of timbuktu and abba

i had a fabulous day today – immersed in culture and learning and fun.


i started off with a run along the sea point promenade – it’s been very stormy today (it is once again bucketing down as i write!) and i was hoping to see large waves crashing onto the walkway, but i don’t think the wind was coming from the right direction.


after that i met some colleagues at the castle of good hope in town, for the exhibition of the timbuktu manuscripts. i personally first heard about these manuscripts in about 2001 when south africa developed their partnership with mali in a project to restore and safeguard these valuable historical manuscripts. i got very excited when saa announced that they would, a few years back, start direct flights to mali – because i’ve wanted to go there for a long time. but alas, the flights did not materialize, and i have not made the effort to go. but this exhibition renewed my interest in it.


there has long been a belief in the world that the history of africa is not recorded in written form, but is only carried forward in oral form. the 300’000 or so manuscripts that form the timbuktu manuscripts disprove this. these pages – some on paper, a few on parchment – record history, astrology, astronomy, economic trade, personal correspondence, islamic theology and various documents on life in general from before 1100 ad.


they talk about slavery – did you know that in islam a female slave is no longer able to be sold or lent out once she has borne a child? and that that child is a free citizen? and that on the death of her master, she too becomes free? different to what we remember in the ‘west’.

they talk about fatwas for a married woman – that if her husband demands she travel to faraway, potentially unsafe destinations with him, she can decline and remain at home.

the documents were often beautifully decorated with gold and intricate patterns, written in flawless arabic. did you know that there are several different arabic scripts? i didn’t realize that… and that in those times already there were watermarks in the good quality paper. some of this paper made it to islamic timbuktu and west africa, and some of these western watermarks had christian symbols in them – not exactly acceptable to an islamic community. but a fatwa of the time decreed that the word of al’lah written over this watermark would cancel out any of the negative influences of the christian symbols.


we learnt a lot, but it is a pity that a tour that was meant to be 20 minutes had only covered half the exhibit after an hour, and that’s when i had to leave…luckily i had come and looked a little earlier, and they had a book i could buy.


in the afternoon we had our second gaymes day – such a wonderful way to spend a rainy stormy saturday afternoon. laughing through episodes of little britain, playing 30 seconds, taboo, settlers of catan and buzz all to the flow of red wine.


we ended the evening watching the new abba movie – mamma mia! i thought it was much better than the stage production that was here a few years ago. all seven of us caught ourselves singing along to the abba songs throughout the movie – do you think that had anything to do with 11 people leaving the cinema during the movie? i doubt it… maybe pierce brosnan’s bad singing had something to do with at…  and you must also have noticed how many people (usually straight) will deny listening to or liking abba – but put an abba song on at any party, and everyone is singing and dancing J

meryl streep gave a great performance, and i have been reminded that i want to see every one of her movies – so i’ll be making a list and working my way through that.


what bugged me today: a potentially good tour being extended beyond the interests of most of the audience

what i learnt today: that paper was invented in china, and took about 500 years to reach africa, and only then the area we now know as ‘the west’

what i am grateful for: learning


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