Posts Tagged ‘Sahara’

Tin Hinan, a novel

July 14, 2014

"Tin Hinan", Chapter II,  "Damaged Goods"


I have decided to post the beginning chapters of “Tin Hinan”, a novel I have been writing for the past 7 years….on and off.  “Devil’s Revenge” needs a lot of work right now and I came across some information on the Berber culture that I wanted to include in “Tin Hinan”. 

I also want to thank TR for the wonderful pictures she sent me of a recent hiking trip in Morocco.  These pictures, the landscape, the Atlas Mountains, settled deep in my mind and pushed me to continue to work to a conclusion on this novel. I was stuck, but I think her pictures ‘unstuck’ me.

Tin Hinan was an actual historical figure of the 4th century in Algeria.  She gathered the Berber tribes from Morocco and Algeria into a nation.  There is not much known about her so this is a work of pure fiction.  I did try to stick to the ‘facts’ in her journey across the desert with her slave. That was known about Tin Hinan, and her galvanizing power to unite the Berber tribes.  That’s about all, though her large tomb was found in the Algerian mountains in the 1920’s. Her skeleton was wrapped in a red leather shroud with gold leaf symbols, seven gold and eight silver bracelets on her arms, and other jewelry and amulets around her body. Clearly, this was a woman of great status, and as she is called today, “The Mother of Us All”, still revered by Berbers.


Considering the tribal traditions of any century, what Tin Hinan did in just this venture, leaving her tribe (at the age of sixteen) and setting out across these mighty deserts is amazing. Considering the odds of her survival, it is especially amazing.


I learned many things in writing “Tin Hinan”, and I relied on Berber friends and associates for their own information about Morocco and Algeria, and with help with this difficult language, but I also learned that the Great Deserts (4th century)did not look then like they do now.  There were grassy plains that extended all over, and lush oasis.  Today, there are less oasis, and of course, the Sahara has become a thousand miles of mostly sand and rock.


The Berbers opened the trade routes across northern Africa, and defended those routes from the Arabs.  Interestingly enough, Berbers were influenced by Christianity early on and many Berber tribes especially in the mountains resisted Islamic influence into the early 20th century. (Though Islam made great inroads from the 7th century onward.)  Between Christianity and Islamic religion, they were closer to the Egyptians in their worship of Ammon and Isis.


 The story seemed to weave itself like a rug, knot by knot and color by color. This novel is nearly finished, but I am adding much more information (especially on the djenoun as I deal with my own qareen) .   I have noticed over the past few years this story has garnered readers on the blog in a consistent way.


One important fact of Berber culture:  The Soul resides in the Liver.







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 the 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, meaning “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 and now only spirit,  you should know my story and life harkens back to the fourth  century.  Life was very different then. But men and woman were not so different from now. Hearts are the same.  Reasons for anger are, too.


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.  Nothing is decided until the council of elder women and men meet.


 We basically had 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 dark 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 bridge 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 once 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 was a large one, one of the largest that made up the tribe. Growing up, there were women enough to pull my ears when I was bad and to soothe when I was mournful.


My mother looked up, noticed me standing there and motioned for me to sit down.


“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.” My mother’s oldest sister, Aunt Aya called out to me.  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 like beaten full moons.   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 that evening.






There was a young man who was part of a neighboring tribe a day 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. Are you shocked? Well, we did.   We had many customs, but Berber 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 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, or what I could see beneath his veil.  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 in the oasis.  His nose was long and slightly bent, 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 bangle.  You want your precious silver back, do you not?”


Ah! My father would kill him if he heard his words!  But Hasim just grinned, 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 away. I must have looked like a little fool, for my mouth opened a bit with the firm  pressure of his finger.


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


I heard his voice 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.  Unknown 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 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 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.




Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2007-2014



“Tin Hinan” Book II, Chapter 4

April 11, 2012


(courtesy of

LadyNyo A mountain Ksar in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco

I am working to finish this novel by this summer.  A reader can see this chapter is far towards the end, and I hope to conclude in a matter of weeks.  Of course, there is a long period of rewrite, but I can do this. It’s just one key in front of the other.

This chapter is about Tin and Immel and company leaving their mountain ksar.  A ksar is a mountain settlement, usually built into the side of a mountain, and in some regions, a forested mountain.  Some ksars look like beehives.  The lower parts are grainerys and the upper parts are residences.

Over the course of writing this novel, I had to do a lot of research into foods. I was fortunate to know modern day Berbers in Atlanta, and tried to consult them with the issues of ancient grains, foods, etc.  I found that much of what was researched was also eaten today in families, not restaurants.  This is more particular to desert tribes, but today in Morocco much of this food would be recognized in some form.

Thank you to the readers of these chapters of “Tin Hinan” especially those in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the general Middle East.  All misinformation is mine in the writing of this book.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Chapter 4 of Book II

Although I knew my purpose in returning to the desert, I felt reluctance in leaving our mountain.  The lush meadows, the pastures, the fruit trees and the early-planted fields of millet were a delight to my desert eyes.  Everything was so green and blooming around me, this first spring of my life in the mountains. 

Everything so different from the desert.  The smells were different too, not of the howling winds, but of budding leaves, blossoms of mountain wild flowers, even the soil smelled of life and regeneration.  I would miss the sharp smell of the walnut trees, when I crushed a leaf in my hand and saw the stain appear.  I especially would miss the beautiful apricots, the tender blossoms and the sweet fruit that would fill my mouth like honey.  And I would miss Niefa. She would have calved by the time I returned, and I wanted to be there, to help her in her first labor, and to guide her spindly-legged calf to her nipples.  Immel laughed at me, saying  Niefa would not need my help in this, but Immel was a man. What did he know about birth and especially Niefa?  She was hand raised by me, and would miss my presence as much as I missed her.

Ah, but by Isis, it could not be helped.  I had a purpose for leaving the mountains, and to return to the desert of my birth. I could not forget this.  I must revenge my tribe, my family, the great insult done to them. I must revenge myself by blood.  Each night I prayed silent prayers to Tanit, to Tinjis, and especially to Ifri, the War Goddess. I asked all that I remember my purpose and that my liver be not steered from my destiny.

But we did leave our mountain, and with Takama behind me on a war camel, this big beast who groaned and moaned like a tiny donkey, we came out of the mountains and approached the desert of our journey, the mighty Sahara.  We would cross other mountain ranges, as this route was different and longer than the way Takama and I had taken.  The course of our small caravan was set by the elders and Immel had purpose for this: he was still a raider, and still a mountain Berber, and he would seek the safety of a big caravan to travel with.  We left with only twenty men, but they were all warriors and skilled in fighting.  Perhaps we would increase our caravan’s wealth along the way, but this had only a secondary purpose.  We had a good flock of sheep and goats herded before us and some of these could be traded for salt and other essentials.  These would also make a greater impression on my tribe, though we carried enough booty to do that.  The bales of cottons and silk, hidden amongst the pack camels were something of great wealth, especially to my desert tribe.  There were even some steel needles and knives especially valuable to my tribes.

We didn’t find a caravan after a weeks travel, and had just left a small oasis. We watered the camels and replenished the water bags, when the fierce dogs accompaning us found a den of a desert fox.  A great howl and fury was heard, even by us in the middle of the caravan, and I saw Immel and other men kick and whip their camels to the source of the dog’s turmoil.  They were too late to save the nursing mother and two of her kits, but Immel grabbed two kits from the dogs and held them high over his head, kicking and shouting at the dogs as he did so.  They were only a few weeks old, and Immel hurried back and with a grin, threw them into my lap.  I looked at these tiny, terrified babies and my heart melted.  They were the color of sand, with huge ears, and big black eyes showing their fear.  Takama pushed her paw forward for one and I gave her a kit.  We knew enough, though I hadn’t seen a desert fox in a long time, to cover their heads, as the sun would blind them.  They came out at night, to hunt the rodents, the lizards of the night desert, and slept during the day.  We tucked them in our robes and they whimpered for a while, squirmed and then fell asleep to our heartbeat.  Later one of the men would make a small cage to fit over the cool water bag on the camel and we covered this with cloth.  They were babies, and I wondered if the rich camel’s milk would nourish them, but one of the men, who took a kindness to these babies, said  if we dilute the milk with water, it would do fine.  They also could eat fruit, if we tore it up into small pieces, or chewed it ourselves to a pulp. Within a few hours, they seemed to adjust to our feeding.  Mostly they slept during the day. During the night, they played in our tent, and would dig through the sand, making small burrows as their instinct directed them.  They had a strange yip, and would get into anything  not secured.   Finally, Takama put them under a loose woven basket during the night, as they tried to burrow under the tent.  The dogs outside would have killed them on sight, and we had grown attached in only a few days.  Immel  laughed at me, as I played with them during the evening hours, and said soon I would be replacing these foxes with my own babe to play with.  Perhaps, but that was away in the future, regardless his and his mother’s desire.

We approached another oasis when we spied a small caravan.  Immel and some of the men rode forth and talked with the leaders.  They were Berbers from the East,  travelling part of the way to Morocco.  That night, we joined their larger caravan and pitched our tents apart, which was the usual custom, but we slaughtered two goats and brought dates and salt to a shared dinner.  These Berbers were nomads, who came from pastures with great herds of sheep and goats. They were driving them as trade to the west.  They were very much like my parent’s tribe, wearing some of the same woven cloth and colors I was familiar with.  Of course, I did not ask any questions, as to my tribe, but Immel did find out that there had been wars and raiding to the west.  Information was vague enough but I could only wonder if Hasim and his tribe had been involved.  There were many tribes, and many raiders, some of them the hated Arabs, but I knew little of the world.  Now, from my position in the Spirit World, I know much more of history.  Then, as I said, I knew little.

Their women were like women everywhere. The young ones were shy, the older ones suspicious, and the few elderly on the caravan were wiser than all else.  Of course we sat together, as women would want to do, and exchanged gossip and some minor gifts. We ate their dishes with great relish, as Takama and I were not the best of cooks.  Our porridge was plain and only filled our bellies, but their dishes were so much better for not being made by us. 

Though we found our food was of a common kind, their taguella, a flat bread made from millet and cooked on charcoals in the sand, was eaten with a heavy sauce of spices and dried fruit.  They had yogurt, made along the route, by pouring goat’s milk into large skins and letting it ferment in the sun.  The roll of a camel’s pace stirred it nicely, and the essence of the leather bag contributed a smoky taste to the yogurt.  Ah! Their eghajira was the best I had ever tasted! For those who have had inferior drink,  it is a thick beverage drunk with a ladle, made by pounding millet, goat cheese, dates, dried apricots, camel’s milk and honey. Of course, there was lamb on a spit over the fire and gunpowder tea, sweetened with mint and honey.  Our mouths were greasy with the food and our bellies full. 

 Just when I saw Takama’s eyes close with sleep and mine doing the same, the sound of the rehad floated towards us. Soon bendirs, drums, added their rhythm to the one-stringed fiddle. An ajonuag, the reed flute joined the music,  and a woman started to sing., a strange song half way between a moan and a melody.

Some of the women got up to dance,  holding  large  walnut shells  in their hands, like castanets, as they added their own music to the night.  Stomping their bare feet in the cooling sand, tossing their long hair in circles, they would scare or entice a Zar in the desert night with their wild beauty!

There is nothing so mystical on earth as the sound of music in the desert. It floats like a benediction over the day. The night time air seems to draw forth the beauty of the voice and the pathos of life. Though it was not a song I knew, it didn’t matter.  Our lives, our souls, were of the same material, and we went to our tents late that night feeling cradled in the knowledge  wherever we were, we Berbers were part of the great stream of humanity and never alone in the world.

 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

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