Skip to comments.Libraries in the sand reveal Africa's academic past
Posted on 11/10/2006 2:19:31 PM PST by Pharmboy
A Malian walks out of the Great Mosque in Djenne,
Mali in this August 10, 2003 file photo. 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.
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.
"Here is a political tract," he said, pointing to a script in a glass cabinet, somewhat dog-eared and chewed by termites. "A letter on good governance, a warning to intellectuals not to be corrupted by the power of politicians."
Bookshelves on the wall behind him contain a volume on maths and a guide to Andalusian music as well as love stories and correspondence between traders plying the trans-Saharan caravan routes.
Timbuktu's leading families have only recently started to give up what they see as ancestral heirlooms. They are being persuaded by local officials that the manuscripts should be part of the community's shared culture.
"It is through these writings that we can really know our place in history," said Abdramane Ben Essayouti, Imam of Timbuktu's oldest mosque, Djingarei-ber, built from mud bricks and wood in 1325.
HEAT, DUST AND TERMITES
Experts believe the 150,000 texts collected so far are just a fraction of what lies hidden under centuries of dust behind the ornate wooden doors of Timbuktu's mud-brick homes.
"This is just 10 percent of what we have. We think we have more than a million buried here," said Ali Ould Sidi, a government official responsible for managing the town's World Heritage Sites.
Some academics say the texts will force the West to accept Africa has an intellectual history as old as its own. Others draw comparisons with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
But as the fame of the manuscripts spreads, conservationists fear those that have survived centuries of termites and extreme heat will be sold to tourists at extortionate prices or illegally trafficked out of the country.
South Africa is spearheading "Operation Timbuktu" to protect the texts, funding a new library for the Ahmed Baba Institute, named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare.
The United States and Norway are helping with the preservation of the manuscripts, which South African President Thabo Mbeki has said will "restore the self respect, the pride, honor and dignity of the people of Africa."
The people of Timbuktu, whose universities were attended by 25,000 scholars in the 16th century but whose languid pace of life has been left behind by modernity, have similar hopes.
"The nations formed a single line and Timbuktu was at the head. But one day, God did an about-turn and Timbuktu found itself at the back," a local proverb goes.
"Perhaps one day God will do another about-turn so that Timbuktu can retake its rightful place," it adds.
A black history ping and a GGG ping...
Africa used to have the pre-eminent copy and translation center in the world, much of it BC and nobody knows what was lost. This 1300AD excitement is nonsense.
The burning of the library in Alexandria was a tragedy. That was much older than the Renaissance. How old are these documents again?
From what they say, about 800 years old.
The buzz-word for many sites here in the USA being claimed by UN bureaucrats as 'belonging to the world.'
It didn't happen right away, but 14 years after fighting their way to the gates of Rome, Carthage was forced to defend themselves on their home turf on the Plains of Zama. The lost. They survived as a vassal state for another 56 years.
The rest of Africa fared a little better. Roman rule helped a little and even Carthage was rebuilt, getting another 750 years or so of life. Mali, Timbuktu and surrounding areas were building great cities and libraries at a time Europeans were largely prefeudal and illiterate. The decline of the civilizations of North Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and final destruction of Cathage for the final time in 698 a.d. all coincided with the introduction of the Religion of Peace. But I'm sure it was just a strange coincidence. < / sarcasm >
Fascinating. I recently read Dorothy Dunnett's "House of Niccolo" series of novels, set in the 15th century. One novel takes place in Timbuktu, where the salt caravans came south to trade salt for gold. She speaks of great learning, libraries, early manuscripts. Evidently that was the case.
But the city, related to the Arab nations of the north but closer to the black tribal kingdoms of the south, had a hard time keeping its independence. The main characters leave shortly before it falls.
This perhaps says something about Western Europe's future, and maybe also America's if America does not get serious about defending itself.
Why, always, would the Muszies be competing with Western culture? "We are NOT living in the dark ages. ONCE we had books, really we did, we just found them, buried in the sand."
A backup disk for a civilization - too bad they never got the chance to reboot their society. Much similar may need to be done for our own.
You don't say. Bit of a pity about their human infant sacrifices then.
Criminal Number 18F
Founded by the Phoenician traders, more of a Mediterranean colony than an African society.
The Carthagenians had a number of problems by today's standards. I'm aware they invented crucifixition as well as engaged in human infant sacrifices. The Romans practiced crucifixtion as well as human sacrifice and had depraved entertainment. Modern liberals would, if it were in their power, grow infants to harvest organs, think nothing of murder in the womb, but get all squeemish about giving the most cruel of adult murders a swift and relatively painless needle in the arm. You tell me which is more civilized.
hahahah, a perfect response, 18F.
North Africa is a product of Mediteranean civilization. Carthage and Egypt. Prior to the Arabization of Africa and the Muslimization of Africa these were all a part of Alexander the Great's greater Greece. South Africa has no great civilization so revisionist history and the culture of self-esteem tries to portray the Ancient Egyptians as dark skinned. Also Carthage was rightfully burned to the ground after 2 broken treaties with Rome and Hannibal's plunder of the Italian penninsula for about 20 years. Scipio the African finally defeated the savages and upon doing so returned to his farm.
Also, anyone here read "Skeletons on the Zahara"?
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