Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu
Timbuktu, Mali, is the legendary city founded as a commercial center in West Africa nine hundred years ago. Today it is synonymous with the phrase "utterly remote," but this was not always so. For more than six hundred years, Timbuktu was a significant religious, cultural, and commercial center whose residents traveled throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Timbuktu was famous for educating important scholars who were well known throughout the Islamic world. Many individuals traveled to the city to acquire knowledge; others came to acquire wealth and political power.
Situated on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu was famous among the merchants of the Mediterranean basin as a market for obtaining the goods and products of Africa south of the desert. However, Timbuktu's most famous and long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is the scholarship practiced there. By at least the fourteenth century, important books were written and copied there, establishing the city as the center of a significant written tradition in Africa.
These ancient manuscripts cover every aspect of human endeavor. The manuscripts are indicative of the high level of civilization attained by West Africans during the Middle Ages and provide irrefutable proof of a powerful African literary tradition. Scholars in the fields of Islamic Studies and African Studies believe that analysis of these texts will cause Islamic, West African, and World History to be reevaluated. These manuscripts, surviving from as long ago as the fourteenth century, are remarkable artifacts important to Malian and West African culture. The exhibited manuscripts date from the sixteenth to eighteenth century.
The manuscripts on view are from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, two of the most noteworthy institutions in the Timbuktu area. As part of its continuing effort to create a universal collection of recorded knowledge from all geographic areas and all historical eras, the Library of Congress is particularly proud to have the opportunity to exhibit these important cultural artifacts from Mali. The Library is also pleased that copies of these manuscripts will be deposited in its collections and will be available for use by researchers and scholars.