A Royal Wedding in the Sahara

by ptinti


The day began with an unambitious attempt to photograph the Grand Mosque in Agadez, Niger. It turned into a rendezvous with the Sultan of Aïr and an opportunity to attend a royal wedding. Here are my photos and audio recordings from that day.

AGADEZ, Niger — I started my Saturday morning in Agadez as most visitors might, walking to its famous Grand Mosque to prepare for a photo shoot. Originally built in 1515 and restored in 1844, the magnificent mud and clay structure is one of the most iconic images of Saharan culture.

The mosque sits adjacent to the palace of the Sultan of Aïr, the traditional ruler of Agadez and a broader area known as the Aïr.

Agadez was first established as a Sultanate in the 1400s, and though the empires that once dominated this region — Songhai, Ottoman, French — have come and gone, the Sultanate remains.

Thanks to its location at the southern edge of the Sahara, Agadez has long thrived as a crossroads, linking north African oases and the mediterranean coast to Saharan cities such as Timbuktu and sub-Saharan commercial centers such as Kano.

These days, Agadez still exists as a diverse, cosmopolitan trading hub, functioning as a desert outpost where licit and illicit goods — food, fuel, narcotics, arms, people — are transported and trafficked freely in all directions.

I arrived at the center of town to ask permission to photograph the mosque later that evening from inside the palace grounds. The shopkeepers outside the palace told me that taking pictures should not be a problem. They advised me to come back in a few hours when an important wedding would be taking place.

When I returned, my interlocutors from earlier that day had arranged for me to meet with Oumarou Ibrahim Oumarou, the Sultan of Aïr. With the Sultan’s blessing, I spent the day shooting photos of a wedding ceremony on the palace grounds. On this particular day, two marriages were taking place, both of which involved relatives of the Sultan.

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