Mind Open: The meaning of Timbuktu and its relevance today

Embarking on a personal development journey that is, a radical journey for bettering every aspect of yourself is a multidimensional process. It entails being more conscious of ourselves first, our environment, second and our responsibilities, third. Activism choosing to be involved in a way or another, speaking up on prejudice, promoting different narratives, rediscovering a different part of history, broadening your horizons to different cultures can all be part of that process.

How do we become more in tune with ourselves? Doing that internal work implies being more aware of our reality, more critical, questioning, researching, creating, reading, debating.

Bringing that awareness to our relationships and environment is a more than necessary step too. I will focus on a historical place as a basis to expand our knowledge on social misperceptions. Timbuktu is misrepresented in common language as the remotest place on earth, or a legend which only deepen the confusion and diminished the relevance of its role and people.

What about Timbuktu?

Timbuktu is a real and important historical site, a multicultural African legacy located in today’s Mali. It had and still has the reputation of being the city of spirituality, of knowledge, of trade and hospitality. Why? Here are some aspects that may help understand it.

A unique geographical location. Timbuktu is perceived as a crossroad, a city where Saharan Africa meets sub-Saharan Africa, the desert meets the river Niger, north Mali meets south Mali.

A commercial centre and a prosperous city. It was a major trading centre for goods such as salt, books, and gold which led to the city’s economic rise as well as the creation of an important cultural exchange.

The manuscripts. For historians, much of the city’s historical value lies in its collections of around 700,000 manuscripts written in Arabic. They are a representation of the impact and influence of the schools and universities in West Africa.

An intellectual centre. Timbuktu’s famous madrasas, including Koranic Sankore University, had some 25,000 students at their peak and attracted scholars throughout the Muslim world.

Why does Timbuktu matter?

Timbuktu matters because its existence and history alone challenges many of the assumptions in our society regarding – West Africa. Being aware of this place humanizes an entire people. It also challenges some common misinterpretations and misrepresentations regarding the prevalence of West African culture and history as being non-existent or irrelevant exactly like Timbuktu in popular culture. Awareness of historical facts and places can reconstruct the core of a people self-esteem or self-knowledge. It also enables greater tolerance diminishing condescending thinking-pattern. Here are some facts to consider regarding – West Africa and in the light of Timbuktu.

It is not solely orality, it is definitely literacy. The manuscripts illustrate the depth of knowledge of Timbuktu’s students and scholars

The important role of science and scholarship in the region prior colonisation and prior European languages

The multiculturality and cosmopolitanism, the Tuaregs, the Songhai, the Berbers, the Fulani, the Mandinkas, the Arabs all converged to Timbuktu.

Ressources to learn more:

This short video part of a documentary. On the manuscripts here.
You can learn more about Timbuktu’s status as a World Heritage site here.