A virtual gallery showcasing Mali’s cultural legacy has been established, with tens of thousands of old manuscripts from Timbuktu on display.
After Islamist militant groups gained control of Timbuktu in northern Mali in 2012, the manuscripts were smuggled out.
They contain centuries of African knowledge and learning on a wide range of subjects, from mathematics to astrology.
“They reflect the long tradition of written knowledge and academic achievement in Africa,” said Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, a librarian who was also involved in the project and was notorious for sneaking the manuscripts out of Timbuktu.
Mali Magic is a collection that encompasses Malian culture in addition to manuscripts. Google collaborated with local and international partners to put it together.
It includes a depiction of the Dogon ethnic group’s dance. It also includes images of builders plastering the Great Mosque of Djenné, a Unesco world heritage site around 500 kilometres (310 miles) south of Timbuktu, as well as paintings by award-winning Abdoulaye Konaté.
According to Google Program Manager and Digital Archaeologist Chance Coughenour, the historic papers were initially written in mediaeval Arabic but have now been translated into English, French, Spanish, and current Arabic to make them more accessible.
“Creating a digital record and copy of the manuscripts is critical, and for the first time in so many years, we’re bringing the rewards of our labour,” he added.
Timbuktu has long been a cultural crossroads on the African continent, as well as an Islamic learning centre. According to Unesco, the city’s mosques played a crucial role in the spread of Islam throughout West Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Over the last seven years, Mali’s traditional leaders, historians, and digital archaeologists have worked tirelessly to ensure that the country’s rich history is preserved by digitising historic manuscripts, some of which date back to the 11th century.
According to Dr. Haidara, the project provides an opportunity for individuals to learn from those who came before them.
Dr. Haidara contacted Google in 2014 to request that these manuscripts be digitised.
He asked the company to come to Mali to study the legendary Timbuktu manuscripts and discover the background behind why they were endangered.
When they arrived, they discovered texts ranging from early Qurans to texts on astronomy, algebra, and geography.
The crew was then given the responsibility of not just digitising hundreds of pages but also making them visually presentable on the internet.
Up to 40,000 pages will now be accessible via the internet.
It’s a project that Malians have been following for years, since since Islamist extremists set fire to libraries in Timbuktu in an attempt to destroy irreplaceable documents.
Manuscripts were smuggled out of Timbuktu to Bamako, Mali’s capital, over a six-month period, as time was running short to save and preserve the papers from near-certain destruction.
The International Criminal Court convicted an alleged member of an Islamist group, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, guilty of orchestrating attacks on religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu in 2016. (ICC). He was given a nine-year sentence and was forced to apologise.
It was the first time the Hague court had heard a case involving cultural degradation.