Guardians of the Timbuktu Manuscripts

Meet SAVAMA-DCI, the organisation safeguarding the manuscripts for the defence of Islamic culture

Abdulwahid and mansucriptsSAVAMA-DCI

SAVAMA-DCI is a NGO which exists to safeguard and enhance the Timbuktu manuscripts, doing their part to protect to the cultural heritage that the Malians of today have inherited. 

Conservation de manuscrits dans des malles avant le déménagementSAVAMA-DCI

SAVAMA-DCI, an association of families from Timbuktu

Many of the families (35) have entrusted SAVAMA-DCI with looking after their manuscripts. The association’s objective is to inventory the manuscripts, restore them when necessary, box them, and provide them with good conservation conditions. During times of crisis, it also ensures their safekeeping. The manuscripts are looked after by the SAVAMA-DCI with the intention of returning them to their families. While at the SAVAMA-DCI, they undergo various procedures to conserve and catalog them.

Magasin dans les locaux de SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

The temporary storage warehouse at SAVAMA-DCI.

Un manuscrit abîmé par les insectes ou les rongeurs by SAVAMA-DCISAVAMA-DCI

Manuscript conservation: an ongoing challenge

The manuscripts have long be stored in ”rustic” conservation conditions (sometimes loose in trunks). Some have been damaged by rain, rodents, termites, and other insects.

The preservation of the manuscripts moved to Bamako presents an additional difficulty: Bamako has a fairly humid tropical climate, with an intense and longer rainy season (May–October), while Timbuktu has a hot desert climate, with very low rainfall including during the two “rainy” months.

Une page de répertoire des manuscrits (en arabe) by SAVAMA-DCISAVAMA-DCI

SAVAMA's three priorities

SAVAMA-DCI has three priorities: 

1) Completing the handlists (inventories) of all the libraries entrusted to it. Currently 17 libraries (of the 35 who have placed their collections in the care of SAVAMA-DCI) have had their collections completely inventoried, in two versions: an Arabic version and a French version. This amounts to 161,628 inventoried manuscripts, or 45% of the total manuscripts (377,491) entrusted by the families to SAVAMA-DCI.

Une boîte de rangement des manuscritsSAVAMA-DCI

2) Safeguarding the manuscripts by boxing them and storing them in good conservation conditions. Work on air conditioning, shelf installation, dehumidification, and more is currently underway in the six current storage locations in Bamako.

La bibliothèque Essayouti à Tombouctou après travauxSAVAMA-DCI

3) Completing work to the family libraries to prepare for the collections to be returned, including reconstruction, renovation and installation, air conditioning, shelving, and dehumidification.

Catalogage dans les locaux de SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

At SAVAMA-DCI the manuscripts follow a processing chain that allows them both to be identified and conserved in the correct conditions. This processing is carried out library by library.

IMAGE 44-1 DépoussiérageSAVAMA-DCI

Dusting and cleaning

The manuscripts then undergo a series of conservation processes. Each manuscript is firstly dusted, as is its existing packaging. The manuscripts are then also cleaned.

Atelier de fabrication des boîtes chez SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

Manuscript boxing

A box and cover manufacturing workshop employs around 20 people. Each box is made to measure. The manuscripts are boxed according to three levels:
- The manuscript is covered in neutral paper
- A neutral paper cover that can hold up to 10 manuscripts (tied with a ribbon)
- A neutral cardboard box that can hold one or several manuscript(s).
The paper and cardboard are made from acid-free materials.

Fabrication des boîtes dans les locaux de SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

Making boxes for the manuscripts

Numérisation des manuscrits dans les locaux de SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

Manuscript digitization

For some of the libraries, this is all the processing required; the manuscripts are then stored in one of six locations in Bamako where work has been carried out to ensure good conservation conditions.

Each page is numbered before it is digitized. This is to indicate the order of the pages to be digitized. The number is written in pencil on each page of the manuscript.

The manuscripts are digitized using a dozen professional scanners. One room contains three scanners, while another contains, nine, some with flash. The scanner provided by Google is located in a specific room.

Des boîtes de manuscrits dans les rayonnages de SAVAMASAVAMA-DCI

Manuscript storage

The final phase is the storage of the manuscripts in the various storage facilities around Bamako.

SAVAMA-DCI : Les 11 étapes de préservation des manuscrits de TombouctouSAVAMA-DCI

IMAGE 45-1 Inventaire de la bibliothèque Mamma Haidara version françaiseSAVAMA-DCI

Promotion and dissemination of the manuscripts

One of SAVAMA-DCI’s missions is to showcase and promote awareness of the manuscripts.

IMAGE 45-4 Premier catalogue SAVAMA couverture arabeSAVAMA-DCI

There are two main focuses:

1) Continuation of inventories (handlists) and catalogs; the catalog work will take longer as only three catalogs exist.

2) The expansion of research work: Eleven programs have been launched so far, five in 2016.

IMAGE 45-5 Premier catalogue SAVAMA couverture françaiseSAVAMA-DCI

Four critical editions have been completed but not yet published: 
- ‘Tazkiratul Ghafiline’ (on conflict resolution) by Omar Saidou Tall
- ‘Ousoul al Adl’ (on good governance) by Abdallahi Dan Fodio
- ‘Tan-bih-al Ikhwane’ (Reminder that it is possible for women to participate in public education sessions) 
- Mir-at al ta’rif bifadl al-ilm al sharif (virtues of knowledge) by Ahmed Baba Al Sudani
Other critical editions have been published in collaboration with partners.

L'enseigne de la bibliothèque Mama Haidara à Tombouctou by Photo El Hadj DjitteyeSAVAMA-DCI

SAVAMA-DCI’s goals for the future

Future priorities are to continue and step up digitization and cataloging, develop research around the manuscripts, and increase publications.

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