Timbuktu Mali Manuscripts


KIM LAWTON, correspondent: The fabled Saharan city of Timbuktu has been designated a world heritage site, largely because of its priceless collection of Islamic manuscripts dating back to the 13th century. The international community was outraged by reports that the departing militants had ransacked a major library and torched it, destroying some of the documents. Outside experts spent the week trying to confirm what had happened. At the University of Cape Town, Professor Shamil Jeppie leads a project to study the texts. He says the majority appear to have been saved.

PROF. SHAMIL JEPPIE (Univ. of Cape Town): The manuscripts were moved out of Timbuktu, we are told. This is the latest news from Timbuktu, that 25,000-odd manuscripts were actually quietly moved in the past nine months from Timbuktu to the capital.

LAWTON: Timbuktu was considered an ancient seat of Islamic learning. Its collections include texts on theology, math and science, as well as history and politics. When militants took over the city last April, they imposed a strict version of sharia law and began destroying historic sites, including centuries-old Sufi shrines that they deemed to be idolatrous. Many scholars fled the city, but before they left, Jeppie says they apparently hid what manuscripts they could.

JEPPIE: The images we see of manuscripts damaged and burnt and so on are very few, very few, maybe as many as two thousand. That is bad enough, but not the kind of damage and destruction we heard of previously.

LAWTON: Jeppie hopes scholars can now get back to their work in Timbuktu, uninterrupted by violence. I’m Kim Lawton reporting.