Sunday, January 19, 2014

Timbuktu tomes

Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls institutionally conserved in Israel, the ancient texts from Africa's center of scholarship – Timbuktu – have been kept safe throughout the centuries by virtue of remaining in private hands. Generations of private owners have kept the books from being ruined or stolen by French colonists since the late 19th c. and, more recently, by an Al Qaeda-affiliated group who invaded the storied city last year, destroying tombs and burning any ancient manuscripts they found. Abdel Kader Haidara founded the Safeguard and Valorization of Manuscripts for the Defense of Islamic Culture in 1996 to gather and protect the books and make them available to scholars for the first time. The texts, bound in camel skin, goat skin, and calf leather, have been packed in nondescript trunks (IMAGE ABOVE), loaded onto donkey carts, and taken to an unidentified location in Bamako, Mali's capital. Hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscript dating from the 13th c. to the 17th c. have been collected, with subjects that include religion, philosophy, law, and astronomy. In addition, the ancient scholars wrote about medicine, and Haidara hopes that his efforts – funded by private donations, crowd-sourcing, and a grant from the Ford foundation – will stave off age, moisture, insects, and fungi long enough for modern scholars to uncover traditional medicine for maladies that continue to devastate populations, such as malaria. Doctor and epidemiologist Badara Cisse of the University of Dakar in Senegal warns against counting on cures that are not based on evidential science: "In Africa, we are well behind because we love living with our past.” But it is living with the past that has preserved these books, and it is unknown yet what secrets they hold.

Thanks, Chase!

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.