Founded by the Tuaregs around 1077, Timbouctou or Timbuktu (that means ‘’the well of Bouctou’’ in Tamasheq, or ‘’the woman with a great navel) is a Malian city situated in the northern part of the country, on the great bend of the Niger River. It is 10 kilometers north of the river on a sandy plain dotted with ponds and mimosa bushes and palm trees. It’s population is estimated at about 70, 000 inhabitants. Historical Timbuktu was a triangle of 6 km with the tip to the north; some ruins surround the north and west, indicating a greater extent in the past; a mosque is at the northern tip, a citadel was built by the French in the late nineteenth century, as well as two strong north points having been destroyed by the Fulani in 1826. The streets are narrow, the houses often one floor, fairly large, made of earth bricks dried in the Sun. In the past, Timbuktu drew its food from Djenne Macina, and its wood from Kabara. It was essentially a city of commerce, enriched by the transit between Sudan and the caravan routes that crossed the Sahara to Morocco, In-Salah (Algeria and Ghadames) here was resold to the Sudanese salt mines in Taoudeni the products from the North and those of the local industry, gold jewelry, leather goods. Muslim culture was flourishing, thanks to the existence of madrasas and Islamic libraries. The fame of this mysterious great commercial city in western Sudan had an attraction for a lot of Western great travelers such as the British Major Alexandre Gordon Laing who arrived in Timbuktu in 1826, but was murdered. René Caillié, a French traveler, spent fourteen days there in April 1828 and wrote a description of the city. Two German travelers visited the city: Heinrich Barth in 1853 and Oscar Lenz in 1879. Timbuktu is also known for its mud brick architecture. Three ancient mosques which are classified as U N E S C O WORLD heritage sites since 1988 are namely The Mosque of Djingareyber ,The Mosque of Sidi Yehiya, and The Mosque of Sankore. These mosques sheltered schools and welcomed thousands of students coming from many parts of the continent and Maghreb. this is what some historians call ‘’ University of Sankoré’’.
In april 1st 2012, the legendary city of Timbuktu fell under the hand of different rebel groups and islamist militants. the Population of Timbuktu generally wakes up with the call of different muezzins of different mosques of Timbuktu. On that day, the population of Timbuktu woke up with the noise of heavy weapons. the Malian armed forces fled and Timbuktu was occupied by many armed groups including The National Mouvement for the Liberation of AZAWAD (MNLA in French) Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and another terrorist group named
Ansar Eddine. During their rule, population of Timbuktu endured all kinds of human abuse and humiliation because Timbuktu practised a tolerant Islam (Malikite rite).
The Invaders came with a rigorous and fundamentalist vision of Islam. So they forced women to wear burqa (Islamic clothe for women covering all their body).
Men were told to keep their beard, Hijab and Nikab while men were obliged to let their beard and wear pants which do not cover their ankles. Local Mausoleums or shrines of saint were destroyed,
some manuscripts were burnt, profane music was forbidden as well as some local festive traditions
, just like the great festival in the desert which welcome thousands of tourists and singers in the sand of dunes of timbuktu, in january 2011 before the occupation even the greatest rock band in the world I mean the Band of U2 OF Bono Perform in the sand of dunes of Timbuktu.
Consequently, the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu were moved progressively from Timbuktu to Bamako to protect them from total destruction by islamist groups.
The manuscripts are a part of African and human heritage. Written in for the most part in Arabic, and some in local languages, they deal with many topics such as traditional medicine, history, esoteric science, politics, laws, economic affairs, and diplomacy and so on. Timbuktu is a city that has built its reputation on an intellectual influence today unparalleled in Black Africa. Between the 15th and 16th century, the University of Sankoré, according to the chronicles of Ibn Battuta, counted up to 25 000 students and 180 Coranic Schools inside and outside the city of Timbuktu.
Methods were of course scholastic but there was enthusiasm for research and a desire to know which were exciting. Printing - even in Europe - was in its infancy and the essential didactic material was imported books from the Maghreb and the East which were copied manually. Trading and copying manuscripts, which often took the direction of other countries, had become very profitable activities in Sankore University as well as in hundreds of Koranic schools of the city. the manuscripts were copied
by many rivaled calligraphic techniques. Timbuktu, with its geographical location is halfway between Black Africa and the Maghreb, and served as a rear base for Islamist fighters
eager to spread Islam in Black Africa then little Islamized. This situation largely influenced its social and religious fabric.
During the occupation of Timbuktu, the Islamic militants entered the institute of high studies and Islamic research, on April 2, 2012. They first pretended to secure the ancient manuscripts from thieves. After a week they forbade the workers of the institute from entering the center. On their departure, while French drones were bombing various Islamic militant positions, some ancient manuscripts had been stolen and others burned in Timbuktu by militants which have been living in the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu. The burning of ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu by Islamists militias deeply touch the soul of natives of Timbuktu because the manuscripts represent the soul and the identity of natives of Timbuktu and the humanity.
According to The vice Director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Mr Abdoulaye Cisse: “Our happiness is that we took advantage of moving a great part of manuscripts to Bamako”. They had used many means of transportation in order to hide them from invaders. They had put manuscripts in old bags and mud. Then they transported them on the backs of camels and donkeys in order to smuggle them.
We interviewed a guardian of the Ahmed Baba Institute , Mr Housseini Traore , a 32 years old man about how they smuggle the manuscripts from Timbuktu to Bamako.He explained us that “ since the city fell under the hand of different armed groups, all of them visited the ancient building of Ahmed Baba Institute to check if there are manuscripts hidden inside. Sometimes they threatened us. The pressure was high; we contacted the director of the institute who sent men from Bamako in order to move the manuscripts from Timbuktu to Bamako. In the night, manuscripts were then put in rice bags in small quantities. We used donkeys to transport the bags full of manuscripts to the smugglers until we finish getting all the manuscripts out of the building” That time marked the beginning of the exile of Timbuktu’s ancient manuscripts. .
Today, despite the liberation of Timbuktu, the presence of OPERATION Barkhane, and other international forces, the manuscript of Timbuktu are still in exile except for some families which chose to hide their manuscripts inside their houses.
In order to understand the fate Timbuktu’s manuscripts in exile, we had an exclusive Intervention of Dr Abdoulkadrissa Idrissa Maiga, Director of Ahmed Baba Institute for Higher Studies and Islamic research (ex centre Ahmed BaBa):
• Where do the manuscripts come from?
The manuscripts come from multiple different places, there is a first type of paper that comes from the East and North African countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and of course Mideast. thank you for giving me this opportunity talk about a very important part of our cultural heritage
If there is anything today that refutes what Westerners have said as to an historical lack of advanced civilization and culture in Mali and in Africa it is these manuscripts. In 1970 the Ahmed Baba Center opened and began collecting manuscripts throughout the territory of Mali, and also in neighboring countries like Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
• How have they been transmitted?
Concerning the mode of transmission, manuscripts were handed over form generations to generations, thanks to teaching and copying. A single manuscript may have many copies. As regards their mode of transmission if the knowledge contained the first, speaking of contained and now we talk about possession. Contained the manuscript was handed down from generation to generation by teaching and by the work of a copyist, have copies were transmitted or it contained teaches and transmits a learner until now there are many for one manuscript you can have multiple copies because when there the scientist and there is learners, these learners may be Moroccan, Nigerian, Malian each copy has made its share so that it now has a multitude of copies for a single manuscript that compared to its contained. Compared now has possession, possession of this family to family for example my father died he left a lot of manuscripts although I’m illiterate I must kept these manuscripts because for me a treasure and once I get setpoint before his death my father told me that its not beware, it should not be touched must be jealously guarded its so that often there are families holding manuscripts that do not know nothing is that its mean but because there was set or because an inheritance, a part of the legacy that is not it how to share with the heirs so that as his family in families generations until today we have these manuscripts.
- how did these manuscripts resist to time?
They resisted because the climate in Timbuktu is a saharian one and its favorable to the conservation of old paper. It is a dry climate.
• Who holds manuscripts and retain?
According to most manuscripts are families who have manuscripts in 1970 when the Ahmed Baba Institute began collecting manuscripts there were families who really wanted to put their treasure at the disposal of the state but ended up selling it as now Ahmed baba Institute for the State, today we have more than 40,000 manuscripts that its really for the state, There are hundreds of thousands of manuscripts that are in their own I would say in families, or in libraries because some families now begin to make organized libraries Including: the library Mama Haidara , Ben Essayouty Libraries, Library Moustapha Konaté, Fondo Khaty library, library Mahamane Fondogoumo therefore there are several library today,
• Can you estimate the number of manuscripts in Mali?
In the region of Timbuktu? In Mali we can talk about more than 400,000 manuscripts ,in Timbuktu are already talking about 300,000 to 350,000 manuscripts
• What is the impact of the security and political crisis of 2012-2013 on the manuscripts of Timbuktu? (missing manuscripts, manuscripts exfiltrated to Bamako?)
The impact is huge in the sense that initially when the crisis began: for first time everyone considered the manuscripts as children needing to be maintained every day, they were abandoned for almost two years. this abandonment damaged manuscripts, this abandonment affected some of these manuscripts, this abandonment means that we no longer speak of manuscripts in terms of contribution to the economy of families in the region; some of these manuscripts was either burned or removed from being stolen and we noted the disappearance of 4 203 manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute.
• What are the problems facing conservation in Bamako?
The first problems encountered in Bamako, both sun and moisture are strong here in Bamako, Bamako dust is this sticky dust that sticks and is not like the dust in Timbuktu. Also rain, because rain in Bamako is different than rain in Timbuktu But thanks to our partners, also international partners .Lux-Dev intervenes in promoting manuscripts and involving all development actors in the region of Timbuktu. On the financing of Luxembourg, managed by lux-Dev and supervised, by Mali is a project called Project Mali 15. the manuscripts arrived in Bamako piled stacked in canteens
what needed to be done first was rescue. through Luxembourg we have at our disposal a generator that can provided 24/24 electricity so that we can keep a certain temperature in the storage of manuscripts. Then these partners put at our disposal three humidifiers to reduce humidity and day today thank you god I think these manuscripts are well.
• can the Manuscripts now return to Timbuktu?
One must choose the lesser of two evils. Between the two words must choose the lesser of the manuscripts remain here in Bamako…………………. they say it is essential to first try to save the images of manuscripts first, We will digitize the manuscripts. This work began with another partner. we now have a partner who was spoke at the NGO SAVAMA DCI. They are MAJID in Doubaye The center has provided us MAJID materials, provided a preservation technique, also provided us with the expertise to manufacture boxes Today thank you God maybe 1/3 of the manuscripts that are in Bamako today in the space of four months will already be scanned and I think by the end of September— at the most at the end of the year —will be in Timbuktu.
• If not, what are the prerequisites that must be met?
there is a need for security not only against crime but also against climate hazards such as fire,. We must now be sure that the manuscripts that are returned are secure. First the libraries, must be rehabilitated with locks, with exit in case of emergency.
• Are Timbuktu Manuscripts are exploited by Malian scholars particularly those of Timbuktu?
Unfortunately no, unfortunately not in Timbuktu. I known a person who published only one article to describe handwritten manuscripts and undeveloped and not exploited manuscripts. the same must be published in English, and French . Mr Abdel Kader Mama Haidara began long ago working on his. He can be 5-6 manuscript that are in the process of publishing. At our level we started this work, but it is not finished but I think that in a few months we may have to be our first publication that is to say, a scientific work around the manuscripts that we publish, if it pleases God.
• What is your last word?
“My last word is that you, I and the others have a job that we were given by our ancestors, by our learned scholars to preserve the manuscripts and to study them. You are now a native journalist of Timbuktu
El Hadj Djitteye is a freelance journalist and blogger based in Timbuktu. He writes and reports on issues pertaining to Islamist conflict, politics, culture and ethnic conflict in Mali West Africa. El Hadj uses Tumblr to tell stories about the Golden Civilisation of Timbuktu because ” salt comes from the north,Gold from the south, and money comes from the country of white people, but soft words,holy things and short stories are found nowhere but in Timbuktu” El Hadj will give you rigorously reported stories you can’t find elsewhere.
,” I’m glad you’re interested in this. I have wanted you to be the first that the other learns who learns about all this. We need special status for manuscripts in the statutes today means that protects against attempts manuscripts”
Ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu constitute a treasure which is visited by dignitaries,
researchers, analysts, historians every year. the fact that these manuscripts are temporarily far from the ancient city of Timbuktu represents a handicap for the cultural development of the regions. The ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu are a cultural heritage that belongs to the whole nation: Songhois, Fulanis, Touaregs, Bambaras, etc. They are a cause shared by every Malian and remind us of how Timbuktu’s civilization is a multicultural one , with an Islam that most of the time got people together and pushed them towards intellectual development and knowledge spreading. We have manuscripts that deal with pacific settlement of armed conflicts, good governance, tolerance; mutual respect and solidarity between communities. Such manuscripts should be studied and their contents used to find solutions to current peace issues in the country. We have manuscript that deal with traditional pharmacopoeia; we can for instance develop an alternative medicine. The ancient manuscripts are not only curiosity objects; if they are valuable in that they may contribute to national development and enhance tolerance.
El Hadj Djitteye
Editor : John H Sime