top of page

Generations of Everyday Heroes Have Protected Timbuktu's Treasure for Centuries!


Source: Wikimedia


In secret vaults, caves, and undisclosed locations in the Sahara Desert, the people of Timbuktu have hidden some of the world’s most priceless treasures for generations to come. These people don’t risk their lives to hide gold, gems, or other precious metals, though. No, they’re protecting something much, much more important to the world: books! But why have generations of people in Timbuktu risked their lives to save books?

Most of us are only barely familiar with this ancient city in Mali. For centuries, though, it was a crossroads of trade, an epicenter for intellectual life, and a place where, for generations, ordinary people have stepped up to become heroes. Let’s find out why.

Why risk your life for a book?

To those of us used to turning to Google to answer a history question, or getting any book we want with a single click, risking your life for a book may seem like a strange idea. The luxury of being able to turn to a textbook or Wikipedia page to learn about the history of your culture or your family isn’t something many people have, particularly those whose cultures and histories have been destroyed or suppressed by war and conquering forces.

For the families that have kept the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu hidden and saved for centuries, risking their lives to preserve their cultural heritage is, in many ways, a part of who they are.


Century after century, Timbuktu rose as a center of trade, power, and intellectual life, and became the target of conquest as a result. With every takeover, the books and manuscripts holding people’s rich knowledge and history were under threat of destruction. As a result, this knowledge became as treasured to the people as the gold that made its way through Timbuktu.

But surely now, in modern times, we can just collect all of these books and digitize them, right? We can finally add the history of Timbuktu and its surrounding region as it was written by the people that lived there long ago to the world history books? Well, there’s more to that story, too. First, we have to find them.

To help us understand the priceless nature of Timbuktu’s libraries and the countless people that have risked their lives through history for them, we have an incredible video from TED-Ed to get us started!

Via: TED-Ed 1

The story goes on

As we know from the video, the struggle to save Timbuktu’s beloved manuscripts is ongoing. The modern “chapter” of this story is really quite remarkable. In 2012, when the city of Timbuktu was taken over by Islamic extremists, the painstakingly preserved libraries of the city were under threat yet again. In the midst of this threat, the librarian Abdel Kader Haidara pulled off a rescue mission to save 350,000 manuscripts from being destroyed forever.


It was an elaborate plan. There were smuggled trunks, safe houses, and river boats loaded in the dead of night that put Abdel and those helping him at great risk.

It’s a truly incredible story that this piece from National Geographic does a beautiful job detailing:

It is truly amazing what people are capable of in the face of unimaginable circumstances. Normal people—like the librarian—become the heroes saving lives and preserving priceless heritage.

For more good news stories check out our Good News section at The Brighter Side of News.


Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.



Most Recent Stories

bottom of page