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The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu cover image

The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu 2008, 2009


Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by BBC
Directed by Richard Trayler-Smith
DVD, color, 59 min.

Sr. High - Adult
African Studies, History

Date Entered: 01/12/2010

Reviewed by Gloria Maxwell, Reference Librarian, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, MO

It will likely come as a surprise to many people that thousands of ancient manuscripts are being discovered in western Africa, in present day Mali, to be precise. These manuscripts have been hidden for centuries in the ancient city of Timbuktu. These manuscripts were hidden by the local people to keep them from being taken by European colonists, who made a practice of confiscating such finds and removing them to Europe. Aminatta Forna, the presenter, interviews local scholars and librarians, including Abdel Kader Haidara, designated by the President of Mali as the world spokesman for Mali’s manuscript collection. Haidara is also involved with the conservation and digitization of these manuscripts. Many viewers will be surprised that Africa has a history of literacy and writing, which refutes the belief that they only had an oral heritage. There is not much specificity as to what information these manuscripts contain, other than facts about daily life and Islamic religion and culture. A few primitive mosques and library buildings are part of the tour, but not much else related to present day Timbuktu. Basic history of Mali is briefly mentioned.

Video and audio qualities are good. Relevant maps of the region highlight the different kingdoms that reigned over Mali in the past help to clarify the geography of the region.

This documentary would be a suitable addition to high schools and general library media collections. The information contained is at a rather basic level and should be considered an introduction to this interesting topic rather than a more detailed overview.