Safeguarding the Manuscripts from Timbuktu

21 Mar Safeguarding the Manuscripts from Timbuktu

Prof. Abdessamad with some of the chests at SAVAMA-DCI, Bamako, Malí

Since 2003 Azzagra Cultural Association has been working to preserve and protect
the important manuscript legacy of the city of Timbuktu, more than 280,000 Islamic
manuscripts.
The safety of these manuscripts was threatened when political and civil unrest
erupted in the North of Mali in March 2012. The Azzagra Cultural Association played
an active role in the rescue mission for the manuscript collections. This rescue
mission ensured that 95% of the manuscripts in these collections were successfully
rescued from the threat of extinction by the political conflict and civil unrest. The
manuscripts were transferred from Timbuktu to Bamako, the capital of the Republic
of Mali, with a difficult and challenging transportation program.
However, the condition of the storage in Bamako poses yet another threat to the
manuscripts. Currently, institutions and funding from many different countries are
contributing to the preservation of these collections in Bamako, but so far the efforts are not sufficient. This report will give an overview of the past and present, and the
urgent strategies needed to protect this important and irreplaceable heritage.

THE MANUSCRIPT LEGACY OF TIMBUKTU

 

Timbuktu is a city rich in history and cultural heritage. In
the 14th century, it became actively involved in the
trans-Saharan trade between tropical African and
Mediterranean Africa and by the 16th century Timbuktu
grew into an important intellectual centre. It attracted
many Muslim scholars from the Maghreb and sub-
Saharan Africa who brought manuscripts from various
Islamic lands and who copied and composed an
impressive number of manuscripts on a wide variety of
subjects, dating from the 14th to the early 20th century.

The Timbuktu Manuscripts represent the scholarly and scribal activity in the city and
beyond. including the whole region of Mali and its neighbouring countries, such as
Senegal and Mauritania. The manuscripts have been preserved in private
household libraries for centuries and their tremendous value for the history of the
14th to 20th century Africa is yet to be explored. During the last 25 years institutions
and projects by various local and international stakeholders have been raising
awareness for the manuscripts and gradually making them accessible for research.
SAVAMA (Association de Sauvegarde et Valorisation des Manuscrits et la Defense
de la Culture Islamique) was launched as an association of private family libraries
who owned the majority of the manuscripts of Timbuktu. These institutions have
transitioned from an association to a single NGO which has over 377,000
manuscripts in its care, entrusted to them by 45 families of Timbuktu. The SAVAMADCI
has received financial support from several foreign governments and
organisations, among them the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the

Abussamad Romero with Abdel Kader Haidara at the SAVAMA-DCI stores

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