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Sahara Desert houses many historical relics

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By Abiodun Okunloye

Travelers visiting Djado have marveled at the "KSARS" for generations.

One of the most amazing and rewarding sites in the Sahel can be found after a long journey over the desert of northern Niger: settlements made of salt and clay that have been built on top of rocks, with the Saharan sands laying siege below. Djado is located in the oasis region of Kawar, 1,300 km (807 miles ) from the capital Niamey and close to Niger’s contentious border with Libya. Travellers visiting Djado have marvelled at the “KSARS” for generations, looking at the crenellated walls, watchtowers, hidden passages, and wells that attest to the work of a brilliant but unknown hand.

There has never been a complete explanation for who established this outpost in such a charred and barren place or why they decided to build it. The mystery of why it was abandoned is almost as intriguing. There has never been any attempt at scientific dating of archaeological excavation to unravel the mystery. In the past, Kawar served as a crossroads for merchant caravans travelling over the Sahara. In modern times, however, it has become a hub for the movement of illegal drugs and weapons. Its unsettling reputation discourages all but the most hardy of visitors.

Criminals have taken refuge in the surrounding mountains.

Djado sites haven’t seen any foreign tourists since 2002, according to Chirfa Mayor Sidi Aba Laouel. The local economy may benefit from increased tourism if conditions are favourable for visitors. The discovery of gold in 2014 was an opportunity of sorts. Miners flocked there from all over West Africa, bringing with them new life and some economic relief. However, they were joined by criminals who took refuge in the surrounding mountains. Due to the frequent and devastating raids, few newcomers appear interested in visiting the KSARS.

Furthermore, he talked lightly while discussing local history because of the wide disparities in understanding. He points to some photocopies in a back corner of his cupboard by French military officer Albert le Rouvreur, who was stationed at Chirfa during the colonial era and failed to explain the site’s history. The Sao, who has lived in the area for decades, perhaps built the earliest defences in what is now Kawar. However, when exactly they reached an agreement is unclear. Some of the surviving KSARS have palm roofs, indicating that they were constructed later.

Many raids have rendered the place desolate, with no record.

Inhabiting the area between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Kanuri culture eventually became dominant. In the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous waves of nomadic raids, including the Tuaregs, Arabs, and the Toubou, came close to wiping out their oasis civilisation. When the first Europeans arrived in what is now the early 20th century, it marked the beginning of the end for the KSARS as a method of protection against foreign invaders. In 1923, the French military assumed control of the region.

Even though there is a lot of mixing between Kanuri and Toubou today, the traditional leaders of the region known as the “mai” are all Kanuri. They are the guardians of oral history and authorities on cultural norms. However, there is still much that is unknown, even to the guardians. No one knew, not even their grandfathers. According to Kanuri leader Kiari Kelaoui Abari Chegou, his people didn’t preserve documents. Endangered artifacts, the Fachi Oasis, 300 km south of Djado, is home to a well-known citadel and ancient town whose walls are largely intact. Traditional ceremonies are still carried out in several of the ancient city’s most significant locations.

It should be recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to Kiari Sidi Tchagam, a traditional leader in Fachi, the stronghold has been around for at least 200 years. He echoed notions of Turkish influence by claiming that an Arab had come from Turkey and given the locals the idea to build a fort on the site. The ruins are a source of pride, but descendants worry about protecting the salt buildings from rain. Djado has been on UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites since 2006. Tchagam stressed the need to have it recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This fort is a symbol of who they are; it represents their history and culture.

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