Timbuktu manuscripts, evidence of Africa's glorious past.

Author:Commey, Pusch
Position:Around Africa: Mali

It has been said that Black Africa had no written tradition. But an exciting find in Timbuktu has uncovered thousands of manuscripts dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, pointing to the great libraries of Timbuktu where Western scholars travelled to study.

The Timbuktu manuscripts showcase a diverse and rich African culture and scientific knowledge. In what has been described as spectacular, the manuscripts incorporate subjects such as architecture, cultural tradition, astrology, science, economics, geography and mathematics.

The Arabic manuscripts (although some are written in local indigenous languages) are housed at the Baba Ahmed Institute and a good portion was kept by different families of ancient scholars.

Others have been found at the Sankore Mosque and the Gingery-Ber Mosque. Some of the scripts have gold leafs on the side, the same technology applied in Christian monasteries of Europe where copies of the Bible were decorated in gold.

Timbuktu, the northern city of Mali on the edge of the Sahara desert, was a great centre of learning where the region's intellectuals and scholars studied at the Sankore University (now turned into a mosque).

According to historians, the city's name was a thorn in the West's conscience, as Timbuktu was synonymous with wealth, unparalleled with anything seen in Africa.

The town had a flourishing trade in gold, and its merchants sold their gold in Europe and the Middle East in exchange for salt and other valuable goods. The period between 1350 and 1650 was called the "golden age" of Timbuktu.

Scholars from the 12th and 19th centuries made use of the written word from Timbuktu to guide leaders of multi-ethnic states that spanned vast areas of Africa. Their writings in Arabic were influenced by traditional African thought and Islamic faith.

At its height, the University of Timbuktu enrolled 25,000 students and incorporated many cities with scholars from Europe. It had 180 Koranic schools and camps in the desert. This heritage is recorded in over 700,000 manuscripts.

"I believe the cultural legacy of Timbuktu represents the missing link in Africa," says Noel Brown, president of the Friends of the United Nations who doubles as a member of the Timbukru Heritage Advisory Board. "We need to engage in efforts to restore the libraries of Timbuktu as they have with the library of Alexandria. All young Africans will then flock to Titnbuktu to learn their history and culture."

Dr Graham Dominy, head of the...

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