The Timbuktu manuscripts: a model for preservation in Africa

GARABA, Francis (2015) The Timbuktu manuscripts: a model for preservation in Africa. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa in Session 206 - Rare Books and Special Collections.

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Language: English (Original)
Available under licence Creative Commons Attribution.


The Timbuktu manuscripts: a model for preservation in Africa

Timbuktu’s literary patrimony has survived the ravages of mankind and environmental threats since time immemorial and this coupled by the fact that the manuscripts are a veritable treasure trove of knowledge explains why the interest has been phenomenal on the global stage. This “tin-trunk literacy” once in official depositories is now finding its way into the basements of individual households where it had previously been housed for centuries. The cycle of archiving and re-archiving at private or personal level as evidenced in Mali points to the need to depoliticise the archive. The fact that the Timbuktu manuscripts have survived for centuries in those household basements, in storerooms and garages for example, is a strong African archival tradition that deserves special commendation considering that modern archives are mainly Western in conception. The lesson for Africa is that natural ventilation remains the best solution to preserve our collections and in the construction of future archival buildings this needs to be observed to avoid artificial methods of preservation which are unsustainable. International collaboration efforts whilst welcome, should take cognisance of this strong archival tradition when planning rescue efforts with regards to infrastructure. Another fundamental lesson is that Africans should be able to take control of the digitization of their own intellectual heritage to counter cultural pillaging. On the other hand, the efforts made by the South African Government to preserve this Timbuktu heritage are applaudable but the deplorable state of its archives at private, state and provincial levels raises eyebrows as it appears this was political expediency with the so-called African Renaissance concept.

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