A moment before the break of dawn, life in the Niger begins with the rhythm of the calm, small, brilliant waves of the lakes of Mali - calm and silent yet glistening with life. This magical place lies right in the middle of the vast, burning desert of Africa. Not far away, mothers are working, too. As they work they sing to their songs of legend that tell traditional tales of their history. Folklore of kings and lesser rulers with their faces hidden behind wooden masks; they had won battles against beasts and great wizards and they had discovered great treasures; all in the name of an expansive mystical land called Mali. Not all of Mali’s tales however are of legend. This country has survived the intrusion of a number of colonial empires, which occupied Western Africa. It is also a land that has experienced thriving times in the past, but here in the 21st century, Mali is devastated. In this documentary, we come to know that today Muslims make up 90 percent of Mali’s population. Until recently its society lived in relative peace with one another, tolerant of minority religions and integrated into societal norms. However, for the past three years alone people in Mali have dealt with a government takeover, civil war, foreign terrorism as well as local terrorism and rebellion, displacement of masses of people, government collapse, and destruction of the country’s most endearing artifacts. Timbuktu, an old Malian city, was home to an estimated 700,000 sacred manuscripts, priceless Qurans, monuments, religious and UN World Heritage sites. But, in the hands of the terrorists, many structures were destroyed including the tombs of saints. When the Takfiri militants were forced to retreat from Timbuktu, thousands of sacred manuscripts were destroyed as they left. The Malian people have endured this traumatic experience and there remains cautious optimism for the future.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: A moment before the break of dawn, life in the Niger begins with the rhythm of the calm, small, brilliant waves of the lakes of Mali - Calm and silent yet glistening with life. This magical place lies right in the middle of the vast, burning desert of Africa…
As the sun peeks over the horizon, life’s current gains momentum. The inhabitants, mostly farmers, begin their day early, making their living by selling goods, and one can see more people starting off their working day as well.
Residents of the beach are rather laid back; men congregate to play games together and listen to the radio. Life is simple here much like the type of goods the people sell; as simple perhaps as preparing a cup of tea.
Not far away, mothers are working, too. As they work they sing to their songs of legend that tell traditional tales of their history. Folklore of kings and lesser rulers with their faces hidden behind wooden masks; they had won battles against beasts and great wizards and they had discovered great treasures; all in the name of an expansive mystical land called Mali.
Not all of Mali’s tales however are of legend. This country has survived the intrusion of a number of colonial empires, which occupied Western Africa. It is also a land that has experienced thriving times in the past, but here in the 21st century, Mali is devastated.
Once a land of significant architectural development that denoted an accomplished civilization, these mementos are fading and might one day be all but forgotten.
Villagers, seemingly unchanged by historical events of the past, live next to the remnants of centuries old kings’ palaces.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of Program: “In Mali, Senegal and other countries including Ghana and Niger, governments were feudal and consecutive royal dynasties ruled over this region. This place that you see here is the Government’s Court or Capital – it is a royal’s property that belongs to the Bambara dynasty.”
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “Mali is one of few countries in the world that has a documented history from the 3rd century AD up to present day.”
Narration: The Dogon tribe is one of the most mystifying tribes in Mali. Some believe they are in regular contact with extraterrestrial beings. They are deeply knowledgeable about the stars and heavens.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “The Dogons are a small tribe presently located in a region known as Bandiagara Hills. They have lived in that area since 300 BC. Prior to them the Toloy tribe lived there though very little is known about them.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: Deserted, but resilient homes of the Dogons stand deep in the heart of Bandiagar land. Among several such villages, one or two allow visitor access while the rest are categorized as a forbidden zone for any non-native.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “They were highly educated in the mystical field of astrology. They would look toward the Yemeni Shoara star and have a big celebration of that star every 60 years.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Unknown man: “Did you know that these small houses belonged to Pigmies who built them more than 2000 years ago?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of program: “Do you mean the tribes of short people?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Unknown man: “Yes. The Pigmies were forced to emigrate from here and move to central Africa to a country which is now involved in a horrible civil war. About 1000 years ago the Dogons migrated to this area. They were also natives of Bandiagar; but there were theological differences with the Muslim community there and the Dogons didn’t want to abandon their traditional customs, so they decided to emigrate and resettle within this remote territory to form their own society.
This new land proved a very good place for them to live and grow. The environment meant that they were protected from wild animals, and hostile tribes could not effectively attack them either. These are the reasons, it is said, that the Dogons took over this territory and ousted the Pigmy population and they built these houses.”
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “One of our students made a momentous discovery: the Dogons could see the Yemeni Shoara star by looking through a hole at the end of the cave. This hill acted like a giant telescope for them. Though quiet a primitive, The Dogon tribe knew how to fashion tools of iron from times before they immigrated to this location in Mali.”
SOUNDBITE [English] local man: “The meaning of black is the mud the silent and the white means the water and the skies and the red me and the sacrifice, blood animals and that there is the sun over there.
They said they should be there to be aware to see anyone coming from distance because of sitting there you can see back of the Plain lands and if anyone coming you can see from desistance you can come down from up.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Host of program: “And how they get their food, their water?”
SOUNDBITE [English] local man: “They got their food and water, they came to hunt and then they go up there back, and they can go hunting all the time of the day.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Host of program: “It was difficult for them you know just coming down, going up”
SOUNDBITE [English] local man: “That is why you can see them living down. The people of this village are originally from this place. The present people who live, noting belongs to them but it is heritage of the past generation and they are all need to protect it.”
Narration:It was a time of long dark nights, but brilliant days full of optimism and accomplishment; a legendary civilization that was no less than those of the great ancient civilizations. Tribes that built impenetrable resistance could not be dominated by their enemies and they prevailed.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
Narration: Faces of heroes were carved proudly on totems as mementoes and as symbols of strength and fortitude. One might imagine these civilizations as primitive, but in many ways they were not.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “Let’s begin from the time of the Ghana Empire, which emerged out of the Suninke tribe. This empire’s capital city, Coumbi Saleh, was discovered by archeologists in Mauritania bordering the north of Mali.
The city traded in gold and was very wealthy. Gold was transported to the capital from the south while salt was traded from the north. Salt in those times held similar value to gold because given the equatorial climate it was essential to consume salt or one would soon perish. Often, transactions for gold were made with salt and visa versa. So for example, one could trade 5 grams of gold with 5 grams of salt.
The Sunga Empire then emerged in Mali and although its capital was called Gao, its main economic and cultural city was Timbuktu. This empire was able to expand trade in the region because it was well-organized administratively and had a united economic system.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hana Ibn Dai, Scriptologist: “There was very cooperative relationship between Timbuktu city and northern and western Africa, especially trading with the countries of Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Aljazeera and Tunis. There were a great deal of cultural interactions, public relations and business trips between Timbuktu and these countries.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Citizen: “The government in that period serviced everything from health affairs to economics and other administrative requirements. This is the first mosque ever erected in West Africa. It was founded by Sheikh Muhammad Sharif; He was Sayed and from the household of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH).”
Narration: Timbuktu is a remote gem in the heart of the African desert. It was once a legendary city established as a major commercial, science and educational center in West Africa 900 years ago, today it is removed and desert land.
Islam became prominent in Mali in the 1300s under the leadership of Mansa Musa who built 5 mud break mosque creating the beginning of the Empire.
The religion took its inhabitants out of paganism to the worship of one almighty God. Prior to Islam, the mystical traditions of Sufism were imbued in Malian society and while Islam penetrated the indigenous consciousness of the people, local customs and beliefs persisted also. The period produced economic prosperity and attracted many Muslim scholars.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Danar Hadi Aboubakr Jam Khalife at Order of Tijaniyyah: “What I should inform you is that the manner Islam entered this land was through a Sufi school. There is no doubt that when Islam entered this land it rode atop the horse of Sufism and of Sufi thought. The Sufis basically adopted Islam and so the many inhabitants of the region began to teach and educate other compatriots in the ways of Islam and Sufism through their local language.”
Narration: Today Muslims make up 90 percent of Mali’s population. Until recently its society lived in relative peace with one another, tolerant of minority religions and integrated into societal norms. Mali is not governed by Sharia law, instead religious law is kept separate from government. In fact, many aspects of Malian society come from its traditional roots and culture and are democratic including the accountability of its leaders. Sufism in Mali has been the origin of many defining moments that includes successful resistance against colonialism. There are numerous sects in Mali Sufism; one of the most important and most followed is Tijuana, but all of these sects are devoted followers of the Ahlolbait (People of the house of the Prophet PBUH), which includes the Imam’s of Islam.
SOUNDBITE [English] Local citizen: “Going to walk, then you see people, to talk with the people.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Host of program: “To solve the problem peacefully.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Local citizen: “To solve the problem for the peace, to talk with them and Mali would be nice country if to talk to them. Not for the fighting, they are Muslim, they pray every time they are good.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Host of program: “What about the French soldiers?”
SOUNDBITE [English] Local citizen: “They are plenty of them here, French soldiers are here.”
Narration: The presence of the French in Africa, especially in Mali is a story of centuries of attempts at imperial conquest and colonization.
In early 2012 northern and southern Mali erupted in civil war, which plunged the country into political turmoil. A coup d’etat by military officers ousted the legitimate government, which was claimed to be a US-puppet government, but before stability could be reestablished, al-Qaeda militants were found to have been introduced into the country by some Western and Arab powers in order to completely destabilize the country.
After a few months al-Qaeda began to gain the upper hand and control some strategic areas in effect hijacking the civil war. The new Malian government asked for United Nations help, but help did not come. Instead, something else happened.
Using the pretext that Mali could not defend itself, French forces without a UN mandate intervened in the country to secure natural resources and in so doing violated the UN resolution.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Unknown man:“Yes, from 1905 to 1932 here has been the seat of a French ruler. Now what has happened during these 27 years in the houses…?
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Host of program “and what decisions have been made…?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Unknown man: “God knows!”
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “Then, French colonialism forced its way and settled into the region in 1895. Sudan became a part of that imperial collection, which is called French West Africa.
Firstly, I should mention a rule that was brought in called "native' rule". It meant that natives, that is the original inhabitants of the region, were inferior to the French and others and had less rights. This system at first was instituted in Algeria. Most parts of the city were built through slavery.”
Narration: In the majority of their captured colonies in Western Africa the French have spread racialism, which adopts the belief that one race is superior over another race of people and it is this racialism that ensures colonies fulfill their responsibilities towards their lords.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “In the First World War, great pressure was exerted which led to what would be called the ‘Famine period”. Natives would give cereals to nourish the French soldiers and French commanders had to recruit the natives for war.”
Narration: French soldiers are committed to fight for France’s imperial interests and the people of Mali must share their earnings and wealth with their colonial lord. The statue of Luis Archinard’s, a revered general of France’s conquest of Mali in the 1800s looks in the direction of Niger beach in a corner of the historic city of Sego as a daily reminder that Malians are under French control.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “Bandogo tribe revolted under the command of Traore against having to fight for France. The Bobo Tribe, under similar conditions, didn’t accept to provide cereals and soldiers for the war. The Tuareg tribe in the north had a similar situation.”
Narration: Mali gained its own independence in 1960; however slavery has persisted to this day. The French are well known throughout their own history as world class enforcers of slavery, oppression and even genocide and so for the people of Mali there is likely to be no freedom from slavery when this French intervention changes form.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “They forgot what the colonies had given to them, for example, in the Second World War, soldiers from colonies went under the flag of France and fighted, hundreds were killed in the war in this way.”
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “France knew that giving independence to the colonies, was a dangerous because they would become united, therefore, attempt was focused on the separation of countries.”
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
Narration: The war will become history soon enough and the period of French colonialism will also one day end to make way for so-called democratic government. But the benefits reaped by the conquerors from natural resources will continue covertly, leaving only crumbs for the native population.
Mali possesses a wealth of vital natural resources such as petroleum, gas and uranium used for atomic weaponry and the functioning of nuclear reactors it provides abundant wealth to large French corporations such as for example, Arva.
Arva, founded in 1958 in Paris, had always been at the top of French nuclear negotiations. The company is involved wherever African uranium is mined and Mali is no exception.
Tragically, while French politicians and business moguls enjoy their spoils and media spin and a new government favorable to French interests is formed for Mali to complete its re-colonization the people of Mali will pay the ultimate price, that of widespread poverty forced upon them in order to guarantee control over resources.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “In 1968 a military government was formed by Moses Traore , he wanted to form a liberal government. He did nothing except destroying and torturing the intellectuals.”
Narration: It’s difficult to imagine the horror these people must have witnessed in the throes of civil war of the past months. Neighbor warring against neighbor, brother against brother; it all must have made little sense to those in the firing line. The people’s expectations would have been vastly different from the terrible reality that ensued. Who will bind the nation’s wounds once this is all over?
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “The income of Malians has dropped severely after the fall of Moussa's government. Unemployment is increasing; therefore, the atmosphere is primed for engaging bigoted youth and employing them in such extremist movement. Of course, we should not forget that the main backer is petro dollars.”
Narration: Disintegrated economy, starving infants, poverty and unemployment directs most everybody towards violence as a last resort, and especially when there are serious external motives. Tavareqs are nomadic tribes in the north of Mali. One can find Tavareqs eking out a living from Libya and Aljazeera to the north of Mali. They are a people who feel always deprived and ready to protest.
Narration: After Mali’s independence, Tavareq tribes became a target of the French colonialists who sought to motivate them against the central government and thereby to weaken the new government. A weak central government can be easily corrupted and taken over by a colonial power.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mamadou Diouf, History Lecture, Ecole Normale Superieure Elite School: “From the very beginning, it was clear that since the Tavareghs were white, they didn’t want to have in place a black government but France didn’t succeed to form such a government.”
TIME CODE: 30:00_ 35:00
Narration:This time Arab allies of Western powers and manipulation of the petro-dollar would serve to help hoist the blood black-flag of Takfiri terrorists over captured territory. Interestingly, these Takfiris first seek to destroy buildings that belong to the Sufis that brought Islam to Africa and fought against colonialists.
SOUNDBITE [French] Danar Hadi Aboubakr Jam, Khalifah at Order of Tijaniyyah: “These are the official reasons given, which are acceptable only to fool themselves. In fact, we don’t actually have a reason for them and I would say that they really want is the total destruction of Sufism. Corruption has targeted the Sufis. We look at them as a major threat.”
Narration: Takfiris are exceedingly brutal in their methods of spreading fear through decapitation, torture, and rape and murder that it would frighten the Malians in a way that they will never forget.
With the intrusion of foreign-sponsored terrorists and mercenaries, the future for Mali was laid out: Northern cities would fall one by one and the black-flag government would replace Malian government and would rule over Mali. The Malian army under embargo is not able to confront such a level of threat that worked its way closer to the capital moment by moment.
The increasing fear of Takfiri takeover would strongly encourage Malian authorities and its people to welcome past occupiers. The French army simply waited in the wings for their chance to act and return to re-colonize Mali, only this time as the role of perceived savior; it would then proceed to expel the Takfiris and takeover Mali’s northern cities itself, one by one.
Timbuktu, formerly the cultural capital of western Africa, was attacked by the Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine - linked to al-Qaeda - who saw their opportunity in the confusion following the military coup which ousted the former Malian government in 2012. Timbuktu became the training academy for al-Qaeda terrorists.
SOUNDBITE [French] Mohammad Traore, Journalist: “They themselves saw that France entered the country to fight Malian crusaders and so they began burning the sacred and treasured manuscripts.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hana Ibn Dai, Scriptologist: “Before we engage the topics of the scripts of Timbuktu, we should begin with a brief understanding of the great city and its history. Timbuktu was founded around the 5th century AD. From the very beginning, this city developed rapidly and widely until it became the center of science and culture in Africa in which scientific, cultural and civil movement was formed. It became the cultural and economic capital of western Africa.
Prominent Egyptian and Moroccan professors would come to Timbuktu to teach and many scholars of Timbuktu traveled out to the neighboring countries Egypt, Morocco, Aljazeera and even to the Arabic Peninsula.”
Narration: Today, Timbuktu is charged as the keeper of sacred scripts and treasures, which are under protection in selected libraries of the city.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hana Ibn Dai, Scriptologist: “Hundreds of thousands of scripts were written covering a wealth of subjects, but unfortunately, over time a vast number of these scripts went missing or were destroyed particularly once colonialism took control of the region.”
SOUNDBITE [French] Mohammad Traore, Journalist: “Most of the scripts were kept securely because they were protected by methods that provided immunity from colonialist impairment - this is a point not often mentioned. This protective strategy was used also when extremist crusaders were employed. The scripts were scattered and hidden in the south of country.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hana Ibn Dai, Scriptologist: “Unfortunately, many of these valuable and worthy scripts were stolen or were transferred to unknown places or were sold at a discount and auctioned off in Europe and other parts of the world.”
Narration: Once a cultural heritage burns in the fire of ignorance and prejudice or is stolen and sold to private collectors, museums or to London or Paris antique markets, the people no longer have that pillar of strength to lean on; it’s as if a part of them has been taken and is now missing from their soul; and after that their power to resist diminishes.
TIME CODE: 35:00 _40:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hana Ibn Dai, Scriptologist: “Also we should note that these scripts are faced with the threat of destruction and of being misplaced because they are distributed among many different people and are kept inside boxes and chests while the simplest protection methods and attention to the strength and survival of these valuable documents are ignored. Finally, it should be mentioned that another reason that is apparent is the distinct lack of native specialists assigned to keep safe and secure this highly important national and global heritage. It is of concern that these specialists want to analyze the scripts and give them over to other researchers and readers.”
Narration:Timbuktu’s ‘burnt books’ is the symbol of the rich and brave culture of the people who resisted against enemy attacks and threats of destruction of its antiquities for hundreds of years.
Malians have been bent, but haven’t broken. They have withstood countless invasions and persecutions and all the while have kept their customs, culture and religion.
For the past three years alone they have dealt with a government takeover, civil war, foreign terrorism as well as local terrorism and rebellion, displacement of masses of people, government collapse, and destruction of the country’s most endearing artifacts. Mali could be described as a failed state.
The people have endured this traumatic experience and there remains cautious optimism for the future. This is a testament to their strength of character.
The country has lost some of its sovereignty; however, it is hard for one to be optimistic about the independent future of Mali, already having lost some of its sovereignty to former colonial master France Mali struggles both against foreign respond terrorism and the ratlines interfere in its internal affairs by the West.