South Africa + Mali to preserve priceless collection of hundreds of thousands of Timbuktu documents


"Construction of a R42-million library, which will host some of Africa’s most treasured written history, the Timbuktu manuscripts, has started in Mali.

"The construction of the library is part of a R50-million project, spearheaded by the South African Presidency and the Department of Arts and Culture, through funds raised mostly from the private sector, to preserve the priceless documents in the Malian city of Timbuktu....

"The new library will boast modern exhibition facilities and will use the latest technology to conserve the manuscripts. 'We believe that the library will be a catalyst for tourism in Timbuktu, which has declined in the last 20 years.'

"Ancient wisdom revealed the manuscripts in the collection of the Ahmed Baba Institute, in Timbuktu, date back to 1204 and are written in Arabic and local indigenous languages in the Arabic script.The manuscripts provide insights into a variety of subjects, ranging from law, literature, religion, science and astronomy to accounts of everyday life when Timbuktu was a wealthy trading port and a centre for academics and scholars.

"University of Cape Town (UCT) historian Dr Shamil Jeppie, who has been involved in the project since 2002, says that the manuscripts dispel the notion that African history is not written and is merely based on oral accounts.

"'Africans adopted Arabic script in the same way that Europeans adopted Latin script as a common way of communicating in the written word and recording knowledge.... The manuscripts prove a wider distribution of the writing culture in precolonial Africa than was originally perceived,” Jeppie tells Engineering News. He and other academics at UCT are deciphering and studying the manuscripts to gain greater insight into precolonial African culture and knowledge. There are about 100 000 manuscripts housed in Timbuktu – at the Ahmed Baba Institute and at private libraries in the city."

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