A Praise to the Great King Shaka, the Founder of the Zulu Empire

Sketch of King Shaka from 1824 (found in Nathan Isaacs’ book ‘Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,’ published in 1836)

To celebrate South Africa’s Heritage Day which used to be known as ‘Shaka Day‘ before 1996, we share with you this beautiful praise for the great king. KwaZulu (“Place of the Zulu” in Zulu)-Natal is an important province of South Africa, and the birthplace of the Zulu kingdom.  It is the second-most populous province in South Africa, after Gauteng, and the land of the Zulu people. Before 1996, 24 September was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King, Shaka, on the presumed date of his death in 1828. Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka, son of Senzangakhona) was the Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation; he is known as the founder of the Zulu Empire. . Each year people gather at King Shaka’s grave to honor him on this day.

King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini (Source: yahoo news)

King Shaka was murdered by his two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana at kwaDukuza in 1828—one date given is September 24. Dingane assumed the throne after the assassination. Thus, September 24 is known as Shaka Day, and nowadays has become ‘Heritage Day’. This year’s celebration will mark the official public coronation of the new Zulu King, Misuzulu Siqonbile ka Zwelithini, who inherited from his father, King  Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu (Traditional Coronation of a New Zulu King).

Shaka Zulu

He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown…

Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele

Portrait of Shaka, the Great Zulu King

Sketch of King Shaka from 1824 (found in Nathaniel Isaacs’ book ‘Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,’ published in 1836)

King Shaka, Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka son of Senzangakhona), or Shaka Zulu, is known today as the founder of the Zulu Empire or Zululand. He ruled from 1816 to 1828, and was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu, responsible for re-organizing the Zulu military into a formidable force via a series of wide-reaching and influential reforms; thus he was responsible for uniting small Zulu clans to form an impressive Empire which was a real threat to European advances in the region. Shaka was a master military strategist who revolutionized the Zulu military by dividing his army into components, sometimes on the basis of age and fighting strength. For example, he tasked young boys, perhaps in their early teens, with transporting military supplies. This allowed his fighting machine to move very quickly during raids or conquests. When Shaka first became king, the Zulu were a cluster of tribes of less than 2000 people; by the end of his reign, the population was 250,000 people, an impressive growth for a 12-year reign.

Nathaniel Isaacs, a British explorer met King Shaka. Below is a portrait he made of King Shaka found in N. Isaacs, Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa Vol I, 1836.

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Reception of the Zulus for Chaka from Isaacs’s book Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa. Descriptive of the Zulus, their manners, customs, with a sketch of Natal.

“In the evening, at the request of the king, we joined in their amusements, and could not … avoid singing: we commenced with ‘God save the King.’ On our explaining its literal meaning, Chaka was highly pleased; in fact, there was nothing but good humour to be observed in the countenances of every one present. The party broke up at a late hour; and, as is usual, in the morning we paid the king an early visit. We now expressed a wish to see him in his war dress; he immediately retired, and in a short time returned attired: his dress consists of monkeys’ skins, in three folds from his waist to the knee, from which two white cows’ tails are suspended, as well as from each arm; round his head is a neat band of fur stuffed, in front of which is placed a tall feather, and on each side a variegated plume. He advanced with his shield, an oval about four feet in length, and an umconto, or spear, when his warriors commenced a war song, and he began his maneuvres. Chaka is about thirty-eight years of age, upwards of six feet in height, and well proportioned: he is allowed to be the best pedestrian in his country, and, in fact, during his wonderful exercises this day he exhibited the most astonishing activity.”

Zambia and its Colorful Contribution to the World

Twin Rivers, Zambia

Have you ever heard of Twin Rivers in Zambia? Do you know that humanity came in contact with pigments, color, 300,000 years ago in the area of Twin Rivers? In this area of Zambia, located southwest of the capital Lusaka, is where the most extensive prehistoric mineral pigment collection in the world is found.

Language is not the only way of communicating, color is also part of it. Humanity communicated using pigments and color hundreds of thousands of years ago. Africa has some of the earliest evidence of the use of earth pigments. Evidence includes engraved ochre nodules and ochre processing areas and tools at sites such as the Blombos Cave in South Africa or Porc Epic in Ethiopia; the extensive processing of ochre at sites such as Sibudu in South Africa or Twin Rivers in Zambia, and the extensive mining of shiny bright red ochre in Eswatini (subject for another day). In 2006, in Twin Rivers, Zambia, archaeologists found that early humans used paint for aesthetic purposes much earlier than previously thought. The team found pigments dated between 350,000 and 400,000 years back. As a comparison, the oldest pigments previously found were 120,000 years old (still in Africa) and the oldest known painting is about 35,000 years old.  Huge quantities, about 70 kg or more, were found in a cave, thus implying a systematic use of pigments indicating a purposeful and repeated activity, perhaps linked to a material expression of self-awareness, displayed in the form of body paint/body decoration. Throughout the years, different rocks were excavated, ranging from limonite, hematite, specularite, and different kinds of pigments. The work done by Pr. Barham and his team, shows that even though a variety of colors of ochre were used at Twin Rivers (such as yellow, brown, red, a dark sparkly purple shade of red (specularite), pink, and blue-black) the most predominant color at the site is red.

Enjoy the article below from Colorful beginning for humanity on the BBC, Newsbriefs Archaeology, and check out the extensive work of the Liverpool team.

Africa’s Oldest Dinosaur found in Zimbabwe

Artistic reconstruction of Mbiresaurus raathi, which has been discovered in Zimbabwe (by Andrey Atuchin)

Scientists have unearthed in Zimbabwe, the oldest dinosaur ever found on African soil which lived 230 million years ago. As a parenthesis, dinosaur fossil hunting research is not big in Africa, so it is no surprise that on the cradle of humanity, people are still unearthing fossils. I am sure that if African scientists got vested in fossil hunting, the world will most likely awake to the era of the dinosaur, i.e. Africa being also the cradle of dinosaurs. Excerpts below are from the BBC; for more, also read the New Scientist. Enjoy!

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Scientists have unearthed in Zimbabwe the remains of Africa’s oldest dinosaur, which lived than 230 million years ago.

The Mbiresaurus raathi [love the name, named after Mbire in the Zambezi valley where the discovery was made, very African] was one metre tall, ran on two legs and had a long neck and jagged teeth. Scientists said it was a species of sauropodomorph, a relative of the sauropod, which walked on four legs. 

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

The skeleton was discovered during two expeditions, in 2017 and 2019, to the Zambezi Valley. When we talk of the evolution of early dinosaurs, fossils from the Triassic age are rare,” Darlington Munyikwa, deputy director of National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, and who was part of the expeditions, told the BBC. He said that fossils from that era – which ended more than 200 million years ago – had been unearthed in South America, India and now Zimbabwe.

The find is expected to shed more light on evolution and migration of early dinosaurs, back when the world was one huge continent and Zimbabwe was at the same latitude as those countries, he said. Zimbabwe has been aware of other fossils in the area for decades and Mr Munyikwa said there were more sites that needed further exploration in the area, subject to funding availability [exactly, more African researchers need to delve into the field, and $$$]. It shows that dinosaurs didn’t start out worldwide, ruling the world from the very beginning,” Christopher Griffin, another scientist involved in the expedition, told the BBC. They, and the animals they lived with, seem to have been constrained to a particular environment in the far south – what is today South America, southern Africa and India.” He added that the find was the “oldest definitive dinosaur ever found in Africa“.

Prof Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, a palaeontologist at the University of Cape Town, told the BBC that the discovery was important because it was part of the lineage that gave rise to the sauropod dinosaurs, which includes the diplodocus and the brontosaurus. … [Last July, she and her colleagues described a new iguanodontian dinosaur (Iyuku raathi) found in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. Thus, this is the second dinosaur find in less than a month].

… The near-complete skeleton of the Mbiresaurus raathi is stored in a room in a museum in Zimbabwe‘s southern city of Bulawayo. It is thought to date to the Carnian stage of the Triassic period, when today’s Zimbabwe was part of the massive supercontinent Pangaea.

Traditional Coronation of a New Zulu King

King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini (Source: yahoo news)

The Zulu people of South Africa now have a new king, Misuzulu Siqonbile ka Zwelithini who was crowned king in a traditional ceremony last Saturday. The coronation comes after 50 years of his father’s reign, King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, and a year-long family feud to determine the rightful heir. For many Zulu people, it is a rare event, the first in 51 years, and totally worthy of celebrations as it welcomes the dawn of a new king of the Zulu Kingdom.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and Queen Mantfombi Dlamini (Source: Sundayworld.co.za)

The new king, Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, is 48 years old, and although he is the son of the previous king, some royals had argued he was not the rightful heir and that the late king’s will was in fact forged. Many believed that the feud stemmed from the fact that King Misuzulu’s mother was the late Queen Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu of royal blood given that her father was the late King Sobhuza II of Swaziland and her brother is King Mswati III of Eswatini; her marriage to the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini came with the condition that her first-born son would be first in line for the throne in the event of his father’s death. However, for some Zulus, even though Queen Mantfombi Dlamini held the highest status among the king’s wives as a royal descendant, she was still considered an ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’, not a Zulu. In her husband’s will, she had been named as Queen regent – caretaker until a successor was found; however she also passed one month after becoming regent, and left a will in which her son Misuzulu ka Zwelithini was named successor. Since then, there have been a lot of contests in the family.

Celebrations at the new Zulu King’s traditional coronation (Source: Yahoo News)

None of that could dampen the joyous spirit of the thousands that descended upon the KwaKhangelamankengane Palace on Saturday for the traditional coronation of the new Zulu monarch. It was a beautiful celebration. The new king will be officially installed at a public coronation on 24 September – a public holiday in South Africa previously known as Shaka‘s Day – a time when thousands of Zulus would visit his grave to honor him for uniting the Zulu nation.

Please check out images of the celebration on the BBC.

Life in Walata in 1352: an Ancient City of the Ghana Empire

Ghana_empire_map_c300-c1200
Map of the Ghana Empire ca 300 -1200

In the past, we have talked about the great Ghana Empire of West Africa whose main center of trade was Koumbi Saleh, and whose economy was based around gold, salt, copper, and other goods. The imports included textiles, ornaments, and other materials. Many of the handcrafted leather goods found in old Morocco also had their origins in the Ghana Empire. Several strong cities of the Ghana Empire are today on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as Koumbi Saleh, OuadaneChinguetti,or Oualata. The historian and scholar Ibn Battuta visited Oualata in 1352, and gives an amazing report of the people of Oualata (Walata). Enjoy! These can be found in the Travels of Ibn Battuta called A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, better known as the Rihla (or “travels”). In Oualata, Ibn Battuta mentions his amazement that the society is matrilineal which he had not seen before anywhere in the world except among Indians of Malabar, and notices the importance of women in the society, and how they are well-treated, and mutual respect between men and women. A lot of these traditions are still be observed throughout Africa today.

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Ghana Empire_Oualata old town and new ruins can be seen
Aerial view of Oualata which was north west of Koumbi Saleh, and part of the Ghana empire. Ruins of the ancient city can be seen (Wikipedia)

My stay at Iwalatan [Walata] lasted about fifty days; and I was shown honour and entertained by its inhabitants. It is an excessively hot place, and boasts a few small date-palms, in the shade of which they sow watermelons. Its water comes from underground waterbeds at that point, and there is plenty of mutton to be had. The garments of its inhabitants, most of whom belong to the Massufa tribe, are of fine Egyptian fabrics.

Their women are of surpassing beauty, and are shown more respect than the men. The state of affairs amongst these people is indeed extraordinary. Their men show no signs of jealousy whatever; no one claims descent from his father, but on the contrary from his mother’s brother. A person’s heirs are his sister’s sons, not his own sons. This is a thing which I have seen nowhere in the world except among the Indians of Malabar. But those are heathens; these people are Muslims, punctilious in observing the hours of prayer, studying books of law, and memorizing the Koran. Yet their women show no bashfulness before men and do not veil themselves, though they are assiduous in attending the prayers. Any man who wishes to marry one of them may do so, but they do not travel with their husbands, and even if one desired to do so her family would not allow her to go.

Ghana Empire_Trans-Saharan routes early
Ghana Empire and its Trans-Saharan trade routes (Wikipedia)

The women there have “friends” and “companions” amongst the men outside their own families, and the men in the same way have “companions” amongst the women of other families. A man may go into his house and find his wife entertaining her “companion” but he takes no objection to it. One day at Iwalatan I went into the qadi’s house, after asking his permission to enter, and found with him a young woman of remarkable beauty. When I saw her I was shocked and turned to go out, but she laughed at me, instead of being overcome by shame, and the qadi said to me “Why are you going out? She is my companion.” I was amazed at their conduct, for he was a theologian and a pilgrim [to Mecca] to boot. I was told that he had asked the sultan’s permission to make the pilgrimage that year with his “companion”–whether this one or not I cannot say–but the sultan would not grant it.

A Day in the Court of the Emperor of Mali

Ibn Battuta_1
An illustration from Jules Verne’s book “Découverte de la terre” (“Discovery of the Earth”) drawn by Léon Benett. Ibn Battuta (1304-68/69) was a Moroccan Berber scholar and traveler

The Berber scholar and historian Abu Abdullah Ibn Battuta (commonly known in English as Ibn Battuta) is known as the most prolific and famous traveler of the middle ages. Born in Morocco in 1304, descending from a family of Islamic legal scholars (qadis) in Tangier, Ibn Battuta covered over 73,000 miles in 3 decades spanning 3 continents, Africa, Europe, and Asia. On one such travel, he visited the great Empire of Mali, and through his notes, we know what an audience with the Emperor Mansa Sulayman of Mali looked like. Travel to 1351 and enjoy a day in the court of the Emperor of one of the greatest empires in Africa, the Mali Empire, through the eyes of Ibn Battuta!

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MALI_empire
Mali Empire (Wikipedia)

On certain days the sultan holds audiences in the palace yard, where there is a platform under a tree, with three steps; this they call the “pempi.” It is carpeted with silk and has cushions placed on it. [Over it] is raised the umbrella, which is a sort of pavilion made of silk, surmounted by a bird in gold, about the size of a falcon. The sultan comes out of a door in a corner of the palace, carrying a bow in his hand and a quiver on his back. On his head he has a golden skull-cap, bound with a gold band which has narrow ends shaped like knives, more than a span in length. His usual dress is a velvety red tunic, made of the European fabrics called “mut’anfas.” The sultan is preceded by his musicians, who carry gold and silver guimbris [two-stringed guitars], and behind him come three hundred armed slaves [possibly servants]. He walks in a leisurely fashion, affecting a very slow movement, and even stops from time to time. On reaching the pempi he stops and looks round the assembly, then ascends it in the sedate manner of a preacher ascending a mosque-pulpit. As he takes his seat the drums, trumpets, and bugles are sounded. Three slaves go out at a run to summon the sovereign’s deputy and the military commanders, who enter and sit down. Two saddled and bridled horses are brought, along with two goats, which they hold to serve as a protection against the evil eye. Dugha stands at the gate and the rest of the people remain in the street, under the trees.

Sometimes one of them stands up before him and recalls his deeds in the sultan’s service, saying, “I did so-and-so on such a day,” or, “I killed so-and-so on such a day.” Those who have knowledge of this confirm his words, which they do by plucking the cord of the bow and releasing it [with a twang], just as an archer does when shooting an arrow. If the sultan says, “Truly spoken,” or thanks him, he removes his clothes and “dusts.” That is their idea of good manners.

Hundreds of Ancient Egyptian Coffins found in Saqqara

Egypt_Saqqara new findings 20220531
The painted wooden coffins were found intact in burial shafts and contained mummies, amulets and wooden boxes. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

To be an archaeologist in Egypt is probably one of the highest wishes of any archaeologist out there: everyday there are new findings, and more importantly new insights into one of the world’s most ancient civilizations which happens to be African. The ancient Egyptian civilization has inspired many, and shed new light on life thousands of years ago in that area of the African continent. Few days ago, hundreds of Ancient Egyptians coffins were found at a cemetery in Saqqara; among the coffins was found a headless statue of Imhotep, Chief architect of Pharaoh Djoser‘s step pyramid, and possibly one of history’s first documented physician, and author of several wisdom texts. The mission found 250 colored wooden sarcophagi with well-preserved mummies, wooden statues and masks dating from 500 BC, as well as a cache of bronze mirrors, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and more dating from the 15th century BC. Below are excerpts from an article on the Guardian. Enjoy!

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Archaeologists working near Cairo have uncovered hundreds of ancient Egyptian coffins and bronze statues of deities.

The discovery at a cemetery in Saqqara contained statues of the gods Anubis, Amun, Min, Osiris, Isis, Nefertum, Bastet and Hathor along with a headless statue of the architect Imhotep, who built the Saqqara pyramid, according to Egypt’s ministry of tourism and antiquities.

The 250 coffins, 150 bronze statues and other objects dated to the late period, about 500BC, the ministry said.

They were accompanied by a musical instrument known as a sistrum and a collection of bronze vessels used in rituals for the worship of the goddess Isis.

The painted wooden coffins were found intact in burial shafts and contained mummies, amulets and wooden boxes. Wooden statues of Nephthys and Isis from an earlier period were also found, both with gilded faces.

Authorship in African Art: The Case of Yoruba Art

Ghana_Akuaba figurine
Akua’ba figurine (Source: British Museum)

Have you ever stood in front of an African mask and wondered about the artist who made it: what was his name, origin, and life like? A few weeks ago, I had an argument with a European friend who specializes in art history, who tried to convince me, a child of mother Africa, that African art does not have authorship. He claimed that while looking at African masks, they were all cloaked with anonymity, and that probably African art traditions prized anonymity. I had to tell him that he needed to stop looking at African art through his tainted European lenses, but rather try it through African tunnel vision. First of all, African art’s function is not similar to that used by Europeans as decorative art. African art actually has functions that go beyond decorative; the art work has meaning, and a real place in society.

Ghana_Akuaba figurine being carried on the back
An Akua’ba tucked into the wrapper of an Asante woman. Photograph by Herbert M. Cole, Ghana, 1972 (RandAfricanArt.com)

For instance, in the Asante (Ashanti) culture of Ghana, the Akua’ba (Akua’s child) figurines which are among some of the best well-known African wooden figures recognizable by their small disc head lodged on a cylindrical torso with or without arms, were used as legend says by Akua who could not have children; she ordered a figurine which she tied to her back and cared for as instructed by an African traditional priest, eventually being able to conceive; since then, many women desiring children have ordered Akua’ba figurines from artists and gotten them consecrated at shrines, and cared for in hope of conceiving. Also, some of the statues, like fertility statues, serve a particular purpose as the name states.

Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century)
Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century), exposed at the MET

Anonymity in African art is only a myth invented by Europeans as they came in contact with a foreign culture which they tried to explain via their own tainted cultural glasses. In the case of the Yoruba people of West Africa, as we saw earlier in the naming ceremonies [African Naming Tradition], names given at birth are not just used to differentiate individuals, but also serve to identify the essence of one’s personality and destiny called ori inu (inner spiritual head), which in Yoruba religious belief, determines a person’s success or failure in this world and directs his or her actions. The name also gives information about the person’s family, beliefs, history, origin, and environment. It is sacred! With every naming celebration, there begins a corresponding oriki (citation poetry), which grows with an individual’s accomplishments. Leaders, warriors, diviners, and other important persons, including artists are easily identified by their oriki, which chronicles their achievements [The Griot, the Preserver of African Traditions]. In Yoruba culture, there are different kinds of oriki: oriki Olurun (oriki for God), oriki orisa (oriki for gods/goddesses), oriki Oba ati Ijoye (oriki for monarchs and chiefs), oriki Akinkanju (oriki for warriors), oriki idile (oriki for families), to name just a few.

Below is the part of the oriki of Olowe, one of the greatest traditional Yoruba sculptors of the twentieth century; it was collected by John Pemberton III in 1988 from Oluju-ifun, one of Olowe’s surviving wives, and has been found to be instrumental in reconstructing his life and work. Outstanding Yoruba artists like Olowe whose works have been collected and studied by researchers have been identified in scholarly literature only by their nicknames or bynames such as, Olowe Ise (meaning Olowe from the town of Ise); Ologan Uselu (Ologan from Uselu quarters in Owo); and Baba Roti (father of Rotimi). This was done to protect the artist as he could become a vulnerable target to malevolent forces because of his standing in society or closeness to the king’s court, etc; in that case the artist never revealed his full name to strangers. However, when a person’s oriki is recited, it is assumed that anyone who listens carefully and understands it will know enough about the subject’s identity, name, lineage, occupation, achievements, and other qualities so that stating the person’s given name becomes superfluous. This is found on P. 11 – 12 of A History of Art in Africa, Monica Blackmun Visona, Harry N. Abrams (2001). Thus, authorship in African art is not veiled in anonymity, but rather the way authorship is conceived of is different. Enjoy!

Olowe, oko mi kare o

Aseri Agbaliju

Elemoso

Ajuru Agada

O sun on tegbetegbe

 

Elegbe bi oni sa

O p’uroko bi oni p’ugba

 

O m’eo roko daun se…

 

Ma a sin Olowe

Olowe ke e p’uroko

 

Olowe ke e sona

O lo ule Ogoga

Odum merin lo se libe

O sono un

Ku o ba ti de’le Ogoga

 

Ku o ba ti d’Owo

Use oko mi e e libe

Ku o ba ti de’kare

Use oko mi i libe

Ku o ba ti d’Igede

 

Use oko mi e e libe

Ku o ba ti de Ukiti

Use oko mi i libe

Ku o li Olowe l’Ogbagi

L’Use

 

Use oko mi i libe

Ule Deji

Oko mi suse libe l’Akure

Olowe suse l’Ogotun

Ikinniun

 

Kon gbelo silu Oyibo

Owo e o lo mu se

Olowe, my excellent husband

Outstanding in war.

Elemoso (Emissary of the king),

One with a mighty sword

Handsome among his friends. 

Outstanding among his peers.

One who carves the hard wood of the iroko tree as though it were as soft as a calabash

One who achieves fame with the proceeds of his carving …

I shall always adore you, Olowe.

Olowe, who carves iroko wood. 

The master carver.

He went to the palace of Ogoga

And spent four years there.

He was carving there.

If you visit the Ogoga’s palace, 

And the one at Owo,

The work of my husband is there.

If you go to Ikare,

The work of my husband is there.

Pay a visit to Igede,

You will find my husband’s work there.

The same thing at Ukiti.

His work is there.

Mention Olowe’s name at Ogbagi

In Use too. 

My husband’s work can be found

In Deji’s palace.

My husband worked at Akure.

My husband worked at Ogotun.

There was a carved lion 

That was taken to England.

With his hands he made it.

Timbuktu Manuscripts now Available Online

Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l'astronomie et mathematique
Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l’astronomie et mathematique

I am happy to announce that the Timbuktu manuscripts are now available online. Can you imagine that? Treasures of our ancestors, writings, judgments, mathematical concepts, architectural findings, from those great scribes of ancient times. Up to 40,000 pages will now be available online, covering wide topics from biology to music to religion. 

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

With the Islamic attacks on Mali, Timbuktu has been under occupation since 2012 (Tensions Escalating in Mali). As you all know Timbuktu was a great center of knowledge in search for many centuries starting at least in the 12th century. It was visited by people from around the world, in search of knowledge. There were over 700,000 manuscripts at the great Sankore University in Timbuktu, and many more at other public and private libraries including the  Ahmed Baba InstituteAl-Wangari Library, and others (Lost Libraries of Timbuktu, Timbuktu under Attacks: Arise to save African Treasures). Many families smuggled the manuscripts to safety from Timbuktu to the capital of Bamako. The manuscripts contain centuries of African knowledge and scholarship on topics ranging from mathematics to astrological charts, biology, geography, laws, etc. They were written on various materials ranging from ancient paper, goat, sheep and even fish skins. Some were written in verse, poetic meter, while others in narrative styles using dialogues, stories of kings, scribes, noblemen, fables, anecdotes. They were renowned in the world for their physical beauty and outstanding wisdom.

Timbuktu_Abdel Kader Haidara
Dr Abdel Kader Haidara talking about the manuscripts of Timbuktu

In 2014, Dr Abdel Kader Haidara known for his work on the protection and preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts and who smuggled over 350,000 manuscripts out of the city away from the jihadists, called on Google and invited the company to visit Mali and see the renowned manuscripts and join in the digitization of these treasures. Thus the collection Mali Magic was born as a collaboration between Google, local, and international partners. It took several years of combined efforts from Mali’s traditional leaders, historians, and digital archaeologists to digitize these ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 11th century

Enjoy this article on the BBC website, and do not forget to visit the amazing work Mali Magic. The Library of Congress has also placed some manuscripts online. 

Timbuktu_Manuscript
Manuscript of Timbuktu (Google Arts and Culture)