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Restored Timbuktu library: slavery history of Natchez, Miss.

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 31, 2009 in Science
The poor African country of Mali has opened a high-tech library in the famed desert town of Timbuktu on January 30 -- to preserve thousands of ancient manuscripts documenting the continent's academic past - and of the history of Natchez, Mississippi...
The launch is part of a South African plan to help Mali to protect up to 150,000 manuscripts, some of which date from the 13th century and document subjects ranging from science and the arts to social and business trends of the day.
South African history experts have also been training Malian conservators to protect the texts at the renovated Ahmed Baba Institute which, some say, ' will force the West to accept Africa has an intellectual history as old as its own.' Other historians draw comparisons with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
African Americans have also uncovered an important link between the manuscripts of Timbuktu and their own heritage: there is for instance, the story of Ibrahima Abd ar-Rahman, an 18th-century prince from what is now Guinea who studied at Timbuktu before being sold into slavery in Natchez, Miss.
The prince's saga showed that many of the African slaves were doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, musicians and members of royal families. And a large number were Muslim. see
"Timbuktu is symbolic, not of a narrow Islamic or African civilisation, but of a civilization that was the synthesis of what knowledge was available in the world then," South Africa's acting-president Kgalema Motlanthe said at the opening on Saturday. ... part of Africa's contribution to the foundation of today's civilization. '
Hidden manuscripts
Documents will now be stored in rooms and cases where conditions such as humidity are controlled and pests like termites cannot eat the ancient scrolls.
Timbuktu, about 1,000km northwest of the capital, Bamako, was once a famously rich town where Arabian slave-traders operated a wealthy economy which was propped up by an extensive trade in gold, ivory and black slaves. It is said that during the 15th century, some 25, 000 scholars had studied there. It now is a remote town on the edge of the Sahara desert in one of Africa's poorest nations.
Many of the manuscripts have been hidden, sometimes in chests buried in the sand, as owners feared they might be stolen. The documents range from ancient copies of the Q'uran written in gold or ornate calligraphy, to studies on music and commentaries about corrupt politicians.
Restoring pride and honour
"These riches, accumulated over the course of time, have often been damaged. A large number faded and became unreadable," said Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Besides South Africa, other donors such as the United States and Norway are also helping with the preservation of the manuscripts, which are stored in numerous other private and public libraries.
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