Africa’s hidden written tradition

October 11, 2006 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post released this article on the discovery of 16th-18th century manuscripts in Timbuktu. It seems that the concept of a largely illiterate Africa that handled its intellectual affairs by passing on an oral history, is somewhat misguided. During the 19th century, many African countries hid their documentation from invading colonialists, and much of this documentation is only beginning to re-emerge now. The article goes as far as to suggest that literacy was more common in Mali in the 14th-century than it was in Europe, thanks to the spread of Islam across Africa. The article also mentions a 10th century arabic manuscript written on parchment and currently residing in  a personal library in Mali.

Most exciting is that many of these documents are being scanned and made available online. Have a look at this exhibition to view some of the items. With the recovery of many interesting and rare African manuscripts capturing a slice of history before any major colonisation of Africa byEurope, I believe that in the not-too-distant future we may see a huge interest in Africana that hasn’t really been touched on much before.


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