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Manuscripts From Mali

"Islamic Manuscripts from Mali" is the newest collection to be made available on the Global Gateway Web site of international materials.

Abdel Kader Haidara, one of Timbuktu's leading manuscript experts and son of a deceased renowned local scholar, Mama Haïdara. Panorama of a Malian desert city showing its citadel.

This collection of 22 Islamic manuscripts provides important insights into the life and culture of West Africans during the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era. The Library of Congress, through a collaborative effort with the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library of Timbuktu, Mali, is making available online these rare and important documents. The manuscripts are the work of a number of authors and cover a variety of topics, including astrology, commerce, Islamic law, health care, mysticism, slavery and agriculture. All the manuscripts are written in various forms of the Arabic script.

The 22 manuscripts published in this Web site are primary sources for the study of the traditional Islamic states and culture of West Africa. These documents have been previously unavailable to scholars outside of Mali and have not been used in any research projects concerning the area. Their use as research resources will provide a means to a much fuller and more accurate understanding of life in Mali and West Africa during the past 500 years.

Alongside the manuscript collection are selections of Timbuktu maps and photographs by Phillip Harrington that were taken for Look magazine. An exhibition featuring these manuscripts is also available online.

Three special presentations bring alive these materials and the place whence they originated for non-Arabic-reading users: "Traditional Landscape of Timbuktu," "Timbuktu -- An Islamic Cultural Center," and "Timbuktu in Space and Time -- Maps" are illustrated and provide extensive explanatory text on the importance of these materials.


A. Abdel Kader Haidara, one of Timbuktu's leading manuscript experts and son of a deceased renowned local scholar, Mama Haïdara. In front of Haïdara in a glass case is a Koran, with, on the lower part of the image, a note indicating that several kings of Morocco owned it. The writing is typically Moroccan 12th century. Reproduction information: Not available for reproduction.

B. Panorama of a Malian desert city showing its citadel. Timbuktu, an important center for culture and commerce, is a city whose monuments and architecture reflect its physical environment. Timbuktu is on the edge of the ever-increasing Sahara Desert as well as on the Niger River, whose waters provide for the greenery that breaks up the uniform tan color of the buildings. The river and the earth supply the basic building material, which is still often used -- the mud brick, similar in nature to the adobe brick of the American Southwest. The nature of this building material restricts the height of the buildings, except in special cases. For example, the minarets of mosques have wooden beams with exposed ends that are used to reinforce the towers. These high walls are not load-bearing; their monumental nature is a clear indication of the wealth of Timbuktu during its heyday, as well as the size of its population at that time. The buildings are constructed in the classical style of West African Islamic architecture. Reproduction information: Not available for reproduction.