Help Save Timbuktu Manuscripts

Today we received the following email from Debra Hess Norris, Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She has given me permission to re-post her email in its entirety. Please consider re-posting  or linking to this information so that we can spread this widely, time is of the essence.*

Dear Friends,

In the last two days I have exchanged multiple emails with Stephanie Diakité  (see her bio below) who worked tirelessly in 2012 with others to evacuate 300,000 manuscripts from Timbuktu in the midst of  civil war.

These medieval African documents are a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilization in sub-Saharan Africa. They cover diverse subjects, including mathematics, chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, Islamic sciences, history, geography, governance, legislation and treaties, jurisprudence and literary and artistic subjects, including poetry, music and even culinary arts.

contents of footlocker
Contents of a footlocker of evacuated manuscripts in a safehouse in Bamako

Subsequent to  evacuation to the south, the manuscripts were crammed in metal chests used for their transport and continued mobility. The chests are heavy and the manuscripts risk immediate physical damage as they are tightly packed, without additional housing. The rains will start later this month and many fear these irreplaceable documents risk immediate degradation, including permanent deformation and mold.

Efforts are underway to raise urgently needed funds and supplies as these documents must be protected from humidity and further damage.

Stephanie and the people of Mali need our help. Now.  Her video is compelling.

The German government, in collaboration with the Gerda Henkel Foundation, will support the conservation of 20,000 manuscripts.  280,000 manuscripts remain to be housed in archival-quality boxes buffered with silica gel to trap humidity. The work will be done in the safehouses under the protection of nightfall by members of the library families.

To raise funds and to build awareness and support, Stephanie and her colleagues have launched a world-wide initiative entitled T-160K Timbuktu Libraries in Exile. To date, more than 400 contributors have shown their support for implementation of this emergency conservation strategy through direct donations.

I hope you will join me and others in helping to save these ancient African manuscripts for the world. A donation of $30 will rehouse one manuscript. Together, we can do much more!  Donations must be received by June 20, 2013.  

Many, many thanks and with best regards, Debbie

Information About The Conservators

Stephanie Diakité, JC-JD/MBA/Phd is an attorney and a poverty eradication institutional development specialist working in more than 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa through her firm, Dintl, and a book artist and book and paper conservation specialist.  She has extensive program and funding management experience and has provided services to some of the most important multilateral and bilateral, private sector, and philanthropic donors working in Sub-Saharan Africa (see her website for a selection of organizations Dintl has worked with). 

She has trained hundreds of generational artisans back to book arts and book conservation in northern Mali.  She has designed, developed and delivered socio-economic development programming based on indigenous scholarship and revised legislation protecting the rights of stakeholders in indigenous knowledge in Mali, all ECOWAS and African Union member states.

abdel kader
Abdel Kader in his family library before it was evacuated from Timbuktu

Abdel Kader Haidara is the generational curator of one of the most important libraries of manuscripts in Timbuktu and founder of SAVAMA DCI, an association of private Timbuktu libraries committed to public access. SAVAMA DCI has extensive program implementation experience and has successfully managed grants from organizations ranging from the Ford Foundation to bilateral aid agencies (see the SAVAMA DCI website for a selection of organizations SAVAMA DCI has partnered with).  He was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Lyon for his work in support of the Timbuktu Manuscripts.


*The usual disclaimer: The views and policies herein do not reflect those of Duke University or Duke University Libraries.  Duke University and Duke University Libraries do not endorse any individuals, websites or programs referred to herein.