Ancient gender struggle plays out in modern Nomadic tribe

This morning, on the NPR Morning Edition’s short series “Climate Connections,” there was an article about the Tureng people of Mali. This nomadic people have been forced to move into cities and grow crops, rather than raise goats, because of effects of the 40 year drought. Although the men interviewed expressed dismay at the loss of their culture, one woman expressed joy at her new found freedom in the city:

Hadijatou, a Tuareg woman in her mid-20s, rises early to sift millet and prepare breakfast. Her parents had been nomads, but she is grateful she is not.

“Before, everything was given to us by the men. When you are given what you need by other people, you are dependent on them,” says Hadijatou. “But when you are producing what you need you depend on nobody. The life now is far better.”

I am reminded of the well-received theory that it was women who invented agriculture and even culture itself (the word “culture” is related to “cultivation”). As neolithic women chose to spent more time in settled areas to raise children they learned how to grow their own crops, grind grain and preserve food through fermentation and other means. As their children stayed close to home and learned from their first teachers — their mothers — how to do all the tasks of the home, schools arose along with the means to record the knowledge.

Throughout the Bible and other Near Eastern literature, the war between the civilized (agricultural) and the nomads waged for millennia. This war was intimately connected to the war between the sexes. Over time, patriarchy developed to appropriate all of women’s inventions, claiming them as their own, with many ancient myths told to explain this shift.

Despite the eventual negative shift, we must thank women for improving the lot of humanity. If men, like this Tuareg tribesman below, had not allowed our neolithic grandmothers to have their way, we might all live “closer to the land,” but it would also be a more brutal and less interesting world:

  Traditionally, the men don’t care what the women think. Children don’t count for much, either. Mohamed Ag Mustafa, the herder still living the traditional Tuareg lifestyle, says he sees no reason to send his children to school: “Maybe school is useful for people in the cities, but not for us. As far as we are concerned, children are only useful for getting water or keeping an eye on the cattle.”

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