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Re: [BKARTS] Islamic Texts Crumble in Africa--from ABCNews.com



Scanning and archiving the information is understandable. Invading the
privacy of homes, impoverished or not, to convince individuals to sell their
treasures seems condescending and cruel, no matter what the treasures are.
The books belong to them, and if they don't want to sell, that's the
decision of the owners. Would we ask a family in Kansas to sell the 6
generation family bible because they're not taking care of it?
This statement particularly gets me:
> Benefactors from the United States, Europe and South
> Africa have tried to move the texts to safekeeping,

Benefactors? To whom? Of what? For what end? Is the book more useful in a
wealthier person's home, stored on the shelf for all eternity, than it is on
the shelf of a family in Timbuktu who reads it and values it? What is more
important, that the book last forever, or that a poor family cherishes it?
For this reason, I can understand a movement to scan and gather the
information stored on the pages, as a way to not only conserve the
knowledge, but to also empower the original owners with respect for their
heritage. And for their own power of decision. But the audacity to go into
these homes and buy these books is not the way to go about protecting this
knowledge, nor these heirlooms. Work the problem. Leave the books where they
are and teach the owners to lengthen the lives of the books. Or provide them
with resources to that end. Or let the books live out the end of their days
in homes that cherish them, among the heritage that created them.

Alex Appella
www.transientbooks.com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Book_Arts-L [mailto:BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]On Behalf Of
> Clare Manias
> Sent: Wednesday, April 21, 2004 9:05 AM
> To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: Islamic Texts Crumble in Africa--from ABCNews.com
>
>
> http://abcnews.go.com/wire/World/ap20040413_1086.html
>
> Ancient Islamic Texts Crumble in Africa
> History to Dust: Ancient Islamic Texts Crumble in West
> Africa's Desert North
>
> The Associated Press
>
>
> TIMBUKTU, Mali April 13 - Lit by a sunbeam slanting
> through his broken roof, a 16-year-old Islamic student
> chants verses from a brittle, yellowing page one of an
> estimated 1 million ancient texts that experts say are
> crumbling to dust in this once-thriving city of
> Islamic learning.
> Twice in the past eight years, conservationists
> working to save the manuscripts have come to this
> fly-buzzed home of sand floors and outdoor toilets,
> hoping to buy the disintegrating pages.
>
>
> But while the family earns no income and lives on
> handouts, it refuses to part with its sole possession
> of value about 40 volumes with ripped bindings and
> torn pages, heaped in a medical supplies box.
>
> The student, Alhousseini Ould Alfadrou, cites the
> Prophet Muhammad to explain that holy writ cannot be
> sold for money.
>
> "So we're obliged to keep them," Alfadrou says. "We're
> the ones who read them. It's written in these books:
> Those who read them must protect them."
>
> But scholars say irreplaceable Islamic texts
> representing a historic era of Muslim culture,
> including West Africa's unique part in it, are
> decaying to oblivion in sweltering homes.
>
> Tens of thousands have been rescued and put in safe
> storage here and abroad, but many more are scattered
> around Timbuktu private heirlooms handed down from
> parents to children over the centuries.
>
> The Timbuktu texts "are probably among the most
> important unused scholarly materials in the world,"
> said Chris Murphy of the U.S. Library of Congress, who
> was co-curator of an exhibition of 23 of the
> manuscripts in Washington last year.
>
> Timbuktu today is city of 30,000 people surviving on
> foreign aid, a spotty tourist trade and sales of
> bricks. Near-naked children with dust-caked grins fill
> the streets, and homes lack electricity or plumbing.
> There's only one Internet connection in the entire
> town.
>
> But in the late 1300s, the salt, spice and slave
> routes were bringing wealth and Islam to West Africa's
> northern desert. Timbuktu grew into a city of 100,000
> and an international seat of learning.
>
> Timbuktu scholars penned intricate Arabic-language
> manuscripts about mathematics, poetry, medicine, law,
> astronomy, zoology, history and Islamic thought.
>
> Centers such as this helped preserve Western learning
> during Europe's Dark Ages.
>
> Perhaps the texts' most enduring legacy is what they
> tell about the underpinnings of West African Islam,
> which folds in African influences and is less austere
> than Arab Islam.
>
> "The contents of the texts show very well, especially
> in legal and political terms, the working out of the
> desire of West Africans to be Muslims, but to keep
> things that are important to them," Murphy said.
>
> "You see it all the time, the struggle to be Muslim
> but in the West African manner."
>
> By the time Mali was colonized by France in the late
> 1800s, most commerce had moved to coastal ports. Civil
> strife further impoverished the town.
>
> For the families that own them, the texts represent a
> last link to a golden past, even though few documents
> are likely to be more than 200 years old. Older ones
> likely would already have crumbled, experts say.
>
> "These books are from my grandfather and we must save
> them. They're our only inheritance," says 48-year-old
> Fatama Bocar Sambala, serving rice and onions to her
> five children.
>
> Benefactors from the United States, Europe and South
> Africa have tried to move the texts to safekeeping,
> but no large-scale, unified effort has been launched.
>
> Up to 1 million may still survive around Timbuktu,
> says Murphy, and perhaps 3 million across West Africa.
>
> Mohamed Galla Dicko, director of Timbuktu's
> government-financed Ahmed Baba Institute museum, says
> the 20,000 texts he cares for in air-conditioned rooms
> are "just a tiny part of what's out there."
>
> In 2000-01, his institute made digital images of about
> 2,000 texts with $150,000 from the U.S.-based Ford
> Foundation.
>
> "If we had the money and the family doesn't want to
> sell their manuscripts, we could scan them and put
> them on the Web," Dicko says.
>
> He says the government runs some awareness campaigns.
> For instance, it tries to knock down the notion that
> Quranic law prevents the texts' sale.
>
> Tadjir Ahmed, a local Islamic leader, says he sold his
> books to Dicko's institute and private collectors
> because he couldn't care for them properly, and with
> the proceeds built a roomy Quranic school with
> electricity for 60 students.
>
> "Now, I'm missing the books, but my children can go to
> school and the books are still in town," says Ahmed,
> 35, who has three wives and four children.
>
> "Others can keep theirs until the termites eat them.
> Then they'll have nothing."
>
>
>
> Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights
> reserved. This material may not be published,
> broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
>
>
>
> =====
> Clare Manias
> cmanias@xxxxxxxxx
> (718) 383-0704
>
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>      *Postings may not be re-printed in any form without the express
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