This was a good find indeed. I was under the impression that Timbuktu had been a place for higher learning even before the 17th century. I had read in the Black Athena by Stanley James that Greek Scholars like Aristotle learned their stuff from that place and that they even stole the books from there and brought them back to Europe.
I have been blessed to have interacted with folks from Mali and to have been welcomed as a family member by some who carry their tradition as grewels. I feel a great sense of pride and happinness that the world is again learning to respect these people for their accomplishments. The Dogons taught us so much about astronomy and it was written in the Invention of Africa that the Europeans were so shocked and upset that these folks knew about the cosmology of the stars and the universe that they "invented" a new Africa whereby some European had come earlier and taught it to them! In addition, these people have contributed so much to the culture and society of other nation states in West Africa namely-Senegal.
They have a rich culture which includes strong oral narratives and folksongs that others will never produce. They are truly amazing. In fact, I am surprise that this is just now coming out. The traditional architecture of Mali with the mud houses are world reknowned and have been written about so much. And didn't Henry (Skip) Gates feature a school from Timbuktu on his documentary of Africa a couple of years ago? I thought that he showed that there were old libraries and places of learning that dated back centuries.
It would be too bad if tourists were allowed to sneak out of the country with these items. You know how these folks are. They are so in need of authentic artifacts to show off to their friends and hold hostage like some exotic animals. It's crazy. And the people are desperate for money so they may be inclined to sell off their heritage for pennies. The libraries should pay them a yearly or monthly fee for holding these items as a way to encourage the people not to sell to tourist.
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