Posts Tagged ‘Abdel Kader Haidara’

Mali’s cultural hero Abdel Kader Haidara: how a librarian saved the treasures of Timbuktu

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019
Share

Abdel Kader Haidara explaining some of Timbuktu’s treasures.

The Islamic State ransacked and demolished mosques, shrines, churches, libraries, and historical monuments across the Middle East and North Africa.  There were a few heroes who stood against them. We wrote about one of them, Syria’s Khalid al-Assad, here. Here is another, librarian Abdel Kader Haidara, who rescued Timbuktu’s cultural treasures after the jihadist occupation of Mali in 2012.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “The prizes in Mr. Haidara’s own private collection, housed in his Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, include a tiny, irregularly shaped Quran from the 12th century, written on parchment made from the dried skin of a fish and glittering with illuminated blue Arabic letters and droplets of gold. His collection also boasts many secular volumes: manuscripts about astronomy, poetry, mathematics, occult sciences and medicine, such as a 254-page volume on surgery and elixirs derived from birds, lizards and plants, written in Timbuktu in 1684.”

From Joshua Hammer’s 2016 article, recently reposted on the social media (Hammer’s earlier article on Haidara at the National Geographic is here):

A few days after the jihadist occupation began, Mr. Haidara, who worked full time as a book restorer, archivist and fundraiser, met with his colleagues at the office of the Timbuktu library association, which he had formed 15 years earlier. “I think we need to take out the manuscripts from the big buildings and disperse them around the city to family houses,” he told them, as he recalled the conversation for me two years later. “We don’t want them finding the collections of manuscripts and stealing them or destroying them.”

Months earlier, the Ford Foundation office in Lagos, Nigeria, had given Mr. Haidara a $12,000 grant to study English at Oxford in the fall and winter of 2012. The money had been wired to a savings account. He emailed the foundation and asked for authorization to reallocate the funds to protect the manuscripts from the hands of Timbuktu’s occupiers. The money was released in three days. Mr. Haidara recruited his nephew, and they reached out to archivists, secretaries, Timbuktu tour guides and a half-dozen of Mr. Haidara’s relatives.

The result was a heist worthy of “Ocean’s Eleven.” They bought metal and wooden trunks houses around the city and beyond. They organized a small army of packers who worked silently in the dark and arranged for the trunks to be carried by donkey to their hiding places. Over the course of eight months, the operation came to involve hundreds of packers, drivers and couriers. They smuggled the manuscripts out of Timbuktu by road and by river, past jihadist checkpoints and, in government territory, suspicious Malian troops. By the time French troops invaded the north in January 2013, the radicals had managed to destroy only 4,000 of Timbuktu’s nearly 400,000 ancient manuscripts. “If we hadn’t acted,” Mr. Haidara told me later, “I’m almost 100% certain that many, many others would have been burned.