RARE Manuscripts on View at Castle

Cape Times (South Africa), August 5, 2008 | Go to article overview
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RARE Manuscripts on View at Castle


Timbuktu Script & Scholarship. At the Iziko Castle of Good Hope from Friday. melvyn Minnaar reviews.

That weathered expression about the ultimate travel adventure, "from here to Timbuktu", takes on significant historical poignancy with the opening, on Friday, of an unusual exhibition at the Cape's oldest fortification, the Castle of Good Hope.

It will also mark a special connection between South Africa and Mali, and the remarkable legacy of high learning in Africa.

It is indeed very far from the Cape to Timbuktu in that distant desert country, but the exhibition Timbuktu Script & Scholarship will bring to southern Africa, for the first time, some 40 rare manuscripts from the holdings of the Ahmed Baba Institute.

This is the result of an extraordinary cultural agreement between the countries and a concerted effort by South Africa to help in the preservation of this valuable material. It shines the spotlight on the great tradition of scholarship in Africa as recorded and documented in the great libraries of Mali and Timbuktu.

The exhibition is an extension of the project in Timbuktu, where South African expertise in architecture and document conservation is assisting both in the building of a new complex for the Ahmed Baba Institute and securing the valuable manuscripts.

Cape Town's DHK Architects have since 2005 been involved in the design of the Ahmed Baba Centre in Timbuktu.

The work is a significant undertaking to develop local architectural vernacular traditions for modern requirements and has drawn international interest.

This, as well as the Timbuktu Script & Scholarship exhibition - which comprises spectacularly decorated centuries old manuscripts, which will travel by special permission - is the result of a co-operative project set up by president Thabo Mbeki in 2001, after an official visit to Mali.

The Presidential South Africa Mali Project, the first cultural project of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), aims to conserve and restore the Ahmed Baba Institute's manuscripts.

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