Flatters Expedition

(1880-1881)
   This expedition was named after Lieutenant Colonel Paul Flatters, who led the first large-scale reconnaissance into the Sahara. He attended St.-Cyr and was a lieutenant in the Third Zouaves. He was an Arabist and served in the Bureaux Arabes. In November 1880, the expedition left Laghouat, under the command of Colonel Flatters, to explore the unconquered terrain south of Ouargala and to survey a route through Ahaggar for building a transcontinental railway, the Trans-Saharan, from Algiers to the Sudan. The expedition consisted of 92 men (French officers and engineers, Arab soldiers, and Arab Chaamba guides and cameleers). On 16 February, as they moved deeper into Ahaggar, Tuareg, waiting in ambush, charged one of the columns and slaughtered many members of the group. For the 40 desperate survivors, there was no alternative but to face an impossible trek back to the nearest French post, which was about 750 kilometers to the north. In addition, these starved men were fed dates mixed with a poisonous plant that acted as a nervous stimulant, rendering a person delirious. Following Flatters's massacre in February and intermittent skirmishes with the Tuareg, the survivors staggered relentlessly northward. They were starved and in constant search of water and food; many perished because of suicide and cannibalism.
   The French interest in the Tuareg, however, was renewed in 1897 when the Taytok raided the Arab Chaamba, who were French allies and auxiliaries, at Hassi Inifel. The real threat to Tuareg independence came in 1899 when the French Flamand-Pein expedition pushed southward to occupy In Salah, followed shortly by the occupation of the Tidikelt, Touat, and Guerrara oases. The French occupation of these oasis towns and villages seriously imperiled the Ahaggar communities and would spell the beginning of the end of their access to goods and services of oasis dwellers. The reaction of the Tuareg to French encroachment was to raid the camps of Arabs under French authority and pillage the oases of Tidikelt, Touat, Aoulef, and Akabil. The pillaging and exactions, combined with internal Tuareg disputes over traditional leadership roles, provoked French reprisals that culminated in the punitive expedition of Lieutenant Cottenest.
   Lieutenant Colonel Flatters authored Histoire ancienne du Nord de l'Afrique avant la conquête des Arabes (1863) and Histoire de la géographie et géologie de la province de Constantine (1865).
   See also Tit, Battle of.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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