NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
21 Jan 2003
- 16.775833 -3.009444
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 30
- Sennheiser MKH 50
Decoded MS Stereo
Log of DAT #:10A
Date: January 21, 2003
Prof = Salem Ould Alhadj
IM = Issa Mohammed
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila
Leo says hi and tells me where he is.
Carolyn says what will be on tape and where crew has been.
Leo says equipment is: 50 mid, 30 bi-directional mic, Sonosac MX2 pre-amp, Sony TCD-7 recorder, Sony MDR, Sony 506 headphones. Arranges seating.
Ambi. Nat Sound.
interview begins with some talk, but not the interview yet. Issa explains to professor interview is with translation.
Uh, I just want to begin by, uh, we begin all our interviews, if we just ask the professor to say his name and how we spell it and how we should refer to him. Professor what, at what place?
Okay, he has said a lot of things. Speaks French. So he said his name is Salem Ould Alhadj. And he said he did his studies in Timbuktu.
En suite, I mean, after that he went to modern college of Deri.
And then, after that, he graduated as a teacher.
And after Mali got its independence then he went back to school again.
And after that he got a degree as a professor of history.
And this is, uh, in 1978.
And also in 1978 he became the regional director of culture in Timbuktu.
Um-hm, and after that in 1986, um, he was one of the, uh, research team, the leading research team, at the Ahmed Baba Center.
Um-hm, and, uh, since, uh, January 1997, he has retired.
Yeah, and while he's a retired he's still pursuing, you know, his desire, which is really being in Timbuktu and also telling people about Timbuktu.
Exactly. So he said that, uh, anything that deals, you know, with the city, in terms of, uh, economic situation of the city, the social, the cultural, or even spiritual aspect of the city, um, this is where his desire lies in sharing that and explaining that with the visitors.
A man in the hotel, just someone who I think who works for the hotel just walked by and he summed up the professor much more briefly. He looked at him and said, ¿Oh, he's our memory¿.
Timbuktu is almost like an ocean of knowledge. And to say that one is the memory of Timbuktu is really to, um, to flatter oneself, you see. And, it's an ocean, and he's a student of learning and there is such a vast amount of knowledge in Timbuktu that pretty much those who know something it's almost as if they just knew the size of a drop in the ocean.
I had heard before I came here of the silk route, the spice route, the gold route. I'd never heard of the ink route until I got here. How did that develop? Why did there turn out to be a what they call the ink route, those manuscripts between Timbuktu and other parts of Islam?
Um, so, he's just reminding us actually about, um, spice road. He said that Timbuktu did trade with India and the spices came to Timbuktu to the Mediterranean, through the Red Sea, crossing our ocean, which is, you know the Sahara, to end up in Timbuktu. And there were some other spices also which came along the Niger River to Timbuktu. Now, the concept of the ink road, it's, uh, in for it to make sense, it's just to symbolize the fact that the city is a city of learning and an intellectual city. There have been waves of learned men who have crossed the Sahara. Some of them come from Northern Africa, some of them come from the Middle East, and crossed the Sahara with their legacy, and came and made Timbuktu their home. There is also a second wave of scholars who came to Timbuktu along the Niger river to make Timbuktu their home. And therefore Timbuktu became a center of learning, an intellectual center. And this is how the academic legacy of Timbuktu was established. And when they refer to that they say the ink road.
And why, why...
Um-hm. So he's saying also in term of how the learning has been, uh, uh...
Prof. Speaks. Tape loses some sound. There are pockets where speaking gets faint.
He's saying that the Arabs converted the Berbers into Islam, and then the Berber in turn converted black populations of Africa called the Marka or Sarakula. And these Sarakula, being Muslims now, came to Timbuktu via the Niger River where they have established themselves. So we do have a multi-ethnic legacy in Timbuktu and that legacy is from African scholars, Berbers, um, Filonis, and Ulangas, Tomasheks, and Songhai. They all came to Timbuktu and made Timbuktu a center of learning and a center of knowledge.
Alex interrupts to check sound because he hears a radio.
continuation of interview with Prof. trying to answer question.
So really we have at it in terms of (audio gets really low). You have the current that came from Northern Africa, Timbuktu, and then the other current that came from black Africa. And then we do have an indigenous intelligentsia in Timbuktu itself that benefited from the knowledge of these two currents. So a third legacy was established also in Timbuktu.
So, now, the people of Timbuktu to reflect that trilogy, that legacy, they are saying that among all the imminent scholars to cross the Sahara is Sidiahia(?) or sitting here(?).
And among all the black African scholars who came to Timbuktu, via the Niger River, the most imminent of them is Mohammed Barego, of Guinea
Um-hm, and among those who were born in Timbuktu, the most venerated one was Sidiharmed, (repeats after professor) Ben-Omar, (repeats after professor) Ben-Mohammed Arat.
Um-hm. And now, the third question is the salt road.
Um-hm. So, now, 21:25-21:31 IM-the prosperity of the city of Timbuktu, itself, is due to the salt trade. And there was a group of Berber or Tomashek called Masufa. And they were the ones who controlled the first salt mines in Tegaza. And after they lost their grip on the trade the control of the salt passed between the hands of the Askias, who are the Songhai rulers. This is Songhai Empire.
Um-hm, yeah. So since the, uh, salt trade becomes so lucrative and so important and has gained so much attention and attracted so much interest in Sub-Sahara Africa, the Moroccan ruler decided to take over the salt mines. And this is when, at that time, also, it was the time they discovered Taodini. So the Moroccan, the sultan of Morocco, took control of the Taodini's salt mine. And the legacy also, he said, has been actually founded in the 11th century, 1100.
I, I don't want to lose the idea of, it's interesting that history records that the Berbers established the original salt mine in Gaza. And when would that (then sound goes out briefly).
Prof . Speaks.
Yeah, yeah, he said that the salt mine of Tegaza existed for a very long time. However the Berber took control of the mine in 1300, 13th century.
Um-hm, so, he's saying at the, since the time of the Askias of the Songhai empire took over the salt mine the salt trade has become very prosperous for 100 years. And salt was so important that it was traded against gold and slaves in Timbuktu.
So this is how we at this moment are explaining still the existence trade although the there is the presence of, you know the salt coming from the ocean you know the still the Timbuktu trade is persisting and trying to resist you know the attacks.
And why is that why is the salt trade, why does the salt in Taodani different from the other salt. What makes it valuable and worth all the trouble and work to bring it here?
Um-hm, yeah, he's saying that this is, uh, more than just, uh, trading. This is their culture, this is their customs, this is their traditions. As long as the camel is alive, and as long as the camel is present in the Sahara, these people will continue to carry on this legacy. So it's more than a commodity that is being traded. But it's really a culture, it's a way of life that is trying to survive.
Uh, and also more than just looking at the salt as a component of our culture. The salt trade is also a spiritual, um, has a spiritual connotation to us because anything that comes from the desert is divine. Anything that comes from the Sahara is sacred. And this is why God has formed and trained all the prophets; Moses, Abraham, Jesus Christ, all of them were sent to the desert to be trained. So, therefore, anything really that we receive from the Sahara carries blessings and is sacred and it's divine.
Um-hm. And also there is the fundamental belief in Timbuktu that if the business venture of one that somehow does not include salt, the business will not be prosperous.
That salt has a magical power, or a mystical power?
Yes, exactly, the salt has a magical and mystical power in terms of generating profits and stability. For instance, all those who try to diversify and invest in some areas have lost their businesses. So this is why even if they will be trading something else they will still maintain that component.
Ambi. Chanting, singing in background, very faint.
Um-hm, so he's saying, you know, for us to leave without the salt of Taodani is as if we are losing a whole chunk of our life, a whole part of our life. And the salt is also important because of its medical properties. And also there is what we call ¿la cure salte¿, ¿salt cure¿. You know, for the animals. So sometimes they are taken and given the salt from Taodani for their own, um, uh...
For their health?
Yes. So therefore we cannot conceive our life without the salt of Taodani, which is really an ingredient in our culture and more than that it has also a spiritual dimension, a cultural dimension, in our lives.
But this depends upon also the, the, uh, the interaction of the camel and the caravan. If the salt comes down in trucks and is commodified in that way, will it be different?
And especially the camel
Um, yes, he's saying that, uh, yes it is true that now we do have a new element that has entered the salt trade, and that is the vehicles, the trucks. And often we have seen trucks to replace the camel, but after a year or two they collapse because there is the maintenance of the truck is very high. You have to have gasoline, you have to have parts, and after five trips, the vehicle is no longer, it's useless.
We broke a vehicle coming back down from there.
Um-hm (laughs). Speaks French.
Yeah, he said that's only one time, but try to go back 5 times in the same vehicle.
Ambi. Singing in background more noticeable under conversation.
So, uh, so he's not concerned that the, that the camel caravan, and the cultural involvement of the camel caravan is threatened by the modern economics and just modernity coming in?
Speaks French again.
Okay, so he's saying that at the beginning of the 16th century, an explorer by the name of Leo the African came to Timbuktu, and he has found that four bars of salt were selling for 335 gram of gold. Four bars, at the beginning of 16th century were selling for 335 gram of gold.
Which means that 12 bars of salt were costing more than a kilogram of gold.
Um-hm, and now a salt slab is sold for 6000.
Francs, which is about 10 dollars.
Um-hm, so it's only once you look at how much is a kilo of gold, a kilogram of gold right now, and the price of the four bars, you, yourself you will see how much of the trade has lost because a kilogram of gold has maintained its value and I think right now a kilogram of gold is 10,000 dollars.
Um-hm. So, the trade is really, um, uh, diminishing.
Mais(But), with all this, uh, the Arab is not about to give up this trade because he's not taking into account how much I have to sweat to give the camels, how much I have to go to get the grass, the Arab is not really factoring in all this factors. And for him he got free salt and as long as he's making a little profit, he's still in a business and the business is good for him. So it's not like where in America where everything has to be calculated and quantified and put into an equation, ¿oh no, this makes sense, this doesn't make sense¿, the Arab is not looking it straight from that angle. He looking it from a spiritual point of view, a cultural point of view, and as long as he's making a profit this is good for him and also this is his legacy, and also this salt has been spiritually blessed for him.
So, you know, I come from a country that, as you say, adds things up and figures out, ¿is it worth my time to do this and how am I getting compensated?¿ To try to explain to my countrymen how people view the salt trade, is it something like a, uh, a monastery. You know we have these monasteries where monks work and produce food because it's entirely really a spiritual process rather than they're creating wine or cheese or something for money. Is it something like a traveling monastery or some spiritual thing like that?
So, he's saying that really there is no separation between the Tuaregs or between the Arabs and the salt. The salt is their blood. The salt is their, um, their life, their life force. The salt is their bone. So there is no line of demarcation between salt and themselves. The salt in one word is their own inner self, their own inner being. He said when the French came they did everything to sabotage or bring to an end the salt trade. They even flooded the market with sea salt to practically bring down the prices and discourage the merchant from engaging in such practices. But with all that for the desert tribes, you know, the people who are used to the salt they have enough stature, but still there is something missing. Although they have their air-conditioned rooms in Timbuktu, you know, they have beautiful homes in Timbuktu, and businesses in Timbuktu, they don't feel, um, being, I mean they don't feel their entire wholeness unless they confront this heat, this wind, and put their hands on the salt. It is only then they find satisfaction and they find meaning for their lives. I mean he did say a lot of things.
Let me just say that we are, you know, we are here really following professor Davis in his exploration of special knowledge that, uh, people, uh, that people have. Because it's old knowledge and it has endured for a long, long time. In the pursuit of the salt trade is there a special knowledge that the desert people acquire, uh, that is important for all of us. For me, living in America, it is important for simply this body of knowledge to exist because it, because it expands the universe of human knowledge, and what is that? What would be that knowledge?
He said the Saharan people know the Sahara exactly as sailors know the ocean or the sea.
Um-hm, the same way the Eskimo know how to find their way in that ice they live in.
And also one of the knowledge that they have acquired is what we call in French the ¿p-polar¿. And I don't know if this is what you call it, the...
The North Star.
Yeah, the North Star.
Um-hm, And this is how, this is why usually the trips are made nighttime so that the caravan can be guided by the North Star. And also because nighttime there is no heat, it's fresh.
So the, the nomad, you know the Tuareg men, or the Arab men, or the Saharan men, knows the Sahara exactly as he know his own living room. He can just close his eyes and tell you exactly where he is.
So he said even if you close the eyes of one of these Sahara men and then you bring him samples of different scents, he will tell you that this sample you took it from this area, this one came from this area, and this one come from this area, etc, etc, so they do have a very deep, uh, you know, knowledge.
And they have mastered the Sahara so much that even when the wind is blowing they can tell what kind of wind it is, if it is going to rain, or if they are going to be thirsty, whatever is blowing whatever natural element that they are encountering in the Sahara they exactly know the meaning of those elements.
And, the camel also, who is, or which is the symbol of the Sahara, knows the Sahara even more than the nomads or Berbers or traders or Tomasheks.
And this is the reason why you can really lay down and close your eyes on the camel and the camel will guide you to the destination.
And especially for those who get lost in the Sahara they just let loose the camel and for sure the camel would, uh, bring them to a well.
So, therefore, the Sahara has a science, and this science is only known by these merchants, by these traders, who have been crossing the Sahara for centuries.
Yeah, this is, and also, this is a spiritual science, which is beyond technical sciences.
And so therefore the technical knowledge and the spiritual knowledge should come together as one so that humanity can advance.
And this is what I want to convey to our American friends.
Uh, I, would you tell the professor, Chris can we take 15 more minutes? ...
I want to turn the interview and talk about your library efforts and about some of the research you've found and especially what Wade saw this morning at the library, but before I do that I want to go get one thing that I forgot and it's just in my room, I'll go get it.
Explains to prof. what's going on (strange audio here)
Exactly and this is the reason, one of the reasons, that they would not let the caravan die. Because it's an initiation, it allows, you know, the young men to be initiated, you see
(Sounds low) The problem, of course, is there are no profits and the caravan is dying.
Let me, I'll be, I'll be right back.
Tape stops for a second.
Tape reset, begin again.
This is salt that I brought from America. And...
Explains in French
Does it taste any different now that we both have tasted it? Does it taste any different from the salt in Taodani?
He said somewhat different, he said for me it's different.
How, can he say how, it's very hard to describe a taste, but how is it different.
He said you see there's still water, and he said you see regular fountain water, don't you see the difference between the two?
Um-hm, still the same.
He said that there is a certain connection, there is a certain inner connection that I can feel when I taste my own salt, then this one.
So he said even if my family and I consume this sea salt, after some time we will have some deficiencies because this sea salt doesn't have some of the ingredients that our Taoudenni salt has.
And you would know that it was sea salt just by the taste of it?
Um-hm, he said yes, just by tasting.
So he said it's not like our salt.
Let me ask you about the great history of scholarship in Timbuktu, a little bit. Wade saw this manuscript today by...Could you name...
Abyssine, who I guess was a key figure in, in preserving the knowledge of Aristotle, and here is a manuscript in his hand here in Timbuktu? Is this correct?
Okay, um, yeah, he's saying that the, the scholars of Sancori, Sancori University, had a tendency to study most of the orders, particularly those of the Arab, Islamic world. And this is how we have some who have studied particularly holistic health or medicine. And Abyssine is one of them.
Speaking in French to prof.
And he, he wrote in the 17th century also. But one thing that these, uh, doctors, have in common, that the modern medicine doesn't have, is that they heal their patients with what they call esoteric sciences. Meaning they first of all go with verses of the Koran. So there are some sacred verses in the Koran that once you pull them they can heal a given disease. And inn addition to the verses, they also know certain rocks and plants a combination, you see, and leaves, and so forth, that can heal, you see. And then some of them also have purified themselves so much that these are saints. If they touch your head, whatever difficulties you have will be erased.
Okay. So he's saying that if someone is sick in particularly (speaks in French to someone, Roberto? Who says ¿malaria¿)...yes with malaria okay, he knows, I mean they know that there are two categories of patients. The malaria that is heat generated and the malaria that is cold generated.
He's saying, he's saying that, uh, the patient who has malaria that is heat generated, most of the time he will sweat, you know, from the feet, or under the arm. So he needs a specific kind of a treatment as opposed to the one who has a malaria that is cold generated. You cannot just go ahead and give them malaria pill, all of them. So there is a distinction in the way they are treated under the doctors of Timbuktu.
So, once they have classified the patients in two categories they will pray, you see. And after that they will classify the treating agent in three categories.
So anything that's plants and their derivatives.
And anything that is animal base.
Yeah, anything that is practically derived from animals.
Um-hm. And then after that the third category are minerals. So anything that's, you know, soil, rocks, you name it, that is a mineral.
Um-hm, so once now they have the prayer and they have classified the patients into two categories and also they have differentiated between the elements that are going to be used to treat the patients.
Yeah, and this is how they, they treat the diseases in Timbuktu, and in the Muslim world.
I'm, I'm interested really, I'm trying to get to the idea that this, this, this, the library would contain the manuscript by this, uh, in the hand, this man, he wrote this manuscript of just incredible rarity and uh, uh, value. This would be like discovering something blessed in the hand of Shakespeare. It dates from the year 1027. It's astonishing to see this, to hold this book and to see it in a case in a library here.
He's saying that, uh, the manuscripts are everything for the people of Timbuktu. And this is one that is there heritage, that is their legacy, but also it is one area where they have excelled. So the people of Timbuktu cannot give a meaning to their lives without the manuscripts of Timbuktu.
It's something in which they have excelled. This is a tremendous accomplishment. And this is because Timbuktu was one of the great cities of wealth 1000 years ago, 800 years ago, 600 years ago. A great city of wealth that could support scholars and intellectuals and writers who would gather this knowledge. It was a great center of learning in the world, yes?
Yeah, because Timbuktu is in the middle of the desert, inside of the desert.
And actually, if you notice that most of the Western African states on the coastal line, if you notice that most of the capitals are in the desert
Uh-huh, and in Morocco for instance is Marrakech.
And for Tunisia, it's Karowan.
And the reason is that they were running away from pirates. So this is the reason why they go in land into the Sahara where they feel more secure.
And also Timbuktu, because of its unique geographic position, was able to attract the scholars.
Yeah, at the end of the 15th century, um, the, um (speaks French to prof.)...
I'm very sorry, please translate this, Ben. My friend Chris, he's waiting for the light for the professors portrait and they must, I think they must go (discussion about setting up).
So, he said...
Prof says question is too long.
I know, the question is too long.
So he's saying that the reason there is so many scholars converged to in Timbuktu is due to the fact that in the 15th century with Ferdinand in Spain and Tunisia, when Muslims lost their, um, grips on Spain, the Muslims and some Jews were expulse?
They were expelled from Spain and so this is the very reason why Hasjid Asidahia, who has also his masjid and university came to Timbuktu. So after they had been expelled they all came toward Timbuktu and have found, you know, homes in Timbuktu.
And also, um, in mil de cent vignte quatre, 1224 Samandulakante (Alex repeats), who is an animist, these are like, uh,
Yes, an animist.
Attacked the Ghana Empire. Which is where Mauritania and Senegal is. So most of the scholars form Ghana fled to Timbuktu and Tualata(?) and Guinea.
And a great number of them came to Timbuktu.
And also at Timbuktu has benefited from its own rulers who were Muslims, Kakama Hamar, Askia Mohammed, and the Tuaregs, and all of them had a policy where they really welcomed the scholars in Timbuktu, they supported the scholars in Timbuktu, and they financed the scholars in Timbuktu.
Yeah, so it's also one of the unique cities where, uh, Africans and non-Africans can come together and live because there are low mosquitoes, because, you know, the climate was really, um, a climate that allows that kind of co-existence. And therefore an atmosphere, a multi-cultural atmosphere was created where diversity was embraced. And out of that diversity there came a legacy where all these different groups have contributed.
So, all the men of God from East, West, and South, decided to meet here, they scheduled a meeting in Timbuktu.
So, and after that also the nature God has given them, the prosperity, the abundance, the commerce, which is really the basis for any kind of expansion.
And this is really what led to the cultural expansion, intellectual expansion, and commercial expansion of the city of Timbuktu.
I thank you so much, I, the professor's time is too valuable, and I've intruded on my friend's time and now there's more demand on his time.
Translates thanks to the professor.
Leo explains background sound of soccer game.
Ambi. Nat sound.