Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Great Treasure in Mali

In my readings I have read about how Africa is the "continent without history". For the most part because it was believed that the people of Africa had no written language or history of their own. To that end Africa suffered the ultimate colonial seige during the Scramble for Africa

However, it has been lately proven that the so called "Dark Continent" may not have been as unenlightened as once thought. The Muslim world knew about the great University at Timbuktu in Mali. There are a great number of histories written about life in Muslim West Africa most notably Ibn Battuta and, Al Umari's works. More recently, J.F.P. Hopkins and Nehemia Levtzion's book, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History lists many authors across millenia who have written about Africa. 

The Africans also wrote for themselves. They wrote in Arabic as well as their own languages. The books are slowly being discovered and recovered by various research groups and personal family libraries. The most important is the Timbuktu Libraries project which has over 20, 000 books in their growing collection and they are as old as 500 years! Thanks to the same desert that destroyed the University, the books were preserved in the dry climate. 

You should also travel around the site in the above link to see what has been done to date. 

The books are not only being restored or repaired, but are also being copied into electronic format so they can eventually be accessed electronically. We now have a fresh look into history that has been written by others. We can see what they have to say about their own affairs and those of their neighbours. 

Professor Emeritus John O. Hunwick is a leading scholar in this project. For those history buffs who are interested in the Gothic kingdoms and history, he wrote a paper about finding references in the African writings about the Visigoths.  I suspect that there are more, just not documented. 

au revoir 

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