a plateau on a ridge, by the narrow stream, looking down through the trees to a small valley far below. Darkness was falling early. We were getting used to that for the season was changing. Fireflies were twinkling like earthbound stars as they settled amongst the foliage.

Suddenly Takama stopped singing, her eyes wide with fear. She pointed over my shoulder, too scared for speech. I turned in the direction of her hand, jumped up and grabbed my sword, Takama running behind. There was a man, with his own sword in hand, staring at us. Almost immediately, other dark robed men appeared from behind trees, calling softly to each other. We could hear the sound of laughter shared amongst them. Then a man walked from behind a tree, closer to us, and addressed us in some alien language. I had raised my sword menacingly, though we both were defenseless against so many.

“Before the Gods and Goddesses, what are two young girls doing in the mountains?”

He was a very large man, as tall as our Berber people, and we were known for our height. Perhaps he was a Berber, but perhaps also the hated Arab. With a sinking heart, I supposed we had fallen into the hands of raiders. The language difference would account for that.

“I am not a girl, I am a man and this is my wife.” I pitched my voice low, but I was shaking. All we feared was standing before us. Laughter erupted from the men who now seemed to surround us.

Then I realized I had not placed my veil over my face. Except for the faint blue coloring across my cheeks and nose, I probably looked like a girl. My men’s clothing not withstanding, I would appear female to them.

Takama started to moan in fear behind me, I trying to hush her softly.

“Aicha, Aicha”. Fear was making her voice waver. “We are lost, undone. Oh, why did you lead us out of our home to this fate? Aiiiiieee!”

Her wail annoyed me, and I wanted to beat her with my fists, but I knew I had more problems before me than the slave behind. I, too, was afraid, and my voice shook as I addressed the obvious leader before me.

“If you come near us, I will kill you. Leave us alone, we are poor travelers.”

I raised my sword before me, with both hands holding the grip. I saw the men all my life practice in camp, mock battles where sometimes blood was drawn. Being female, I was not allowed to touch weapons, for in our traditions, a woman handling weapons would make them turn in a man’s hand.

This black turbaned man squatted down on his haunches. His position was one meant to disarm our fears, but I was having none of it.

I did not relax my guard, and spread my feet wide to steady myself. Takama continued to whimper behind me and plucked at my robe in fear.

The squatting man laid his curved sword over his knees, for no Berber would lay it on the ground unless a death blow made him drop it.

“So you are called “Aicha” by your wife. Now, what a strange name for a man, if you be one.”

He pulled his veil down from his mouth and grinned. Big white teeth shone like bleached bones even in the dimming evening’s light.

“I can see for myself you were never a man, nor will you ever be one. Your woman’s figure is too full for that and besides, you have no beard on your face.”

He continued to grin and then his voice turned serious. “Now tell me, what are your names, and don’t lie to me. What are you two girls doing in these mountains?

I was silent for a moment, weighing what I would say, and how much to reveal.

“My name is Tin Hinan, and I go on this journey to meet my destiny.”

There was some hooting at my words, and I looked up at the men before us on the ridge with as fierce an expression on my face as I could muster.

“Tin Hinan, huh?” he said with a dismissive shake of his head. “Not too inventive for a woman who wears men’s clothing. “Nomadic Woman” is not very poetic, and since the Berber women are good poets, one would think you would call yourself something with more music.”

His comment made the men laugh and I again threw a fearsome glance.

“Well, “Tin Hinan” you will be, at least amongst us, but you will also join us for we soon return to our own tribe.”

“Are you Arab raiders?” I asked, my voice still wavering.

They all laughed and a few spit on the ground.

The man before us looked over both sides of his shoulders as if this was a great joke and smiled broadly, getting to his feet in one smooth motion.

“No, we aren’t Arabs, but you could say we are raiders. Now, let’s see what your beasts are carrying and if you present a danger to us.”

Of course, this was absurd, but we were in no position to resist. But my next concern was for Niefa.

With Takama still behind me, hanging close to my back, I moved towards Niefa and she grumbled and groaned and got to her feet. She was so beautiful in the dim light, like the moon fallen to the earth, so white and shining. Niefa took that moment to nudge me in the shoulder, throwing me off balance and when a camel pushes, you feel its superior strength.

“Niefa, stop it!” I scolded her in a whisper. She was not helping the situation.

The big man walked up like he had no fear of my sword or my using it, and laid his hand on Niefa’s hump. He stroked her and scratched her, and Niefa shook herself, groaning in delight. She had no loyalty at all.

I looked at Niefa and thought how much of a traitor she was in her affections, and that little moment of my distraction was my undoing. With the speed of a desert cheetah, the man leaped at me and before I could even think, knocked the sword from my hands. He was fast and I found myself sprawled on the ground, with him standing over me, scowling. I believed at that moment my life over, and raised my eyes to him.

“Take my life, but spare my slave. She is blameless. I forced her to follow from our tribe. And don’t kill my camel, her name is Niefa and she is young.”

His face softened at my words. He held out his hand and pulled me to my feet. I was shaking, still not sure of what was to happen.

“Well, Tin Hinan, you have no reason to fear us. We are raiders, not murderers of young women. You, your slave and your camel, will join us on our journey back over the mountain, but you will not wear the man’s veil or clothes with us. It is an abomination for a woman to do so. First, you don’t deserve to wear the veil and then, you defile your God-given beauty with man’s clothes. Come, we treat such brave women with respect. And don’t worry about your camel. She will have the company of her own kind in our settlement.”

We crossed the mountain and then another one, and within the time of a new risen moon, we came to a mountain ksar. Here, amongst a strange tribe, my life began anew.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007-2018

“Tin Hinan”

January 5, 2009

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.

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


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.

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