without heart you have nothing

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Tuareg life is regulated not just by outer, topographical paths but by an inner, ethical path as well. This personal compass is referred to in French, the language of Algeria’s colonial government until 1962, as le chemin, “the Path.” The Path consists of three parts: ashek, tasaidert, and ull. As Adem explains, “The Path helps a Tuareg stay on course. If someone starts to veer off course, the Path helps him get back on.”

Ashek embodies the essences of both honor and dignity. To be ashek means that one comports oneself with the knowledge that he or she bears the responsibility of living out the highest, most honorable expectations of the culture, right up to the point of death. Ashek is the mantle on which all the details of Tuareg life are embroidered. It is an attitude, a bearing. A nobility that, ideally, is so highly developed within a person that he or she exudes it naturally, ashek encompasses honesty, the honoring of women, and the ability to make choices that will align oneself with beauty, strength, and integrity rather than some more immediate pleasure.

Tasaidert is courage, with the added element of patience woven into it. This quality is crucial to a people who must travel long hours in the heat without respite; one not only keeps walking, but walks with grace, uncomplaining, simply accepting the difficulty and moving through it.

Ull is a fierce determination to live, but a determination that is inseparable from love. Ull is heart and will. “Without heart,” Adem says, “you have nothing.”

-from “Without Heart You Have Nothing,” Trebbe Johnson’s multifaceted and insightful essay about the Tuareg, a nomadic Berber people. From our Fall 2009 issue of Parabola, “The Path.”

Find the full issue here: http://bit.ly/YBfNJh

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Art credit: “Sacred Path” by Angelo Mazzolini. http://bit.ly/1bWz1jk

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