"These Manuscripts Are Our Identity": The Salvation of Timbuktu's Written Heritage

Timbuktu's citizens put their invaluable manuscripts in boxes, carried them away at night, buried them in the sands of the desert. Most of the ca. 300,000 texts could be saved. UNESCO and other experts share, however, grave concern about the actual and potential loss of Mali’s cultural heritage.


  1. The Meaning of Timbuktu

  2. As a little introduction for those who wish to learn the most important facts, here comes a bit on the Malian empire and Timbuktu. I recommend this film produced a few years ago.
  3. African History Timbuktu Journey To The Empire Of Knowledge
  4. Opération Serval on January 28th 2013: Regaining Timbuktu from rebels

  5. Tombouctou sous contrôle franco-malien - 29/01
  6. French-led troops regain Timbuktu from rebels
  7. Jenan Moussa, reporter for Arabic Al Aan TV, was one of the few journalists who reached Timbuktu in the end of January.
  8. A memory of the world: Timbuktu's written and musical heritage

  9. Timbuktu’s tangible and intangible heritage are unique reminders of sub-Saharan Africa's long history of deep intellectual endeavor. Most of the city's manuscripts are to be found in about 30 private libraries. There they have been kept by the same families for many centuries. Those families use to hiding away their manuscripts whenever danger is near, burying them deep in the sand.
  10. The marvelous stories of incredibly brave citizens who saved most of Timbuktu's manuscripts

  11. Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, names the Malian manuscripts “the record of the golden ages of the Malian empire”. UNESCO believes most of the ca. 300,000 texts in Timbuktu, ranging from old scholarly treatises to commercial invoices, could be saved. An estimated 2,000 manuscripts were lost at the ransacked Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu.
    “These manuscripts, they are not just for us in Timbuktu,” Ali Imam Ben Essayouti said. “They belong to all of humanity. It is our duty to save them.” He saved 8,000 volumes by moving them to a bunker in an undisclosed location.
  12. "These manuscripts are our identity," said Abdoulaye Cisse, the acting director of the Ahmed Baba Institute. "It's through these manuscripts that we have been able to reconstruct our own history, the history of Africa." Cisse, says the following AP news report of February 6th, had for months harbored a secret. Starting last year, he and a handful of associates had conspired to save the documents so crucial to this 1,000-year-old town ... And there is another story, the story of Abba Alhadi, an illiterate man of 72 years. In summer 2012 Alhadi began stuffing thousands of books into empty rice and millet sacks. By journeys of 1,000 kilometers with the manuscripts being carried by trolley, lorry, motorcycles, boat and finally by car he brought them to Mali's capital, Bamako. "I have spent my life protecting these manuscripts. This has been my life's work." said Alhadi.
  13. "He emptied the shelves, filled them with children's schoolwork, and stuffed his heritage into Nescafé boxes."
  14. Despite the Ansar Dine offering money to get information about  the place where manuscripts might be hidden, they remained largely undetected.