Timbuktu: Sadness and Outrage

The Sahara has been home to 1100 years of libraries and bibliophiles. From Chinguetti 
Examining manuscripts from Timbuktu
in Mauritania to Timbuktu in Mali.
In 2007, Malian historian Ismaël Diadié Haïdara was predicting a resurgence of Timbuktu’s cultural place in today’s world. He reported there had been renewed interest in the ancient documents, manuscripts, and books found in the homes of many Malian citizens as well as in mosques and other locations. What a turn-around and sad state of affairs today! The online news source allAfrica reported several days ago on the current attacks by militant Islamists on many of these ancient sites in Timbuktu
Library of Manuscripts, Timbuktu, Mali
The militant Islamists intend to destroy all the  ancient mosques and monuments. They believe these 'shrines' are not a component of Sharia law. Housed in these mosques are valuable manuscripts, part of the cultural heritage of Mali. Many of the ancient sites under attack in Timbuktu are  UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Concerns have been expressed in the UN and the Islamists have been warned. We all need to express our outrage at this travesty. Back in April, the New York Times  reported that the UN had expressed concern over books and documents being stolen by these invading militants.

This conflict in Mali is complicated. While seemingly out of the blue, some of the tension can be traced back to 2009 when the government of Mali allowed then dictator of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, to take over and lease farm land belonging to villages and local farmers. After the Libyan Revolution, many Qaddafi supporters fled to Mali.  Many of these refugees were members of  minority groups in Libya that had been protected by Qaddafi in exchange for support. These included Tuaregs who are also Malians and, it is believed, some of the militant Islamists.

For more background on Timbuktu, click here.
The Ahmed Baba Institute Library interior, Mali

The Smithsonian has an online exhibit on Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu: be sure to check it out, it is fabulous.

 While looking for information on the above topics, I came across Mmofra: a non-profit organization in Ghana “dedicated to enriching the cultural and intellectual lives of all children in Ghana. On their website is a blog post about the ancient libraries of the Sahara.There is interesting information on their website.

An addendum: thanks to Holland Cotter of the New York Times for his article Imperiled Legacy


  1. There is a wonderful exhibit on Timbuktu and its manuscripts at the International Museum of Muslim Culture ( in Jackson, MS. They are also working on a traveling exhibit for other cities. An exhibit is scheduled to open Apr 2013 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. (See

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.