Manuscripts from a fabled center of trade and Islamic learning, now threatened and displaced
Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara grew up in Timbuktu, Mali, surrounded by manuscripts. Educated in Islamic studies and trained in manuscript work at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu, Abdel Kader assumed care of his family’s manuscripts and began to help other families develop their collections into full-fledged research libraries. In 1996 he founded SAVAMA-DCI (a French acronym for Association for the Protection and Promotion of Manuscripts and the Defense of Islamic Culture) to provide an umbrella organization for the libraries of Timbuktu.
Aware of the risk to Timbuktu’s manuscripts from hardline Jihadists opposed to Islam’s range of intellectual traditions, in 2012 Abdel Kader organized a quiet evacuation of most of the family libraries by truck and boat. He brought 1400 metal chests containing hundreds of thousands of handwritten books and historical documents to safety in Mali’s capital Bamako. The move from the dry desert of Timbuktu to the humidity of Bamako brought a new challenge, and SAVAMA-DCI appealed to international organizations for help in unpacking, inventorying, digitizing, and properly storing more than 35 collections. HMML was invited to join the effort by leading the digitization efforts, ultimately operating 12 cameras in Bamako in the single largest effort in its history. The work is done by young Malian men and women, many of them relocated from Timbuktu to Bamako like the manuscripts they are preserving. HMML has provided the equipment, training, and ongoing support for the project. HMML and SAVAMA-DCI are now working with collections that remained in Timbuktu during the crisis.