Thursday, October 18, 2012

The "Blue Men", Their Tea Ceremonies, and The War in Mali

I am sick in bed thanks to my delicate American stomach, so I got the idea to research the war in Mali. Mali is just three hours north of Ouagadougou and I am very curious about the civil war and what is causing the conflict.  The embassy won't let us go more than an hour north without extensive paperwork, since we are American; and Mali is sending their American missionaries to Ouaga to keep them safe from the war. The war is a civil/religious war and really only began earlier this year. I decided to kill two birds with one stone in my research and read all of the articles in French.
Practice makes perfect, right?
Anyways, I gained more information than I imagined and significantly beefed up my vocabulary list.
Like I mentioned before, it is about a three hour drive to get to the Malian border from here. We are close enough to hear about the war, but because of the causes, we are not involved. Our government here is completely different from Mali's. I started reading a few articles and quickly learned that the rebellious party is an Islamic terrorist group. They are not Al Qaeda, but they are very similar in beliefs.  They call themselves "Mouvement National pour la LibĂ©ration de l'Azawad" (MNLA). In plain English, National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad. The Azawad are trying to take control of Mali one city at a time. Mali, as you can see on the map here, looks like two triangles stuck together. Burkina Faso is the little land-locked country right underneath Mali.
The top "triangle" of Mali is where the wars are. There are three cities that have been taken by the extremists.  They are Gao, Kidal, and Tombouctou. How we pronounce these cities? Your guess is as good as mine.
The next logical question - Why are these guys taking cities and what do they plan to do with them? The rebel group is a branch of Muslims from the nomadic people called, "Touaregs". The Touaregs (tour-eggs) are a fascinating group of people, but I will discuss their culture in a moment. The small percentage who are causing trouble are capturing large cities there because they believe that Mali should be under Sharia Law. For those of you who are not familiar with Sharia, it is the governmental law system dictated by the Koran.  It is a theocracy in which Allah is the highest form of political power.  The rebels are trying to instate their form of government over the now instated government that partners with the rest of West Africa, France, and the United States. Very similar to the American Civil War, it is becoming quite a problem for Malian officials who are trying to protect Malian citizens.
This little map is in French, but the idea still gets across.  You can see where the cities are in Mali, where Ouagadougou is in relation, and the half of the country is not afflicted. The citizens in the area that is afflicted are fleeing to neighboring regions such as Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso.  We have a Touareg refugee camp just a few blocks from our house.  This is what really got me curious about what is really going on in Mali. They are friendly with us and we see their tents set up at a local school. They ride camels although they are technically in the Sahel in Burkina and not the Sahara. I started to research their culture and they are fascinating!

They are referred to as the "blue men" by other people groups in West Africa because of the traditional indigo dye that they use for their robes and turbans. The dye often stains their skin, hence the nickname. They come from Libya originally and are a nomadic people group.
This map shows the area that they live in. I like maps, can you tell? They live large white tents and have a very distinguished style of dress. They have many different turbans for all different occasions.  The white are for ceremonies and holidays.  The red, yellow, and green are for dressing up, and the traditional blue are for every day. The blue is really beautiful on their skin tone.  They are part of the people groups known as, L'Afrique Claire. The northern-most third of Africa has lighter skinned people such as, Egyptians, Moroccans, and the Touaregs. Here is a great picture of le peau claire.

 Men and women both wear long, full coverage robes to battle the sand and the sun of the Sahara. The traditional Touaregs only show their eyes. This dress code also works well with the Islamic robes for modesty that the Koran prescribes. The Touaregs are what you would picture in your mind when you think of the classic guy who pulls a sword on Indiana Jones in a market alley-way.  The pointed shoes and the intricate swords are just some of the beautiful Touareg wares.
The one aspect of their culture that I found to be particularly interesting is the Tea Ceremony.  The tea ceremony is a greeting. What if we had that in America? Every time a visitor was passing through or someone that we knew was in the area, we would hold a ceremony. It is such a unique way to honor guests! The ceremony has three parts. They use green tea for all three parts, but the tea is brewed differently each time. It is rude to not take the offered tea and also it impolite to only take part of the teas. The first tea is bitter and symbolizes death. The second tea is very strong and symbolizes life. The final tea is made sweet and symbolizes love.
I immediately saw the gospel spelled out here. Jesus died for the bitterness of sin. He lives again so that we have him for the times when life seems stronger than we can handle. Finally, what's left is the sweetness of his love. How cool that Jesus is there with an unreached people group just waiting to know what he has to offer. The Touaregs can be a violent and treacherous people, as the wars clearly show. I can't go to their camp and talk to them, for safety's sake, but I did buy several of the tiny tea ceremony pots. They are near us for a reason. Pray that they will come to know Jesus through the missionaries in the area.