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Sabenas and the Drum of Iron


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(Tuareg/Western Sahara)

Sabenas was a mythic ancestor. The important noble clans of the Kel Ferouan drum-group (a drum is the insignia of the chief in all Tuareg groups)—namely, the true Kel Ferouan and the Kel Azel—are said to be matrilineally related, as the ancestor of the Kel Azel was a woman of the Kel Ferouan clan.

She married, tradition says, an Arab who was killed at her request. Sabenas was the ancestor of the noble clan and the first ruler of the Kel Ferouan drum-group. Her drum was made of iron.

The chief of the noble Kel Ferouan clan had the only drum of the group of which he was supreme chief. The drum followed him on journeys, and there were various signals used to summon his subjects. These signals should be obeyed not only by members of all vassal clans but also by the noble Kel Azel. The drum is made of wood and covered with skin. It has a mystic power. Therefore, when the skin was worn and had to be replaced, the man charged with this task would do it looking away from the drum, lest he be struck blind. The drum must never come into contact with soil or water, and it must never be touched by women. Drum-chiefs are installed by a vassal Tuareg of the group, who, appointing the chief, wraps a new veil or turban around his head. The drum-chief sanctions the election of all chiefs of clans belonging to his group. He installs them ceremoniously, providing them with veils. The drum-chief had the supreme jurisdiction over his group.

Subjects: Religion.


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