Source: Book of Commander Bissuel "The Sahara" written in 1891
Didier Bertin - November 25, 2011



The protection of endangered languages and scripts being one the various targets of the Society






Source: Book of the Sahara Commander Bissuel written in 1891
Didier Bertin - November 25, 2011



In 1844, the date of their creation, to 1870 (until the fall of the Second Empire), the Arab Offices held by the militaries have played a key role in the administration of territories of Algeria, left in a complete disorganization by the Ottoman authorities.

Arab Bureau gathered judicial fiscal and administrative powers. The Chiefs of Arab offices had thorough knowledge of Arabic and local dialects and have developed academic language skills and cultural role to fulfill their mission of information.


Arab Bureau were also intended to enforce the law on the prohibition of slavery which was a daunting task given the impossibility of determining the places of origin where the slaves were removed. Many freed slaves had no choice but to settle in Algeria.


Following the fall of the Second Empire, the Arab Bureau entered in opposition to the settlers.


The settlers wanted that Algeria be a French territory when Napoleon III believed that it should be part of an Arab nation, whose center could be in Damascus.


Napoleon III was suspicious of Europeans in Algeria, saying that there were more reasons to confine them that the natives.

In 1870, there were 50 Arab Bureau and  the power of the militaries in Algeria was reduced in favor of the settlers whose linguistic interest for Arabic was limited to basic knowledge necessary to exploit the country and the indigenous peoples.


From 1870 Algeria, gradually took the colonial shape it had in 1962 when the country became independent.


After the fall of the Second Empire the integration policy of Algeria to France decided formerly by the Second Republic was re-applied and the policy of the Arab Bureau policy was abandoned.


Commander Bissuel was head of the Arab Bureau, during the imperial period and has maintained an interest for local cultures and languages he presented during his conference of Medea in probably on the eve of his retirement.


In the last years of his career, he was appointed as head of a detention facility in Algiers' Fort Bab Azoun "but seemed to have kept good relations with the prisoners and in particular with the Touareg which he had learned the language and writing.


From 1955 new Arab Bureau were created SAS (Section administrative specialist) whose purpose was essentially repressive.




The TOUAREG are Muslims but have a particular and flexible conception of Islam.


The Privileged position of women:


1-The woman plays a role equal to or greater than that of man


2-While men have their faces hidden by their clothes, women have their faces uncovered.


3-The girls receive education


4-A woman marries according to her will and paternal authority prevents misalliances


5-The woman manages her own separate assets without obligation to contribute to family expenses and as a result a woman can be the largest holder of assets in the family.


6-In the home, the woman at the responsibility of raising children


7-The importance of the social role played by the children depends on the rank occupied by the family of the mother.


8-Although the woman is not a member of the tribe council, women have a notable influence if their opinions and judgments are considered as appropriate.


9-The girls are free to travel and to manage their relations as they wish.


10-On the condition that she fulfills his duties as a mother and wife, the woman is free to travel.


11-Influence of women is such that monogamy has emerged.


12-The assets are inherited by the eldest son of the eldest sister in order to preserve the family patrimony.


Some men challenge in words the importance of the role played by women, but it can be assumed that they are bragging about despite reality.





The TOUAREG were all able to read and write, and all have knowledge of astronomy that allows them to travel.


The TOUAREG had an innate sense of a concise literature.

Brevity is reflected also their concern about time management.


Hereunder are the thanks of a TARGUI to a religious nurse that he surnames Fathma written in Tamahaq (variant Targui dialect):


"Hail Fathma that healed me. May God increase your properties? We all send our greetings to you and yours, for the good action you made for all of us and we will not forget you when we are back on our land."

Everything is said in few words forming a concise and delicate text.


Many Touareg were poets as BEDD AG IDA who wrote a madrigal in fourteen lines to a young French woman:


"Your name, Angelina, produces in my soul

A love that will not die,

And for your love I would go to France.

your eyes kill  by their brightness

And deprive of wisdom the heart of any man

If I may give you a value,

I will give to you six thousand coins of gold;

For you I will give my horse.

The man, who will possess you, will have a sweet sleep.

Before you had reached a marriageable age

We thought the gazelle was not able to take human form

And yet we have seen this miracle this year.

If this girl went in our lowland country

All men will run to see her



Here below are two fables similar to those of Aesop and La Fontaine


The dog and bone


A greyhound found a bone and began to gnaw.

The bone said: "I am very hard"

The dog replied"

Do not worry,

I have time, I have nothing to do. "



The Lion, the Panther, the Tahouri * and the Jackal
* Type of hyena


A lion, a panther, a Tahouri and a Jackal were comrades.
One day they hunted together,

They found a sheep and killed him

The Lion said, "Who of us will share this flesh?"

"It will be the Jackal, he said, which is the smallest of us"

The Jackal therefore shared the flesh into four parts and said:

 "Let everyone come and take his part"

The lion came and said to the Jackal, "Where is my share between them?"

The Jackal said,"

They are all similar, take the one you like. "

"Jackal replied the lion you do not understand anything

In matter of sharing"

Then struck him and killed him.

The Jackal was dead, they sought could share the flesh.
The Tahouri said: "It will be me"

She mingled flesh of the jackal and sheep and made six shares.
Seeing this, the Lion said:

"We are three, why there are six shares?"

The Tahouri replied:

"The first part is for the Lion,

the second is for you, our chef,

And the third is for "Red Eye" (nickname of the Lion). "

"Who taught you this way of sharing? Asked the Lion

The Tahouri said: "The stroke that killed the jackal."




The Touareg speak by various dialects of Berber: Azgeur, Hoggar, Kel Ouï, Ouedlimmiden, Kabyle, Shaouia but they understand each other.


According to their different characteristics the Targuis called their language: Tamacheq, Tamacher't, Tamahaq, Tamajer't or Tamazir't.


The Tamacheq is spoken by Ouelimmiden of Adrar and Tamahaq by the tribes of the Ahnet.





The characters of the TARGUI’s alphabet are called the "Tifinar. '" This alphabet was discovered for the first time in 1845.
In 1860, Captain Hanoteau, who became later general, published a book of Tamachek grammar.


The Tamahaq is written in all directions: up and down from left to right, from right to left, from the upper side to the bottom and the contrary. Sometimes the same text is written in various directions.


The lines are continuous writing and may follow curves.


There is no principle of regularity; the Touareg write in front of them and turn the paper when they arrive at its limit in order to continue the sentence to the end in linking the words. The sense on one sentence has a priority as compared to the order.


They write below or above the first sentence. If there is free room white on a page, they can add additional information without worrying about the resulting tangles.


Reading requires a subtle analytical mind to determine the initial point of a text and to link the sentences together in the right order. As in Arabic there are no vowels or punctuations. The words are not separated from each other. There are no spelling rules.


When a word ends with the first letter of the next word, one of the two letters is deleted. Translations can be easily mistaken


























































V-EXAMPLES OF TRANSLATIONS–presented by the Commander Bissuel












The following text is written This is me, Moummen, saying :I greet  all the Chiefs from the Mzab in heading; the other lines are the same written by different persons.

The words written separately were considered as an independent sentence by the first translator and were explained as such:





















“What is better than playing and getting fatter, grazing the flock, surpassing the others?

Here every one dies”

These words were in fact the continuation of the first seven lines.









“I greet the chiefs from the Mzab and the commander, the captain, the officer, and Motilinsky.


The Touareg of the Ahnet area circled sometimes the words in order to be more easily understood.


The following example will permit the analysis of a letter. This letter starts from A and ends in B. The line C-D is a post- scriptum.copie-de-traduction-a-2-2.jpg








































The letter are never signed but they often have a mark of recognition as here remember the bracelet and the turban you gave me or in another letter remember the ball that was sewed.





The Touareg had no knowledge of the Arabic system of numbers
The letters are not often dated but sometimes an indication is given as follows:



























Since the men and I are in Algiers, it has been 21 nights in the month of Ramadan. The letter was written on the 22 of Ramadan or in Tamahaq the 22 of Tallit Azoum.




Letters collected by Commander H. Bissuel




Letter written in October 1888

To the Touareg of Fort Bab Azoun

By the daughter of Hamoud named Tihemt










From A to B

Tihemt ouelt tanet houlr’in Aggour.

Adounet daren medan : Chikkadh, ed Chaoua, Semana, Tinaqor, R’icha, Kounsi ed Fadhtimata

From C to D


Houlr’in Tachca, ed Mastan, Kenan, Moumen.


From E to F

Tihemt tanet houlr’in Chikkadh. Annas adounet sellamin, daren medan. Tedar Tifist ed Kheta ed Taqoua ed Biben Kella.



Word for word


Tihemt, daughter of Hamoud said, I greet Aggour. People living all; Chikkadh and Cahaoua, Semana, Tinaqor, R'icha, Kounsii. and Fatimata


I greet Tachcha and Mastan, Kenan, Moumen.


Tihemt saying I greet Chikkadh. Tell him people living: and healthy all


Living Tifist and Kheta and Taqoua and Biben, Kella.




I, Tihemt, daughter of Hamoud, greet Aggour. All people are alive and healthy: Chikkadh, Chaoui, Semana, Timaqor, R'icha, Kounsi and Fatima


I greet Tachcha and Mastan, Kenan Moumen.


I, Tihemt , greet Chikkadh. Tell him, the content of O my letter: All yours are alive and healthy i.e.: Tifist, Kheta, Taqoua, Biben and Kella





Letter of Kenan Ag Tissi of the noble tribe of Taïtoq, nephew and heir of the Chief of the Confederation of Ahnet, addressed to the Captain Bissuel on October 20, 1888

















The left drawing is a Targui armed for war on his camel and the right one is a mehari (camel) holding a Tihadad (palanquin for women).


Both lines must be read from A to B.


Oua nek Kenan houlr’in el R’oftan ticherbit, Oumas allés ! nehardek limana abeded foulner’.

Tira djelenet mer’ animer ? Isselan doussanin telour’ adanr’an.



Word for word


This is I, Kenan: greet Captain Turban*. Be a man! We know each other as friends. Make efforts for us. The letters have been remitted or not yet? When news arrives let us know.





I, Kenan, greet the Captain who must receive a turban*. Be a man! You are our friend, Give us a favor. Have our letters been remitted When they will be remitted let us


*NB:Kenan Ag tissi ha had promised Captain Bissuel to send him a turban as gift





Letter written by Sidi Ag Guerradj, Amr'ar - Chief of the confederation of Ahnet to the Touareg of Fort Bab Azoun

Kenan, his nephew, requested to be informed of it.





















From A to B


Oua nek Sidi innan hoular ‘ounin temedan ; Koudit tedarem, leqtetner ‘debbara ; tat ha el féida : itatenedj ter’anem aner’iqef. Our tedjim idaouaniar ouan baradhin.


Word for word


I, Sidi, say greetings to all of you. If you live, inform us of condition, the value in it: we will release the head. Do not say words as children.




I, Sidi, wish greetings to all of you. If you are alive, give us news in order that we stop to worry for you but do not write childish considerations.





Letter of Azziouel Ag Ser'ada of the noble tibe of Taïto to his brothers  Mastan and Tachcha and to their companions


















From A to B


Azziouel innan houtr’in Mastan ed Tachcha  ed Kenan ed Moumen ed Ihndjoued Aggour . Adounet sellamin medan . Our tarmir ‘em ouraq : ieqeder messiner’ ; ked qeder meni idiedj. Tezzaderttitoular’et.


Word for word


Azziouel saying, I greet you Tachcha and  Mastan and Kenan and Moumen and Ihndjou and Aggour. People safe and healthy all. Don’t be afraid. Our Lord have decided. If he decide,we will see each other again, we will meet. Hope is the best.





I, Azziouel, send my greetings to  Mastan, Tachcha, Kenan, Moumen, Ihndjou and Aggour. Everybody is in good health. Good wanted it so .If God wants we will meet aand see each other again.

Hope is the best thing.




Letter written in Salah, by Ag Tachcha Sér'ada to his brother Mastan and his companions on January 24, 1889

















This letter must be read in the order ABCDEFG


Oua nek Tachcha innan Houlrin Kenan ed Moumen  ed Chikkadh ed R’bd es Sellam ed Bou Setta ed Mastan .As tezim tamatart : takerikera tin keroudhan ; as adounet sellaminnmedan an  El Ouadhtia ikessa. Ag Ahnet , bahou innin abat. Ihndjou Ag Ahar iddar.Our ‘irin ouadem oullien, Khemadan Messiner’ ! Ar abaradh ouan R’ali, Sidi, abat, ouan dheren. Ikhenoukhen our dioussi. Tifinar’ dider’ Salakhedqenet neketeb. Adounet ouarin ar el Kheir medan.

Nek, Tachcha, Kenan, tatoub abadah, isseler’.

Word for word


This is I Tachcha, saying, I greet Kenan and Moumen and Chikkadh and Abd es Sellam and Bou Setta and Mastan.


So you know the proof ball that we have sewn: for healthy people all, in El Ouadhtia it looks green. Ag Ahnet, lie saying he died. Ihndjou son of Ahar is alive. Dead only one of them, Praise to our Lord! Except a young child of R'ali, Sidi, he died and that of Agouam, he died, the little one.

Ikhenoukhen did not arrive. The letters, these, we have written in Salakhlà.

People do not wish nothing but the good, all

I Tachcha, Kenan, always faithful I heard.




I,Tachcha, greet Kenan, Moumen, Chikkadh, Abd es Sellam, Bou Setta and Mastan. As a sign of recognition between us, remember the ball that we have sewn.

Our companions are alive and healthy and are in El Ouadhtia where there is a lot of pastures. The information indicating that Ag Ahnet is dead, is false, Ihndjou Ag Ahar is alive too. Nobody died among us, Praises to our God! But the young child Sidi, the son of R'ali died as well as the youngest son of Agouam.


Ikhenoukhen did not arrive yet.


We wrote these letters in In Salah., Everyone wants peace.

For Kenan: I, Tachcha, heard, that your wife is always faithful to you.




Letter of Mastan Ag Ser'Ada from the nobbe Tribe of Taïtoq to Sisiter Josephe of the Order Saint Vincent de Paul and working in the military Hospital of the Dey in Algiers

























This letter must be read in the order ABCD


Oua nek, Mastan, innan houlr’in Fadhtma tahiladjet seferan. Dhetekel messiner’ el kheirnem ; kem ed r’er-menem meda, Houllenkaminmiddenmedan. El kheir ouadjid doumedmessanila djamildessenouakmatouïn ness akal nener’.

Moumen innan houlr’in Fadhtma. Dhtekel messiner’ el  kheirnem.Ternemertenem.


Word for Word


I, Mastan, saying I greet Fathma (name given to Sister Josephe) you have used the remedies. Increase our Master the property of you, you and the people of you completely; we greet you, men all. The Well, you have made to our companions was good for us.. We remember when (the) in the land of us.




I, Mastan, greet Fathma (name given to Sister Josephe) who healed me. May God increase your property! We all greet you and yours. The well you made to our companions was good to us and we will not forget it when we return in our land..


I, Moumen, I welcome Fathma. May God increase to well! Thank you.





Letter of Khetoua daughter of Katel

Letter written with saffron on a piece of muslin
















This letter must be read in the order ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP


The symbol marked with the letter Q is the signature of Khetoua and has no alphabetical value


Oua nek Khetoua ouelt Khatel tennit houlr’in middenouan Djedjaïr : Kenan, Moumen, Mastan, Ihndjou.

Adounet sellamin ; our imout oudem.

Ihoullin imzad ! iadoubet Messiner’innin tamedjriout nouan. Edni tidhtaouin nouan. Tezzidert tenafa messis.

Sidi iha rât ; nesella idjemoudhet.


Word for Word 

I, Khetoua, daughter of Kathel, saying, I greet those men in Algiers: Kenan, Moumen, Mastan, Ihndjou.

People alive and healthy, not one dead

I greet Imzad. He is able our Master to free you.

We will see the eyes of you, for they will be happy parents of you. We want the eyes of you. Patience is useful to man.

Sidi is in R'ât we learned, comes back.





I Khetoua, daughter of Khatel, send my greetings to the companions of Algiers: Kenan, Moumen, Mastan and Ihndjou. Everybody is alive and healthy- none died.


Hail O my imzad (one rope violin- which means she will phays again Imzad when the will be back), God is powerful and may free. We will see you and your parents will be happy.


We languish your return. Patience is useful for human beings.

We have learned that Sidi is in R'ât and that he will come back soon.


Letter  of Moumen Ag R'ebelli member of a Marabout Family and of the noble tribe of Tai'tok
























Oak nek moumen innan adounet medan ouinder’ neroucharnin ar ouio medhrouinin . Nekenidh nesellem as tebeded Sarat.

Oua nek Moumen innan houlr’in tibaradhtin medanet ouahner’tetoumet ;houlr’in imzad ed messaoutis medanet.

Oua nek Bou Setta innan houlr’in adounet medan ouinder’ nerouchanin ar oui medhrouinin.

Oua nek Bou Setta innan houlr’in tibaradhtin medanet ouahner’ tetoumet.

Oua nek R’bd es Sellam innan houlr’in tibaradhtin medanet timessera ouahner’ tetoumet.


Word for Word


I Moumen saying I greet all people, from older to younger. We, we are alive and healthy when Sarat.is mounted.


I Moumen saying I greet all girls. Do not forget us. I greet the Imzads and their mistresses all.


I Bou Setta saying I greet all people, from the oldest to the youngest.

I Bou Setta saying I greet all the girls, do not forget us.


I Abd es me Sellam saying I greet all the young girls, the girls to marry. Do not forget us.






I Moumem, greet everyone, from the oldest to the youngest one. We are in good health at the beginning of the month of Sarat (beginning on January 23, 1890).


I Moumen I greet all the young girls. Do not forget us. I greet  all those who play the Imzad.


 NB: Imzad means together violin and hair. In this context it could mean all of those who have long hair, that is to say all women.


I Bou Setta greet everyone, from the oldest to the youngest one.

I Bou Setta, greet all the girls.Do not forget us.


I Abd es Sellam, greet all young girls and nubile girls. Do not forget us.