Mali's Ancient Manuscripts
April 21, 2014 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Bonfire of the Humanities. "Nobody goes to Timbuktu, right? Patrick Symmes did, to discover what happened when jihadi rebels set out to burn one of the world’s finest collections of ancient manuscripts. Bouncing around by truck, boat, and boots, he got an intimate look at West ­Africa’s most mythic locale." [Via]

The Brave Sage of Timbuktu. "Abdel Kader Haidara had made it his life's work to document Mali's illustrious past. When the jihadists came, he led the rescue operation to save 350,000 manuscripts."

The Crumbling Ancient Texts That May Hold Life-Saving Cures

Previously: A story about a library on fire.
posted by homunculus (12 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I read this the other day, and found it an excellent story and well written.

It is so sad that there is a brand of Islam which is hateful toward history and cultural inheritance. I hope the people of Mali keep them out for good.
posted by Thing at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow this got the following reactions from me in the span of seconds...

MeFi ancient manuscripts? Oh, Mali.
WHAT? Oh no....
/clicks on more inside

I'm gonna actually RTFA now that my heart is ok again.
posted by McSockerson The Great at 6:37 PM on April 21, 2014

Thanks! Just yesterday I was just idly wondering about what had happened to the Timbuktu manuscripts.
posted by Kattullus at 7:15 PM on April 21, 2014

It would be really nice if Google would throw a few billion at digitizing the collection using local labor and perhaps setting up a university/research center.
posted by humanfont at 7:52 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nobody goes to Timbuktu, right?

Ry Cooder did!

And it's the African nation I'd be most likely to visit were I to ever make it over to Africa again.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:58 PM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Some day, when the followers of fundamentalist Islam find enlightenment again, there needs to be a monument built to the people who risked their lives to save these manuscripts. Not to draw a false comparison (the loss of life is clearly worse), but something on the order of Yad Vashem.
posted by sbutler at 10:31 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Funny enough, I just put on "Talking Timbuktu" yesterday. Fabulous album. I'd never heard of these manuscripts. Thanks for the post.
posted by Goofyy at 11:23 PM on April 21, 2014

It’s no wonder you don’t know where Mali is

I wonder at your presumption, Sir!
posted by Segundus at 3:40 AM on April 22, 2014

I worked with a Malien for a long time. I told him that for us Timbuktu symbolizes the furthest, most out-of-the-way place you could go. He said, "Yeah, it's the same for us."
posted by Jode at 3:53 AM on April 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

These manuscripts might as well come from an alternate universe. What do we know about Andalusia, or the vast empires of Africa? Nothing; it doesn't enter our consciousness. Some scholars know a bit, but I'll lay that a lot of what is believed to be true is false or grossly oversimplified. So much of that history could have been known, but now it's dust, ashes, or has been digested and shat out by woodlice.

European history is known in such detail that we have a running joke here about the Treaty of Westphalia: we all know that if we wanted to know more about it, the knowledge would be at our fingertips. Africa, in contrast, might as well not exist. Andalusia is important as a source of European refugees. The streams of scholarship, the wealth of manuscripts, going, going, gone on the bonfires of piety.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:30 AM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I just want to say that thanks to the "Americans don't know enough geography" turn in a recent thread on the blue, I did a bunch of geography quizzes, I can visualize Mali on a map and I know where it is in relation to various nearby Important Things - and yes, this does help me to understand the story and the situation. Geography seems to be worth the effort.
posted by Frowner at 6:51 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Great post; I'd been wondering what was happening with those MSS, and it's good to know the story. I made the first Mali post on the blue!
posted by languagehat at 9:38 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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