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Saharan migrant camel herders: Znāga social status and the global age*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 August 2014

Francisco Freire*
CRIA (Centro em Rede de Investigação em Antropologia) – FCSH/NOVA (Faculdade Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa), Lisbon, Portugal


In the late 20th century, 300 Mauritanian shepherds travelled to the United Arab Emirates in order to tend the herds of some of that country's most prominent leaders. These low-tech subjects of global migration flows were particularly valued and sought after by their Emirati employers for their expertise in raising camels. I analyse the forms and consequences of this migration, focusing on the reintegration of these shepherds into Mauritanian stratified tribal spheres following their return to the Sahara. The possibility of a change in their social status (after a financially rewarding experience in the Gulf) will be a central theme of this article. This issue arises from the pervasive designation of these shepherds as a ‘tributary’ (znāga) group, through the application of the tripartite social model that, to a large extent, still defines Mauritania's arabophone population.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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This study was funded by the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (BPD/47681/2008), which I would like to thank for its support. In Mauritania, my work was much facilitated by my friends Elemin ould Mohamed Baba, Mohamed Hmayada, Yahya ould al-Bara, Mahmuden ould Hally and Mohamed ould Sidi.


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