From here to Timbuktu - a journey of the mind

Posted on December 02, 2015

The official launch of the English translation of the first two Timbuktu Manuscripts in book form, which was undertaken by UP in partnership with the Madina Institute of South Africa, took place in Pretoria at a dinner at the Abubakr Siddique Mosque. The hosts were the Carrim and Kalla families, who have been generous donors to this initiative. Copies of the book were made available to the guests.

The Timbuktu manuscripts, originally written in Sudani (a form of Arabic), are centuries old and were written during the Mali Empire, which flourished between 1200 and 1400. From these ancient manuscripts it is evident that the people of that time were familiar with many disciplines, including science, astronomy and mathematics. At the first exhibition of some of these manuscripts in South Africa in 2008, former president Mr Thabo Mbeki said: ‘Various kinds of writing materials and subjects are covered, revealing a multifaceted past of sophisticated reading and writing culture in West Africa, and reflecting a tradition of prodigious intellectual production.’

Despite a tumultuous history marred by conflict, many of the original Timbuktu manuscripts remained intact. In order to salvage the knowledge and history of the manuscripts, two of them were translated into English by a team led by Sheikh Abdul Hamid Fernana from the University of the Free State in collaboration with the University of Pretoria.

Dr Maniraj Sukdaven from the Faculty of Theology at UP, who organised a conference with the theme ‘Reflections on Alexander the Great and Dhul Qarnayn: Gleanings from a Timbuktu Manuscript’, has been the driving force in the partnership between UP and the Madina Institute. Speakers from Yale and Stanford universities in the United States attended the conference and shared their reflections on this multidimensional topic.

Dr Essop Pahad summed up the need for this project perfectly when he said: ‘The Timbuktu manuscripts must be preserved and translated because they reflect the contribution of the African mind to human history.’

The Timbuktu manuscripts remind us that not all answers lie in the future, and that it is therefore essential to take the time to learn from our past. We may associate Timbuktu with the remotest place on earth, but even the apparently remotest place can contain valuable pearls of wisdom!


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