Timbuktu. A far and distant city. An exotic people. Myths and legends and strange, dangerous customs.
It’s all that and much more. Last weekend, I was privileged to attend an exhibition of the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu. Some of these manuscripts were from the 12th century and covered subjects as diverse as astrology and family law, astronomy and optics.
My favourite was Manuscript 776 (see photo). Written in the 16th century by the famed scholar Ahmed Baba, this work contains the lines that on the Day of Judgement the ink of scholars will be measured against the blood of the martyrs and will be found to be weightier.
I found this encouraging and I left the exhibition with a sense of calm and a renewed belief in the continuum of human existence: we live, we die and the words we write in between – no matter how mundane - carry so much responsibility. What is a mere list of possessions today can become the future’s only glimpse into our daily lives. What we think is a clichéd tradition can become the legend of tomorrow’s world.
For a writer, what can be more inspiring than this?