Timbuktu Libraries: An Update
Timbuktu in the News
News reports earlier this week indicated that rebels routed from Timbuktu, Mali, had burned the new Ahmed Baba Center, where priceless books and manuscripts are stored, on their way out. This news was very distressing, as the libraries of Timbuktu are a precious cultural resource for all humanity.
Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located at the edge of the Sahara desert and next to the great Niger River in West Africa. It was the site of an Islamic university in the 15th and 16th centuries, and many Koranic schools were also to be found there. It was a center for the diffusion of the Muslim religion in Africa at the time, and in its marketplace, manuscripts were sold and traded.
Books and manuscripts have been saved and protected by families in the city for centuries, and they have just recently started to be cataloged and conserved with the help of outside experts. A number of the writings had been sold to tourists by needy Malians, until recent years.
I wrote about the ancient libraries of Timbuktu in an earlier blog.
Fortunately, the reports of the burning of the Ahmed Baba Center and of the priceless writings seem to have been inaccurate. More recent articles say that many of the books were removed from the city or hidden away for safekeeping.
More Information on the Recent Events in Timbuktu
- Here's What Was in the Torched Timbuktu Library (Washington Post)
- Has the Great Library of Timbuktu Been Lost? (The New Yorker)
- Timbuktu's Vulnerable Manuscripts are City's "Gold" (National Geographic Daily News)
This DVD talks about the manuscripts and the ancient university and their significance, especially for today's African Americans: Timbuktu: The Untold Story, presented by the Timbuktu Educational Foundation (it's also on YouTube, here and here)
Readings to Learn More About Timbuktu
- To Timbuktu by Mark Jenkins
- Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle
Wonderful Malian Music
Photo credit: Reuters
Vaughn Harrison works at Half Moon Bay Library and on the Bookmobile.