June 16, 2003 Library of Congress Opens Exhibition on Ancient Manuscripts of Timbuktu on June 24

Contact: View the exhibition Web site.
Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022

An exhibition titled "Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu" will open at the Library of Congress on Tuesday, June 24. The exhibition has been planned in conjunction with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, which will feature the cultural heritage of Mali.

"The Library of Congress is pleased to exhibit these important cultural artifacts from Mali as part of a continuing effort to create a universal collection reflecting human endeavor from all geographic areas and historical eras," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

Copies of the manuscripts in the exhibition will become part of the Library's extensive Africana collection, which contains several ancient West African manuscripts similar to those in the exhibition. Among the items on display are "Kashf al-Gummah fi Nafa al-Ummah" (Important Stars in the Multitudes of the Heavens), an astronomy text copied at Timbuktu in 1733; "Arbab al-Khartumi, al-Jawahir al-Hissan fi Marifat Arkan al-Iman" (A Jewel of Beauty for Learning the Pillars of Faith), a text book for teaching the basic tenets of Islam and "Said Ahmad ibn Amar a-Raqadi al-Tumbukti al-Kunti, Shifa al-Saqam al-Aridah fi al-Zahir wa al-Batin" (Curing Defects and Diseases, Both Apparent and Hidden), a study of diseases, their remedies, and medications.

Though known to African communities for generations, the recognition of these texts by Western academics has created a breakthrough in recent scholarship. Once believed to be solely based on oral tradition, African culture has also been passed down through a rich literary tradition as evidenced by the existence of these manuscripts.

The manuscripts address a wide range of subjects such as mathematics, physics, astronomy, secular literature and Koranic teachings. Written primarily in Arabic by local authors, the majority of the works are privately held, often by descendants of the original scholars. The manuscripts in the exhibition are from two of the most noteworthy private collections in the region-the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha.

Situated on the edge of the Sahara Desert in West Africa, the legendary city of Timbuktu, Mali, was founded in 1100 A.D. For more than 600 years, Timbuktu was one of the world's most important commercial centers due to its central location on trans-Saharan trade routes. Timbuktu's universities and mosques attracted scholars throughout the continent, making it a spiritual, intellectual and literary center whose influences reached beyond the borders of present-day Mali to encompass Western and Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Public libraries grew from the original works of these scholars and through importation of books. Remnants of this rich history and culture survive to this day through the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu's desert libraries.

The exhibition will be on view in the South Gallery of the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building through Sept. 3. Hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Selections from the exhibitions will also be available on the Library's Web site at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits.

The Library's Africana collection includes materials produced over the centuries by people living in sub-Saharan African and by others inspired by the continent. Encompassing some 50 countries whose peoples speak hundreds of languages, the collection offers rich opportunities for diverse studies. For more information, visit the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room Web site at https://www.loc.gov/rr/amed.


PR 03-109
ISSN 0731-3527