In appearance Mauretania is a parched and inhospitable land, offering nothing but physical hardship to the tribes that populate it. And yet Mauretania has a hidden spiritual richness in the way its peoples are gently united around their religion of Islam. This is the high plateau of the Adrar on the edge of the legendary desert of Majabat. It was here that great caravan routes of ancient times converged – a busy mercantile crossroads that witnessed the passage of countless travelers. The Zarga, a massive chain of rock, sits 500 kilometers from the capital, Nouakchott, and at its foot live the last of the Mauretanian nomads.
Ely Cheikh, 12 years old, is a member of a nomadic Moorish tribe called the Chervas. Because of Mauretania’s position as a transit point between the Maghreb countries and Black Africa, different peoples, cultures and civilizations mingled and blended – and ethnic tolerance has characterized this long history of human fluidity. It is virtually impossible to trace the ethnic roots of the tribes which have emerged. But today the population falls into four major groupings, the Moors which include the berber peoples, the Arabs, the Black Moors, and finally those with Sudanese origins who fall into three great groups: the Peulhs, the Soninkés and the Wolofs. Ely Cheikh is a Moor, the descendent of a great Mauritanian family. His mother is from a warrior tribe, his father, a direct descendent of the Prophet.