Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Timbuctoo Manuscripts - Let's Not Forget Historical Media

The treasures of Timbuktu
Wealth of words | The belief that Africa had no written history has been disproven in the fabled centre that once was a seat of Islamic scholarship
Dec. 18, 2005. 01:00 AM

Time has not been kind to this once-great centre of civilization, which in the early 1500s inspired the Spanish explorer Leo Africanus to paint a picture of a learned, cultured and peaceful place where books were the main industry, where one literally walked on "gold."

Lured by this promise of riches, European explorers tried for centuries to find Timbuktu. By the time the first ones finally arrived in the 1800s, they found a desolate desert outpost not all that different from the sand-swept town of today, with no evidence of all the fabled wealth. Hence, the Western myth about a never-never place with little to offer the world — a myth that is about to be exploded.

Today, treasures are being unearthed here that are radically changing the way the world views Timbuktu, Africa and her history. They're called the "Timbuktu manuscripts" and they disprove the myth that Africa had no written history.

While many thousands have been recovered, there are still hundreds of thousands of manuscripts hidden away in wells and mud-walled storerooms in northern Mali. Huge collections have been passed down in families over many centuries, kept out of sight for fear that European explorers, and then French colonists, would abscond with them.

"Before, all the manuscripts were kept in our homes," says Abdelkader Haidara, who has inherited his family's collection of 9,000 written works dating back to the 16th century.

"Then, in 1993, I had an idea to open a private and modern library that would be open to everyone."

Thanks to funding from an American foundation, Haidara has been able to open his Mamma Haidara library and catalogue 3,000 of the manuscripts, some of which date back to the 1100s.

None of this would have been possible had not Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of Harvard University's African and African-American studies department, visited Haidara and realized the importance of preserving these documents.

"When professor Gates came here and saw the storeroom full of these manuscripts written by African scholars centuries ago, he started to cry," says Haidara. "He wept like a child, and when I asked him why, he said he had been taught at school that Africa had only oral culture and that he had been teaching the same thing at Harvard for years and now he knew all that was wrong."


Ahmed Baba Institute

Libraries in the sand reveal Africa's academic past.

Researchers in Timbuktu are fighting to preserve tens of thousands of ancient texts which they say prove Africa had a written history at least as old as the European Renaissance.

Private and public libraries in the fabled Saharan town in Mali have already collected 150,000 brittle manuscripts, some of them from the 13th century, and local historians believe many more lie buried under the sand.

The texts were stashed under mud homes and in desert caves by proud Malian families whose successive generations feared they would be stolen by Moroccan invaders, European explorers and then French colonialists.

Written in ornate calligraphy, some were used to teach astrology or mathematics, while others tell tales of social and business life in Timbuktu during its "Golden Age," when it was a seat of learning in the 16th century.

"These manuscripts are about all the fields of human knowledge: law, the sciences, medicine," said Galla Dicko, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library housing 25,000 of the texts.

  I hope you all find this info interesting  enough to do a followup. 
This is the kind of thing we should be after the "Black guy" in the "White House"
to support. The world needs to become more aware of Africa's history.
It's not enough to know that these texts exist, we have to be about the work of
spreading their contents. The following is an example of what we might expect 
to find in these manuscripts, among other data.

An 18th century Timbuctoo Account - part 1
Posted on January 31, 2008 by The Griot
The following are excerpts from;

_WITH NOTES, CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY._By; JAMES GREY JACKSON,Printed by A. and R. Spottiswoode,Printers Street, London. 1820.

On the east side of the city of Timbuctoo, there is a large forest,in which are a great many elephants. The timber here is very large. The trees on the outside of the forest are remarkable for having two different colours; that side which is exposed to the morning sun is black, and the opposite side is yellow. The body of the tree has neither branches nor leaves, but the leaves, which are remarkably large, grow upon the top only: so that one of these trees appears, at a distance, like the mast and round top of a ship.