Friday, August 24, 2012

Elrazzaz on Timbuktu's Andalusian Manuscripts

Mohammed Elrazzaz has an interesting piece on Ahram online called "The Fate of Timbuktu's Andalusian Manuscripts" available here. It begins:
Ahmed Baba was one of Timbuktu's most celebrated scholars in the medieval period. His writing about the city can be best understood if we go back in time to Timbuktu of the Songhai Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries. What you find in Baba's writings is one of history’s most dramatic cultural odysseys, that of the Kati manuscripts. The story, however, starts elsewhere – and goes back further in time. It starts in Toledo in present-day Spain, and its legacy lives on in Timbuktu and other caravan cities of West Africa.
After briefly tracing the history until 1593 when Kati died, Elrazzaz states "Never would we have imagined the great lengths that his descendants would go to in order to fulfill his wish that the library he created be protected."

Elrazzaz then moves forward describing how the "Kati manuscripts survived one misfortune after another" including "Moroccan attacks on the Songhai Empire led by Jawdar Pasha and Ibn Zarkun" and noting that later the "manuscripts were dispersed and carefully hidden to hide them from the French colonial powers." More recently,
In the 1990s, Ismael Diadie Haiydara Kati, together with his father, undertook the heroic task of tracing the old family members and collecting all the Kati manuscripts. Some are destroyed or damaged, but they managed to collect over 3,000 manuscripts. Spain financed the construction of a building that housed the Bibliotheca Kati (Fondo Kati). It houses works in Arabic, Hebrew and Aljamiado (Romance languages written in the Arabic script) written by Andalusian scholars and immigrants, Jewish merchants, Arab intellectuals and Christian renegades. From medicine and mathematics to philosophy and law, the Kati collection is a treasure in every sense of the word, covering a period that extends from the 12th through to the 19th century.
Elrazzaz states that assessing the value of the collection would be a dangerous undertaking during the current conflict in Mali and ends by noting:
Ismael Diadie did not risk his family’s heritage. He and other Kati family members reportedly left Timbuktu with as many precious manuscripts as they could carry. History might be repeating itself as you read these lines: the manuscripts might be safely hidden somewhere outside Timbuktu. One day when and if things calm down, they might surface again, and the story of the Kati Family will again be celebrated. Until that day comes, the fate of Timbuktu’s Andalusian manuscripts remains to be a question mark.