Preservation of manuscripts in Algeria
13 heures le journal
First broadcast date
In the heart of the Algerian Sahara, for centuries, the Berbers have retained, protected and safeguarded priceless manuscripts, treaties of history, astronomy and medicine, which otherwise would have disappeared in the sands.
France 2 - Own production
Languages and literatures
- Art, Culture and Knowledge / Writing, graphic culture
- Historical heritages / Arab and muslim worlds
Credits / Cast
- Autain Kristian - Journalist
The preservation of manuscripts in Algeria
The history of the desert and areas inhabited by the Berber people of North Africa comes down to us thanks to the important collections of manuscripts both in Arabic and in local dialects transcribed using the Arabic alphabet. Commercial registers, deeds, legal treaties, the accounts of brotherhoods, but also scientific and religious texts, these collections were often kept in villages within individual families or by institutions regulating daily life, such as Koranic schools. Still little studied, they represent a potential for information about the history of the area on which several researchers and heritage experts are trying to shed light. There are a few examples in European libraries but most of the manuscripts have not yet been identified or inventoried. They are the subject of a large-scale investigation led by an Algerian journalist and researcher working in Manumed, a programme funded by the European Union since 2008 as part of EuroMed Heritage IV, bringing together the resources of Algerian, Egyptian, French and Belgian institutions.
In this television report the project director, Said Bouterfa, is shown as a treasure hunter, going from one oasis to another in search of family libraries which might disappear any day because of the precarious conditions for conservation and the small amount of funding for such work in Berber communities. The social context is illustrated by images of oases, sequences of building a barrier of palm trees to slow down the advance of sand and by the isolation of the communities only accessible after several hours travel. The heritage value of these “desert libraries” is thus linked to the peripheral and difficult situation of the people, who might find in their manuscripts the origins of their daily struggle against sand and weather. We recognize here a romantic vision of heritage in danger, epitomised by some shots of the indigenous people, although the report does not dwell on how these libraries came into existence thanks to the relatively widespread use of writing in Muslim societies – by extension an example of the symmetrical nature of the cultures of different Mediterranean societies. However, the logic of preservation, conservation and rescue shown in this film is part of the dominant heritage policy across Europe and the southern Mediterranean.
Bonfour A. 2010, « Manuscrits berbères en caractères arabes », Encyclopédie berbère, pp. 4554-4563.
Collectif 2007, Les manuscrits berbères au Maghreb et dans les collections européennes, Paris, Atelier Perrousseaux.
Bouterfa S. 2005, Les manuscrits de Touat, Paris, Atelier Perrousseaux.