Posted by Helene E. Hagan, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Jun 9, 2007 at 9:24 pm
Ms Rebecca Wallace:
The Koumama family of Agadez brought by Dr. Seligman to the Stanford University Exhibit, The Art of Being Tuareg, are representatives of a special social category of artisans among the Tuareg people. They were and are, by tradition, in the service of those of a higher rank, called Free or Noble Men, Imazighen. The essential Tuareg culture is an Amazigh culture, and part of a large group of over thirty million Berber and Tamashek speakers in Africa.
While Imazighen were indeed the noble warriors of the Sahara Desert and led caravans across the sands, the "inadans" (smiths, and their wives, leather-workers) were a group of crafts people of a different ethnicity and origins. It is therefore somewhat of a distortion to display our traditional Amazigh culture which is extremely rich in ritual, oral lore, music, and traditions, through an acculturated family of "inadans" whose origins are non-Amazigh. The story told is a fragmentary one: the part does not represent the whole.
The Art of Being Tuareg Exhibit pretends to portray Tuareg life, but it falls very short of the desired goal, because of the limitations imposed by a very complex social context in which artisans are but a fragment of a cultural group which is originally not their own but in which they have nonetheless been fully accepted and integrated. They cannot pretend, however, to have become the only culture bearers of that culture. To do so or to use an African family with the goal of portraying an entire live Amazigh culture, is to falsify the cultural context from which they come.
The members of this family may be ignorant of the ancient traditions and symbolism, but they did not know them to begin with. Their acculturation, now that they have moved away from the nomadic group they served to enter the service of Europeans and Americans who offer larger profits and more business, and that they moved to an urban environment which cuts them off from the real issue of Amazigh survival per/se, is not necessarily the acculturation of the real Tuareg nomads who survive in the desert.
It would be the duty of the Museum Curator, Dr. Seligman, to make this distinction clear and unequivocal in all the publicity surrounding the Exhibit, but in advertising the Exhibit, Dr. Seligman has often regrettably failed to do so.
Helene E. Hagan, Anthropologist
Stanford University M.A (1971)and M. A (1983)
President, Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity
Board Member, Amazigh Cultural Association in America 2002-2006, Western Region 6 Representative
Palo Alto and Los Angeles