has become the 'zone apart' (in Targui language) and is sometimes
called the desert within the desert. Dunes surround this desert
region, however one crosses the Ténéré,
from west to east, it the dunes which for about 700 km. join
Agadez to Bilma, passing the Tazole Well, the Tree of Ténéré
and the Fachi Oasis.
The Azalai cross these dunes with their salt caravans, bringing
millet from Agadez to be exchanged with salt and dates from
Bilma. Sometimes there were two caravans a year - the winter
one and a smaller one in the spring; isolated groups could have
been attacked by bandits and the important caravans were formed
with more than 10,000 camels.
On the dunes a thorny Acacia belonging in all probability to
the species Acacia raddiana called 'Tafagag' or 'Afaga' in the
tamachek tongue could be seen from a great distance, with its
two distinct trunks, forming a 'Y' and a parasol shape, despite
the fact that its height was not more than three metres.
Solitary, isolated in the plain, absolutely unique, this silhouette
was a focal point of restthe first, or the last, according
in which direction one was travelling, and it was understandable
that it was marked on the maps in heavy characters despite the
fact that the dunes themselves were abundantly marked by the
white bones of camels.
Henri Lhote, in his book, L'épopée du Ténéré
described his two journeys to the Tree of Ténéré.
The first time was in 1934 on the occasion of the first automobile
liaison between Djanet and Agadez. He describes the tree as
an Acacia with a degenerative trunk, sick or ill in aspect.
Nevertheless, the tree has nice green leaves, and some yellow
The second time is twenty-five years after, on 26 November 1959
with the Berliet-Ténéré mission, but Lhote
no longer recognises the Tree. 'Before, this tree was green
and with flowers; now it is a colourless thorn tree and naked.
I cannot recognise itit had two very distinct trunks.
Now there is only one, with a stump on the side, slashed, rather
than cut a metre from the soil. What has happened to this unhappy
tree? Simply, a lorry going to Bilma has struck it
it has enough space to avoid it
the taboo, sacred tree,
the one which no nomad here would have dared to have hurt with
his hand... this tree has been the victim of a mechanic...'
But several questions must be asked: How is it that a
tree was born and grew up in this desert zone was spared from
destruction by the numerous nomads who were certainly tempted
to cut the branches for fire and make tea - not to mention the
camels who would eat the leaves and thorns?
If the Ténéré Tree was the only one in
that area, there are in the region others; arborescent shrubs
belonging to the species Acacia raddiana and some people here
thought that is was the survivor of a group having subsisted
on the existence of an ancient water hole.
During the winter of 1938-9 a well was dug near the Tree. According
to Lhote the water is at 33 metres and the bottom at more than
36 m. The Sgt. Lamotte who constructed the well found the roots
of the tree at 35 m deep on level with the water table.
Tree of Ténéré could have been 300 years
old. Some studies of the rings or a carbon dating 14 will perhaps
give a precise age, but the tree formerly had two or even three
trunks. The oldest part of the Tree will be the correlation
with the common stump of these stumps, and not a split off section.
If the Tree of Ténéré
has been protected, perhaps for several centuries, it is because
it was considered as Taboo by the Touaregprobably because
of its interest as a landmark and as a symbol of lifein
any case, the tribal order which protected the Tree was strong
Note: the Tree
is now in the museum at Niamey, capital of Niger.