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Witness
Timbuktu scribes
The revival of the forgotten 'city of knowledge' Timbuktu.
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2009 08:37


Watch part two

Filmmakers: Mariam Shahin and George Azar

Timbuktu is perhaps one of the most famous cities in Africa. Its name is easily recognisable, everyone has heard of it, and yet few know where it is or why it is famous.

It was known as the intellectual centre for the propagation of Islamic teachings throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries and its single most powerful and long- lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is scholarship.

But the city and its people became victim to decay and decline from the 17th century and Timbuktu became a by-word for nowhere in particular.

Europeans sacked and stole from many libraries, causing hundreds of locals to hide some 100,000 remaining ancient manuscripts in boxes under floors and in desert caves.

Two hours to the east of Timbuktu, in the desert village of Ber, Fida Ag Mohammed tends to several trunks of old manuscripts that have been in his family of Tuareg imams for centuries.

Written in Arabic or Fulani, many are decrepit and hardly decipherable today. But Fida Ag has a new hope.

Thousands of copies of the Quran and books on Islamic law, as well as decorated biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, are among more than 100,000 quickly decaying leather bound manuscripts that modern-day Malians are trying to preserve.

With the support of South Africa, Libya and African-American scholars, Timbuktu is witnessing a renaissance.

Its manuscripts are being copied, restored, studied and interpreted, to be showcased in high-tech institutions with the necessary equipment to preserve the historical documents.

Witness follows Fida Ag Mohammed as, with international help, he oversees the construction of a new mud-brick library for his books.

Meanwhile back in the city of Timbuktu Mohammed Dicko, the director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Timbuktu's main library, is in charge of preserving manuscripts, some as old as 800 years old.

Much of the history and long kept secrets and knowledge of Africa is about to unfold. 

Source:
Al Jazeera
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