by Lila Azam Zanganeh
Since the fifteenth century, Timbuktu had been an epicenter of commerce on the trans-Saharan caravan route, but also, thanks to its thriving mosque and university, an oasis of learning and literacy. Founded between the eleventh and twelfth centuries by Tuareg tribes, the city soon housed scholars and scribes within its walls. These scribes copied countless works on topics ranging from political science, history, and theology to astronomy, botany, and poetry. Arabic and, at times, Fulani, Songhai, or Bambara texts were recopied on camel shoulder blades, sheepskins, tree bark, and even papers from Italy. Some were illumined with gold leaf, with frail calligraphy presenting significant stylistic variations. The surviving manuscripts, including one in Turkish and one in Hebrew, span the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Thus a written history of Africa was constructed, including the wondrous “Tarikh Al-Sudan,” a storied chronicle of West Africa…
…In West Africa, there is a saying that every time an elder dies, a library burns with him. The disappearance of even a section of the city’s ancient libraries conversely represents no less than the death by fire of old and ancient men and women who had so far pursued, with us and between themselves, a quiet but immemorial dialogue.
Continue reading Lila Azam Zanganeh on the early reports that one, two, or all of the famed libraries of Timbuktu had disappeared, and on all that will be be lost along with their destruction: http://nyr.kr/VmTAID