- Ancient tribal bag
- Bag, wallet/amulet, penis sheath, dyed fabric and human hair
- Made by the Tuareg people of Africa
This is an extraordinary find and one of the most interesting items I have come across. This wonderful carved leather nomadic shepherd’s bag has decorative carved leather strands and tassels attached to the handles, woven leather buttons and woven leather handles. Inside the bag is a carved leather two-piece purse, a leather penis sheath, numerous pieces of indigo dyed fabric and a cluster of human hair.
I had this fascinating piece for some time before I began to research its origin. When I purchased this very unusual piece, I was told that it was an ancient nomadic shepherd’s bag but, strangely enough, it was the simple pieces of blue fabric which gave away its origin.
I believe this originates from North Africa and was made by the a Tuareg people.
The bag and accessories are very old, at least to the beginning of the 20th century and the leather is in a very delicate state.
The bag measures approx. 16 x 14 x 4cm. Some of the carved leather decorative strands have broken off, as have some of the buttons. The woven leather straps or handles are worn and the whole piece is in a fragile state.
The bag opens with a flap at each side and each side has two pockets. One flap has split half way across. The two decorative tassels and carved strands are separate items and detachable from the bag itself using the large buttons to feed through loops on the bag. The two handles are different lengths, possibly one piece but fed through the button, and is also detachable.
The bag has a carved cross design.
The wallet and hair.
I have called this a wallet, but it could be an amulet, purse or a gris-gris. Inside this I found the coiled human hair which could signify that the piece holds some magical properties for someone who believes in the Jinn, as the Tuareg people do. Hair is quite significant in voodoo, and the area of North Africa where the Tuareg people live is the birthplace of the voodoo belief. Tribal religions of West Africa were taken to Haiti by imported slaves in the 17th century.
The wallet consists of two pieces where one fits inside the other. The inner piece, which holds the hair, is missing most of its strap which has broken off at some time. The inner piece is plain and softer leather than the decorated outer leather piece. The thin strap would have fed through the two ‘pipes’ in the outer piece which would have made a very secure. If this was a gris-gris, it would probably have contained a written excerpt from the Quran and other items to ward off bad luck and keep the bearer safe.
The penis sheath.
I am a little puzzled by this. I have been unable to find anything about its use or significance. I could find some information about the use of penis sheaths by good Tuargeg shepherds to stop their animals mating at dangerous times of the year, but I think this looks more human sized. This strange item measures approx. 27cm and is in a worn condition.
The pieces of blue cloth
As I mentioned earlier, it was the indigo dyed cloth that gave away the origins of the bag. The Tuareg people are famous for this and are known as the ‘blue people’ as the cloth stains their skin. There are small pieces of dyed cloth of varying sizes inside the bag. Most of these are rather stiff and could perhaps be patches of some sort or pieces ready to be made into something. There is also some different cloth and some string tying it some other very small pieces.
Please have a look at my blog where I have written about this fascinating bag and give some interesting facts about the Tuareg Tribe of the Sahara.
This is a very unusual collection which I would love to know more about. Please contact us if there’s anything else you would like to know or if you have any further information.
This would make an excellent addition to a tribal collection or an interesting tribal wall décor piece.