Africa has long been considered a continent without history because it does not have a renowned script. However, the Timbuktu manuscripts are one of the living proofs of the fact that Africa is not only a continent with an oral tradition but also a real deposit of writing. Given the importance of these treasures, abandoning them to looting and degradation will be an unforgivable blunder for Africa and for Mali.
“Manuscripts are our diplomas, our identity cards, our witnesses throughout the world,” says Bassam Daghestani in a great lyrical flight. It is important that these living witnesses of African civilization be safeguarded and made safe. These documents are one of the oldest known in the Afro-Muslim world. They carry the emblem of African intellectual brains. In fact, they are all copies of older works, as well as original local productions. For the most part, these are documents dating from the period from the 17th to the 19th century. Preserved for centuries in the city of Timbuktu, city of the 33 saints, they are written by scholars from the former empire of Mali in the Arabic language Peulh and some in Haoussa. These authentic texts speak of history, astronomy, music, botany, genealogy, anatomy… So many fields generally despised, even considered as “impious”.
The urgency of the preservation
In April 2012, while Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad allied with the Ansar Dine movement and the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were rampaging through the scholarly city, the precious heritages were smuggled out to the capital Bamako. Indeed, this operation was effective thanks to the volunteers Abdelkader Haidara and Stéphanie Diakité. Thus, thousands of manuscripts were saved from looting and destruction.
On December 16, 2021 at the Modibo Keita Memorial, a workshop, organized by the Ministry of Handicrafts, Culture, Hotel Industry and Tourism pronounced on the issue. It was especially to examine judiciously the documents resulting from the collective reflection on the questions relating to the preservation, the accessibility, the exploitation and the valorization of the old manuscripts of Mali. This with the financial support of the European Union, the Spanish cooperation and Unesco. During the workshop, the head of the UNESCO office in Bamako, Edmond Moukala, acknowledged that Malian manuscripts face many difficulties and that the outcome of this workshop will be beneficial for their conservation and management.
Digitization and archiving in Bamako, a solution
More than 40,000 manuscripts from the Timbuktu library have been in Bamako for years. Most are already digitized. The curators are not only thinking about conservation but also about ensuring that learners from all countries discover the richness of African culture. For Mohamed Diaghayaté, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, the educational and cultural actors have learned a lot from the sacking of Timbuktu: ” This allowed us to house all the manuscripts in the boxes for safekeeping and also taught us a lesson. It is necessary to have a digitized copy of all these manuscripts. Indeed, all those who are in Bamako today are digitized even if sometimes we think that the quality of this digitization must be improved. .
However, it must be recognized that despite the efforts already made, much remains to be done. Africa has always suffered from the non-existence of authentic writings. It would then be judicious that a fight is engaged for the safeguard of these rare writings, heritage of our continent.