Ali Houissa | 7 Aug 14:09 2007

Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival

Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival

THE NEW YORK TIMES August 7, 2007

TIMBUKTU, Mali ­ Ismaël Diadié Haïdara held a treasure in his slender fingers that has somehow endured through 11 generations ­ a square of battered leather enclosing a history of the two branches of his family, one side reaching back to the Visigoths in Spain and the other to the ancient origins of the Songhai emperors who ruled this city at its zenith.

“This is our family’s story,” he said, carefully leafing through the unbound pages. “It was written in 1519.”

The musty collection of fragile, crumbling pages, written in the florid Arabic script of the sixteenth century, is also this once forgotten outpost’s future.

A surge of interest in ancient books, hidden for centuries in houses along Timbuktu’s dusty streets and in leather trunks in nomad camps, is raising hopes that Timbuktu ­ a city whose name has become a staccato synonym for nowhere ­ may once again claim a place at the intellectual heart of Africa.