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The Libraries of Timbuktu


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Claire Berlinski



If your attitude toward Mali is "Who cares," consider this image:


Malian scholars, librarians and citizens in Timbuktu, the fabled desert trading town overrun by rebels this month, are protecting priceless ancient manuscripts to prevent them from being damaged or looted. ...


"I have no faith in the rebels. They may have an educated leadership, but they are sending in foot soldiers who are illiterate and if they want something they will take it ... They won't have any respect for paper culture," Prof Jeppie said.


He said since the rebel occupation, fighters had stolen vehicles from the Ahmed Baba Institute, the Malian state library that houses more than 20,000 ancient scholarly manuscripts. The library is named after Ahmad Baba Al Massufi, who died in 1627 and is regarded as Timbuktu's greatest scholar.


But the fighters did not enter the rooms and underground vaults where the priceless texts were stored at the library's new South African-funded building.


"The new building was defended by the public ... they stood in front of the gates," Prof Jeppie said.


And what is in that library?


Brittle, written in ornate calligraphy, and ranging from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices, the documents represent a compendium of learning on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics.


An online exhibition, here.



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