A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tin Hinan, Legendary Ancestress-Queen of the Tuareg, and Her Tomb, and Women Leaders in Amazigh History

Hocine Ziyani, La reine Tin Hinan, (Wikimedia)
Let's do a cultural post far from any of the current (and slowly merging into each other) wars. (And a hat tip to Diana Buja for calling this to my attention.) A post at the Ancient Origins website discusses "The Monumental Tomb of Queen Tin Hinan, Ancient Ancestress of the Tuaregs."

Besides being an interesting story in its own right, it gives me a chance to talk about the prominent role women leaders have played in the history of North Africa's Amazigh ("Berber") people.

In 1925 a monumental tomb was excavated in Abalessa in southern Algeria near Tamanrasset in the mountain region known as Hoggar (Arabic) of Ahaggar (Berber/Tamazight/Tamasheq) by archaeologist Byron Khun de Prorok. It contained the remains of a woman buried with fine jewelry, and inside an elaborate structure that may have been a Roman frontier fort. Coins and later carbon dating suggest a 4th or 5th century AD date.

The Tuareg, the nomadic Saharan Amazigh people who live in southern Algeria and Libya, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and some neighboring countries, consider this the tomb of their legendary Queen Tin Hinan, who is considered the ancestress of the Tuareg people and the ruler of the Hoggar region. In Tuareg tradition, the monumental tomb is that of Tin Hinan, or T'in Hinan, ancestress and Queen of the Tuareg people. Tin Hinan literally means "she of the tents," or "she of the camp," and she is also known as Tamenukalt,  or "Queen."

Some of the traditions relating to Tin Hinan, such as those which make her Muslim, are unhistorical if the identification of the tomb (4th-5th centuries AD) is accurate. In Tuareg tradition she is said to have come from Tafilalt in the Atlas to the Ahaggar, along with a servant, Takamat. Tin Hinan was held to be the ancestress of the Tuareg nobility, and Takamat of the commoners.

There is no certainty, other than popular identification, that the monumental tomb is really that of Tin Hinan or even that Tin Hinan is a historical figure, and some have even suggested the skeleton may be male. But there is an interesting coincidence. The skeleton found in the tomb, now in the museum in Algiers, shows a deformity that may  indicate that the  woman in question was lame. Now, in Ibn Khaldun's universal history Kitab al-‘Ibar, the most famous parts of which (after its "Introduction," the famous Muqaddima) are the sections on Berber genealogies and history, translated into French by de Slane as Histoire des Berbères, Ibn Khaldun says that the Huwwara, Lamta, Sanhaja and other Berber tribes all claim descent from a single woman, a queen he calls "Tiski the Lame." Many students of the Hoggar region, including Charles de Foucauld, the famous missionary at Tamanrasset who studied the languages and traditions, have assumed or argued that Tiski may be identical with Tin Hinan (which is a title, not a personal name). And Ibn Khaldun says the place name Hoggar derives from Huwwara.

Clearly, a monumental female tomb adorned with jewelry suggests a powerful queen, The Tuareg traditions of Tin Hinan and Ibn Khaldun's tale of Tiski the Lame both speak of an ancestress Queen of the Tuareg of the Hoggar. And the skeleton found in the tomb appears lame.Separating out legend from fact is difficult.

it is a reminder, though, that Amazigh history in the pre-Islamic period witnessed instances of strong female leadership. Another example at the time of the Arab conquest of the Maghreb is the woman resistance leader called by Arab historians al-Kahina (the priestess or sorceress; a cognate of "cohen") who led the resistance in what is now Algeria and is variously considered Berber or Byzantine or both,

Some further readings and videos, in French except for a couple:

Dida Badi, Tin-Hinan; une modèle structural de la société touarègue," in Etudes et documents berbères, pp. 199-205.(at academia.edu)

M. Gast, entry "Huwwâra, Houuara, Houara, Hawwâra," in Encyclopédie berbère.
Ibn Khaldun, Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l'Afrique Septentrional, translated by Wlliam MacGuckin Baron de Slane, Vol. I (Algiers, 1852), pages 272-273 (Google Books).

Daily Kos; "The Tuaregs I: Tin Hinanm the mother of us all:"

El Watan (Algiers),  "Tin Hinan, une reine ou un roi ? 

Wikipedia,"Tin Hinan"

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